I couldn't get Loki out of my head. Poor guy. That scene in the vault with Odin kills me. He really needed a hug.

Odin had fallen into the Odinsleep once more and all of Asgard was in a state of anxious worry. The trance had never come upon the great king so suddenly before and there were whispers that he might not waken. It could not have come at a worse time. War with Jotunheim loomed menacingly on the horizon and with Thor powerless and banished to Midgard, the Asgardians would be looking to Loki to take up the mantel of leader. A man infamous for his trickery and mystery would find little enough support in the realm should things turn ill. The kingdom could tear itself apart as Odin slumbered.

Anielda felt perverse. She looked about her with cat-like eyes painted gold by the palace braziers, a secret smile hidden inside her mouth at the brewing chaos around her and felt smug satisfaction. If Asgard fell, she would fall with it, but it would be with that smile no longer a secret, on her lips for all to see. She would not be the only one, either, as she was not the only Midgardian residing within the realm; prisoners in a gilded cage.

Like most of the human women (and a good portion of the men) in Asgard, Anielda had been carried back as a trophy among the spoils. Some had been given as gifts to the Gods, others taken by force. She belonged in this latter group, having been snatched from her home in the forest and carted across the heavens by a man called Skeld. To the Asgardians, he was a fierce and proud warrior; respected and admired. To Anielda, he was the monster in the night that snatches babes from their mothers' breast with long claws, smiling with sharp teeth.

The girl had been twelve at the time, nearing the age when the men of her clan, the young and the not so young, would start to vie for her attentions and seek her father's regard. Instead, the Gods had come tearing through her home, taking what they wished. She had run, but her short, young legs had not been fast enough to carry her away from Skeld's hounds. The girl had not understood why he had taken her. It could not be her looks, for there were prettier girls her own age and older, beautiful women that could reduce men to fawning pups. A fair hand at cooking, she had few skills beyond the fire pit - she hadn't the patience for weaving or sewing, nor the gifts for healing or soothsaying. In her clan, she would have made a suitable wife, but there was nothing so special about her that should have made her the quarry of a God.

That she had been captured and taken was her shame, worn like a brand on her pale, milky skin. She had fought her best, bit and scratched, clawed and kicked; she had honored her father and family well with that, but in the end she had still be taken. Skeld's laughter still rang in her ears, filled her sleep with anger and left her tired and foul tempered many a morning. Would that she could have killed him, but, though she had the venom in her heart, she hadn't the weapon or opportunity to let it flow.

At first, he showed her off as one might a fine dog, extolling her fiery spirit and temper. Any hand that came too close was in danger of being bitten; she hissed and spat like an angry cat, leveling every swear she'd ever heard a man utter in her lifetime upon these Gods who had stolen her. They chuckled like she was a fussy child and once her novelty had worn off, dismissed her entirely. Though to some, she remained an interesting curio. Most notable among these were Sif, the woman warrior and Loki, the younger prince. Sif would have had Anielda's worship on Midgard, were she not one of these Gods, had she not treated the girl as though she were Skeld's property. Loki set her on edge with his too shrewd gaze and too thoughtful demeanor.

Skeld had treated her like a contrary feline, at equal measures coddling and ignoring her. She dwelled in his apartments like a pet, bored and miserable. Time passes differently in Asgard than it does on Midgard, her home, and she aged slowly. It was treacherous, the passing of time, slowly slinking up on her, bringing with it a dangerous glint in Skeld's eye as her form of straight lines and flat planes began to curve and fill out.

He was a mountain of a man in her eyes, towering over her by at least two heads, all muscle and sinew and beard. He disgusted her, his touch made her skin crawl and her chest burn with rage and hate. She knew that too soon he would set upon her like a slavering hound and she would not be able to stop him. That was how it came that Loki found her alone on the night of a great feast, separated from her jailer who had drunk himself into a fair stupor, and standing on the high balcony of the hall. It might have looked to anyone as though she were gazing out over the glittering city, when the truth of it was, she was trying to summon up the courage to step over the railing. He was silent as a stalking panther, but she knew he was there. The Asgardians were too alien to her senses for her not to notice them, even the lord of shadows himself. He stepped up beside her, looking out over the kingdom he might one day inherit as his own. They were tall, these Gods, and he was no exception. Here in the darkness of the balcony with only the stars to light them, his green eyes looked as black as his hair, like pitch, like the spaces between the stars reflecting in their depths.

"There are worse places to be than Asgard," he said simply, as if they had been having a full conversation up until then, when neither had spoken a word. It was said he could read minds. Perhaps it was true. She scowled up at him with disdain and disgust.

"Easy words for a prince," she all but spat the word. "A cage on a god's mountain is still a cage." She thought about Skeld then and his ominous glint. "And a bitch with a golden collar is still only a bitch."

She spun away from him then, stalking back down the corridor. She could feel his eyes on her as she went, almost feel his breath on the back of her neck and shivered despite the mild temperature. That night, Skeld came for her at the pile of furs and pillows on his floor where she slept, but she was not asleep. Loki's words and her own made that impossible, the anger she felt, the despair kept her eyes from even closing. So much the better; if she had been asleep, she would not have heard him coming, would not have been able to wriggle from his drunken grasp as she did. He was huge and strong, but soused and slow, cumbersome as he pursued her.

Another night he would have caught her and had her as he pleased, but tonight he tired quickly and gave up in disgust, calling her all manner of names before passing out once more. The morning found him with a throbbing head and heaving stomach and the girl grinned widely at his pitiful groans. Her pleasure in his pain was short lived, however. By lunch he was himself again and the glint was back and it was not only by night a man's thoughts turned carnal. He reached for her, growing angry when she skittered out of his grasp. Like an angry dog, her running only fueled his rage and spurred him on.

Anielda was no fool. She knew he would quickly have her cornered and at his mercy and in desperation, she grabbed the first thing at hand and flung it into his face. He threw up his hands to block and the vase shattered against his arms. He roared in fury, his eyes murderous as he advanced on her. But the moment was all she had needed to dart away. The doors were not locked in the day and she flung the main entrance open, the door slamming off the wall with a sharp bang that was barely heard over Skeld's angry shouts.

Her bare feet made no sound as she streaked down the hall, her thin robes flapping behind her like a flag. She was rarely outside the apartments and never without Skeld and quickly became lost. But that was fine, it didn't matter where she was going, so long as it was away from her captor and would-be rapist. If she could only find her way out of the palace, she could disappear into the city. But there were guards at all the gates, all the doors; there would be no way for her to escape, not during the day. So she hid and watched.

She knew Skeld would be looking for her and if he could not find her on his own, he would enlist others to help. One way or another, she would not survive if she was taken back to him, that much was certain. Pets who bite their masters are not tolerated.

She had skulked around the areas of the palace that seemed less traveled for three days before giving up on her escape attempt. More or less. She would not be able to sneak passed a guard even by night, but she would not go back to Skeld. She would rather die.

Following a path she knew well, the girl made her way back up to the high balcony. It had been a mistake. Almost the instant she set foot on the terrace, a pair of palace guards came from nowhere to seize her. She struggled and fought, but as the first time she'd been captured by Asgardians, it was no use. They dragged her through the halls, but not toward Skeld's apartments. She didn't recognize much of this part of the palace and had no idea where they were taking her until she saw the doors to the grand throne room. This hall would continue on to a set of stairs leading down to the dungeon and beyond the stairs to the open courtyard where executions where performed. Ironic they would go through all the trouble of executing her, when she had been about to take care of the chore for them. But the guards did not lead her to the dungeon, nor the executioner. Instead, they continued on to an area she had never been before and finally, into a large, opulently decorated great room. The room was empty, but for one person - Prince Loki.

The guards left her there, confused and frightened. Loki took her arm, eyeing her strangely for a moment when he felt her tremble. He pulled her to the far wall of the room, pressing a hidden catch on the wall and opening a door that led into another hallway. She wanted to ask where they were going, but her throat was too tight. This man was not Skeld, he was dangerous in ways she could only sense on a primal level and she could not imagine what fate he had in store for her.

He stopped before a door that looked much like most other doors in the palace and opened it. Inside was a modest sitting room, doors leading off into a bed chamber and bath. He pushed her inside, standing at the threshold. Beside Thor, Loki might look slight, but the man all but filled the doorway.

"These are you chambers," he told the shaking girl flatly. "Bathe yourself and put on something clean, then report to the kitchens. When you're through, come back here. Try to make yourself useful."

She could only stare at him mutely, dumbstruck and not understanding. He left, shutting the door behind him without another word, leaving her blinking about herself in utter shock. She dared not disobey his command and rushed to carry it out. The clothes in the bedchamber were far more modest than those Skeld had provided her and the girl puzzled over them as she dressed, then hurried to the kitchens. She did her best to make herself useful as Loki had ordered and Cook was pleased with her work. When her duties were through, she made her way back to the chamber Loki said was hers.

Hers. Hers alone? It appeared so. She expected to find him there when she returned, but the rooms were empty. She stared at the bed for a long time. Home on Midgard, her bed had been a straw mat in the corner of her family home that she shared with her younger siblings. Was she now meant to sleep in this grand thing? And the bath. Not a cold stream in the forest and not a basin of hot water in Skeld's apartments, but a bath that ran water so hot it steamed and scalded. A couch to lounge on, chairs to sit in. Clothes and the choice to wear what she wanted. Brushes and combs for her hair and a mirror to see herself in.

She had sat for a long time, staring into the mirror, so clear it was like another person in the room with her. Her skin was paler than it had been on Midgard from being locked up away from the sun for so long. Her hair, the color of sunset on the ocean, had grown long and hung in a mass of small curls down her back, brushing her thighs when she was standing. Her eyes fascinated her. She remembered her father said she had toad's eyes, but until now she had never seen them herself. They were tawny, pale brown, like the underside of a doe and shone in the light. She felt strange in her skin and shivered, finally turning away.

In a drawer she found a pair of sheers that were wickedly sharp. She looked back to the mirror, almost sneering at her reflection as she set the cutting edge to her long tresses. She cut them away. For her father, for her mother, for her brothers and sisters, for her home. Midgard. It was a knife in her heart that the only word she knew for her home was in the Asgardian tongue. In the end, her hair barely hung past her shoulders, leaving her feeling oddly light and slightly off balance. But it had felt good to finally be in control of something.

It took weeks, but finally someone in the kitchens knew what had happened to lead her there. Skeld had raised Hell trying to find her. The vase she had thrown had cut his arm and he was livid. He would most certainly have killed her himself when he was through with her, but no one had been able to find her. He'd sabotaged himself in keeping her away from the servants and other humans, as there had been no one who knew where she might hide. His temper had cooled by the second day, though he still wanted her found. It so happened that night Loki arranged a folly of drinking and games of chance and had persuaded Skeld to wager his missing human pet against Fandral's pair of rare song birds. Skeld had lost, but blamed Fandral, even though Loki later won Anielda from the other man during a different game.

So, passed from one captor to the next like a sow. But as Loki had said, there were worse places to live. Her simple, small chamber was far preferable to Skeld's apartments. His aloof, furtive manner much more palatable than anything she had and would have suffered under the boorish brute. Loki rarely came to see her at all in those days and when he did it was usually to leave her with a few offhand words. Though, occasionally, he offered more.

One morning he handed her a book. A book. Anielda had never held a book in her life and looked at it as though it might bite her. Turning the thing over and over in her hands, she opening it and leafed through the pages. It smelled of paper and ink and the thread used to bind the pages, the glue used to seal the cover and the leather it was bound in. The small black markings covering the pages meant nothing to her, but there were several sketches inside, things she could recognize. When she looked up, he was smirking at her, but not in a cruel way.

"Why?" she had asked. It was as far as her mind could form the question.

"Because your days are filled with wasted time," he'd told her.

It had offended and angered her. She worked hard in the kitchens and her work was done well. No one ever complained that she slacked off her duties, never was a bad thing said about her performance. How like a prince to think hard work was a waste of time. But, he wanted her to learn to read and he was her jailer now, so she must obey his wishes. One of the other human women who worked in the kitchen knew how to read and told her the book Loki had given her was a primer - a book made to teach children to read.

Slowly, she learned the letters and their names and their sounds. She learned how the letters fit together to make words and how each word had a meaning and a purpose. She learned how to fit the words together to make sentences. It felt like it took her forever to get to that point, as she had a habit in the beginning of forgetting certain letters even existed, but once she understood the basics, the rest came as easy as breathing and she quickly completed the primer.

The next day, she'd come back to her chamber from the kitchens and found two new books waiting on her bed. One was huge and thick, heavy when she picked it up. Did Loki expect her to read that? The second book was much less intimidating, only about twice the thickness of her primer, though there were far fewer pictures. She had started on the smaller book, but quickly became stuck as without the pictures, it was hard to figure out the meaning of words she did not recognize. Frustrated, she set the book aside, intending to show it to her tutor the next day.

She opened the big book and flipped through it irritably. There were almost no pictures in here at all and the writing was so small, she had to lean in close to read any of it. The book wasn't even written in proper sentences! It was just a strange mash up of words. They weren't even all the same size. That was when she noticed all the larger words began with the same letter and each letter had its own section and all the sections were in the same order she had learned her letters in the first place. That was interesting. Curious now, she looked closer at the page before her and saw that one of the larger words was one she knew. What was written after it was actually the meaning of the word. Blinking in astonishment, she flipped through the tome, trying to find another word she knew and, sure enough, it was there along with what the word meant.

She opened the smaller book again, skimming to the place she had gotten stuck and looked up the word she had not known in the large book. There it was in simple black and white, the word and its meaning. Loki had given her every word in the Asgardian tongue. It was slow going, looking up the words she was unfamiliar with and then, sometimes, having to look up words that were part of the meaning of the first word, because she didn't know all of those either. Slow, but fascinating, like a maze she had to follow to the center and back out again. Before she knew it, the sun was rising. She hadn't slept a moment all that night.

After that, every so often, she would find a new book in her room. There were stories of heroes, which she tried not to enjoy because they were Asgardian heroes. There were love stories that made her roll her eyes, but she read anyway, because it was a new book. There was history, philosophy, poetry. Even a book of different recipes for cooking! Her favorites were the ones about nature and science, plants and animals, the stars and the sun and the planets. Soon, she had so many books, there wasn't room to stack them on her bureau any longer. It was around that time she realized Loki's words had not been an insult or admonishment. There really was so much time she wasted in a day, when she could have been learning all these things.

Even though she worked in the kitchens and spoke to the other humans and some of the Asgardian servants, Anielda had always felt very alone. She couldn't share her feelings with those people; most of the humans enjoyed their lives in Asgard and would never dream of leaving. They did not see the cage she lived in, did not feel the leash around their necks as she did. There were so many things crowding inside her skull, sometimes it made it ache and she would have given anything to get them out. One of the scullery maids suggested she start a diary and surely Loki would provide her with pen and paper; he'd given her so much already, after all.

The truth of the matter was, there was already pen, ink, and paper in her chamber, but the girl had never dared to use it. If she wrote down the things she most wanted to express and they were read by Loki or another Asgardian… How she hated them, how she longed to return to Midgard. No, that could be disastrous. She also loathed the idea of putting down her feelings in the Asgardian tongue. She was of Midgard, even if she did not know her home's true name, she still felt it in her bones, heard the words of her people in her mind. The most she would allow herself was to practice writing her letters and her own name. It was while doing this, carefully forming the letters that spelled the sound of her name that the girl realized if she could do this with her name, which was of Midgard and not Asgard, why not with all the language of her people?

It was a new maze to navigate, sounding out each word and matching it up to the proper letters in the proper order. Asgardian letters, but Midgardian words, the words of her clan that were hers alone. No other human she had yet to meet had come from her forest, even Skeld had not spoken her tongue. It felt freeing to put the words to paper, like cutting her hair. It was a secret rebellion. It was something hers alone, something she owned that no one could take from her and no one had given her. Loki had been the source of the tools, but she had crafted this with her own hands and mind.

Knowing she had her words had given her a feeling of power, lifting her chin a little higher as she walked the halls. It was so heady that she was completely shocked to her core to come back to her chamber one evening and find Loki waiting, lounging on her couch, her pages in his nimble hands. She had nearly swooned.

"Those are mine!" she squeaked in fear and outrage. He had only looked up with a superior little smile and stood, offering her the sheets of paper.

"So, they are." She rushed forward to snatch them from his grasp, hugging them to her chest as if it could mute the loud thumping of her heart against her ribs. "And not in Asgardian. How interesting."

Her mouth was so dry, her tongue stuck to the roof and she couldn't speak. He didn't seem to mind, walking around her in that graceful, sinuous way he moved. He paused behind her, leaning close to speak into her ear and sent a thrill of panic down her spine, gooseflesh raising down the side of her neck and shoulder.

"And very clever, indeed, my golden-collared cur." As always, he closed the door behind him. She dropped to her knees, panting and shaking. It took a moment for his words to reach her brain. Loki thought her clever. She looked at the pages in her hands and her pulse began to race anew. Not Asgardian; he had not been able to read her words. Her plan had worked perfectly. Her skin, cold and pale with fear now flushed warmly with triumph. Her words were hers alone and not even Loki, the master of mischief had been able to take them. And he thought her clever.

It was after that when Loki had begun to take her from her chamber at his whim. Some days he would just show up and she would find herself at his side at a play or concert or recital, or trailing him as he meandered through a gallery. Even if she could dare to complain, Anielda would not have done so. The plays were always different and always interesting, though none of them particularly appealed to her. The recitals were lovely, even if all the songs were in Asgardian, and she found herself smiling or frowning, her stomach light with happiness or heavy with grief, as the songs dictated. But the concerts were her favorite. Music has no language and the songs in Asgard would have been the same in her forest in Midgard. Sometimes a song would move her so that she could close her eyes and almost feel the trees around her, the grass under her feet, the cool spray from the river on her face.

She hated the palace with its cold stone walls and dark, closed in hallways. It was all straight lines and sharp angles and neat, man-made order. The girl longed for the beautiful ordered chaos of nature. She dreamed of the sky above and grass beneath her and most of all open spaces where she could feel the wind against her skin and through her hair. She often stood on the high balcony and imagined she was a bird and could fly away from the palace, out of the city and into the lush green she could see in the distance.

When Loki arrived in her chamber and bade her come with him, her heart leapt. She hoped it would be a concert. Something with vigor and pomp. But instead of one of the large halls, the prince led her down a quiet corridor and to a small room with an ornately carved door. He stepped inside and she followed, confused and a bit nervous - as she always was when he did something out of the ordinary, for his face never let on what he was thinking.

They were not alone in the room, an elderly woman was seated off to one side. It was where she was sitting that made the girl freeze in place, a gasp caught in her throat. The woman was sitting on a short bench before a grand piano. Anielda's eyes darted about the room, lighting here and there like a nervous butterfly. There were instruments everywhere. Flutes and bassoons and more strings and horns and bells than she knew the names for.

"Mother Fridr will be here every morning," Loki said, motioning to the old woman. "Make use of your time wisely."

The girl nodded dumbly, staring up at him without fully comprehending. He left the room then, as he always did, without another word. It took her mind several seconds to catch up as Mother Fridr watched her with gentle eyes. Once she understood, the girl gasped and rushed from the room after the prince. He was heading down the hallway, his gait as fluid as a cat. She ran to catch him, gripping his arm to bring him to a halt. Halt he did, turning to look down at her hand before meeting her eyes.

"What about my duties in the kitchens?" she asked breathlessly. He smirked, but it seemed closer to a smile, his green eyes lightening slightly.

"If you wish to bake bread instead, I'm sure Fridr can find a better use of her time than sitting in an empty room."

"No!" she said quickly and too loudly. Flushing, she dropped her head until she heard him chuckle. "I just did not want to… shirk my responsibilities."

Loki remained silent for what felt like an eternity and she grew impatient, finally lifting her eyes to his face once more. He actually looked pleased. "I see your reading has been paying off."

She nodded. "Th…" The word was a struggle. He was her jailer, he was Asgardian, he was a prince. But he had given her much more than she could have dreamed and she was not without honor. "Thank you for the books."

He nodded once in acknowledgement of her gratitude. "You may return to the kitchens after lunch." He waited.

"Thank you," she said, finding it much easier the second time. His smile widened and his eyes fairly sparkled, then he laughed softly; not a cruel or mocking laugh, but a genuinely amused one. Her stomach dipped and her mouth went dry again, though she could not have explained why for the life of her. Then his eyes dropped to her hand still on his arm and she flushed so hot she felt sure steam would rise from her face. She snatched her hand away as if he'd scalded her, eyes glued resolutely to the floor.

"Enjoy your lesson," he said in parting. When he turned to walk away, she all but ran back the way she had come. Mother Fridr was still sitting at the piano, still with soft eyes.

"Shall we begin?"

The piano had come first, with all its notes laid out at her fingertips. Mother Fridr was a patient teacher, going over and over the scales and notes and chords with Anielda. Making her fingers move properly, keeping the time in her head while reading the notes and figuring out how long to hold each one before moving on to the next was exhausting. It was like learning to read and write all at the same time, only much, much harder. She loved every minute of it. Every second.

Often, she woke early to rush to the music room, practicing on her own until Mother Fridr came and started her lesson. She hated having to stop, but she found that the lessons did not end because of her kitchen duties, but because Mother Fridr grew tired quickly and retired for a nap after lunch. The girl spent the rest of the day humming whatever tune she had learned that morning as she went over her kitchen duties or read or wrote in her diary that evening.

After the piano came the flute, with his high trilling voice like a song bird. Then the clarinet, with the reed whose vibrations tickled the tip of her nose. There was the trumpet that she couldn't quite keep from sounding like the back end of a horse no matter how she tried and the baritone so somber and powerful she could feel it in her chest. She took to each new instrument like water in the desert. Though she tried to love each one the same, the harp was truly her favorite. Resting her cheek against the smooth, polished wood, she could feel every note as she plucked it and her fingers took on a life of their own, the music flowing from them like magic.

The day she played an entire piece on her favorite harp without ever looking at the sheet music was the day she walked Mother Fridr back to the old woman's own apartments and her teacher wished her good luck.

"I don't understand," Anielda had said, brows furrowing in confusion and trepidation.

"I've taught you all you need to know," Fridr told her gently, then patted her hand. "You can learn on your own now. You know the notes and can learn the fingerings for any instrument I have not yet shown you. You can go and make your own music, now, little bird."

She'd spent the rest of the day with a gnawing ache in her belly. Her lessons were over, there would be no more blissful mornings of music with Mother Fridr, only the endless drudgery of the kitchens. Which was unfair, she had never hated her work in the kitchens before, but that was how she felt. Like her cage door had slammed shut.

The next morning, she'd gone to the kitchens with shoulders drooping and no humming at all. She was miserable and everyone knew it, though none of them understood why. It wasn't as though she could look to any of the other humans or servants for comfort. None of them had been given beautiful music lessons. Who was she to complain? No one, only a foolish girl from Midgard.

Not long after breakfast, a page bustled into the kitchen and told her Prince Loki had summoned her to the music room. She went straight there and found him frowning at her in displeasure.

"Did I not ask you if you would rather be in the kitchens than playing music?" He demanded accusingly, as though she had deceived him in some way.

"But-" she began to defend herself, but cut her words off shortly. A pet does not talk back to their master. She dropped her gaze to the floor.

"But? If you did not want to play, you should have said so. I would not have had Mother Fridr waste her time." His tone was sharp and angry and she cringed despite herself. He paused and she could feel his eyes studying her for a long moment before he spoke again. "Did you take the lessons because it was what I wanted?"

She shook her head silently and he sighed with restrained impatience. "Then explain yourself, please, because I don't understand."

When she tried to answer, her voice stuck in her throat at first, but she managed to get the words out. "I wanted to play. I don't understand why you think I lied."

"You were in the kitchen instead of here playing," he told her, as if it was obvious.

"Mother Fridr told me yesterday that she had nothing more to teach me. I didn't- How am I to have lessons with no teacher?"

She heard a soft rustle of cloth as he moved closer, gasping softly and flinching when his hand came under her chin. His skin was soft and warm, but she felt chilled as he lifted her head, bringing her gaze to his. His lips were curved into a rueful kind of smirk, his eyes far gentler than she'd expected given the way they had flashed when he was scowling at her before.

"So, we failed to have a meeting of the minds," he said softly. "My fault, I believe. I should have told you it was the time I was giving you, not only the lessons."

"S…so, I can still come here and play?" Her question was a fervent whisper, her heart in her throat, because she had never wanted anything so much as that. Not even, she guiltily realized, to return to Midgard.

Loki chuckled and reached up with his free hand to brush a bit of flour from her cheek. Somehow, it made her ears tingle, which she found very odd. "Yes, you can still come here to play."

"Thank you," the words rushed out as the knot in her stomach unclenched. He released her chin and stepped back, motioning towards the instruments. She looked at them and then back at the prince, unsure of herself.

"Play something for me." Her face flamed and she gawked at him. She had only ever played for Mother Fridr, who was kind and gentle as a lamb. Loki was a prince and had been to grand concerts with musicians who had been playing longer than her whole lifetime! She was only a novice, how could she compare? "Please."

The girl gulped. There was no way she could actually tell him no, but she was terrified of doing as he asked. "What should I play?"

He shrugged and moved to sit in an empty chair, lounging with a casual grace she wished she possessed half of. "Which one is your favorite?"

Her eyes flicked to the harp, but she couldn't make herself say it. She didn't need to as he had followed her gaze quite easily. "The harp then. Play anything you wish."

His easy tone did little to ease her terror, but she moved across the room to seat herself at the instrument. The wood, sleek and somehow already warm against her skin did far more to calm her nerves. She closed her eyes and leaned into position, moving her fingers into place. Taking a deep breath and letting it out, she began to play. It only took a few notes for her to relax, almost forgetting the prince was there at all as the music flowed through her, drifting through the air as lazy and dainty as dandelion fluff on the breeze.

When she was finished, she looked to Loki and found his eyes on her own. She had looked away quickly because something in his gaze had confused and frightened her, though she didn't know what it was or why.

"I can see why it's your favorite," he said softly, rising from his chair. "I didn't recognize that song. What is it called?"

She shook her head. It was hers, from inside her and she had not thought to call it anything. "It has no name."

"I would like you to play that piece for me again tomorrow."

And she had. And the day after that as well. On the third day, the prince was not alone when he came into her music room. Anielda could not move. He had brought his mother, the queen. He hadn't even warned her. The girl could have strangled him - if she had been able to move, that is. All she could do was gawp at Frigga, in her gold dress, looking as regal as a person could. Nothing in all of Asgard could have snapped her from her stupor.

"Anielda." Then Loki said her name. She blinked, turning to face him. "Anielda," he said again. He had never said her name before and until that moment, she was not all that sure he knew it at all. But he did. "Would you play your song, now?"

Mutely, she nodded, moving to a harp like a sleepwalker. As always, though, once she began to play, everything else faded into the background and she could feel the forest around her once more. The queen had enjoyed her playing, which was a thrill tempered with self-disgust. She was the queen of Asgard, her prison. Why should Anielda care whether her playing pleased a warden of her jail?

As they left, Loki had paused and looked back at her. "You needn't return to the kitchens again." And then he was gone. Needn't return to the kitchens? She knew it wasn't because she had displeased him or his mother. She looked around the room. It was because of her music.

He came to listen to her play often after that, sitting quietly as she worked on this or that instrument. Though, he seemed to prefer the harp as much as she did, he asked her to choose something smaller and easier to carry before leading her from the room. She had balked, digging in her heels when he caught her hand and tried to pull her along.

"I can't take it from the room! What if they miss it?" That had gotten his attention and he turned curious green eyes on her.


"The… whoever owns all these instruments," she insisted. He laughed and she'd frowned at him. Of course, he was a prince, he was used to being able to do whatever he wanted. He had no idea what it was like for a servant or slave, always having to worry about upsetting their masters.

"I don't think they will mind," he assured her. "It was all my doing."

The palace was so huge and he was forever unexpectedly taking her into parts of it she had never seen before. It was as though the building was growing around her. This time, they went down several flights of stairs and far into the western wing. Suddenly, he stepped into a shaft of light, pulling her behind him, and she smelled the sea and the earth and growing things. They went through a huge arched door and for the first time in a dozen eternities, Anielda's feet stepped off polished marble and onto solid ground.

"Oh…" She whispered. It was all she could manage. He had brought her into a palace garden large enough to fit the grand throne room several times over. It was surrounded by palace walls on three sides, but the fourth was open to a sheer cliff that dropped off into the sea. There were trees and flowers everywhere and grass so lush and green she thought it was a dream. Bees buzzed around them and butterflies and the wind was blowing in off the ocean to the west and she could hear the waves crashing against the rocks. It wasn't Midgard, but if she closed her eyes, she could pretend.

When she opened them again, Loki was watching her with soft eyes. And such eyes! Deeper and richer green than any of the grass or trees in the garden and deep as the ocean before them.

"Do you like it?"

"It's beautiful," she breathed, though at the moment, the only thing she could see was his eyes. He smiled, pleased. Pleased to have… pleased her? Impossible. He let her hand go and motioned outward, indicating she was free to explore. She did, almost tentatively at first, as if afraid it all might crumble around her. Then she was darting around like a humming bird, unable to settle any one place. It was wonderful.

Loki had found her some time later, chuckled down at her slippers that sat beside the flute case at the base of the tree she had climbed. Like a jungle cat, she had stretched out on her belly on one of the thick branches, her knees and an arm hanging down lazily. He smiled up at her and she found herself smiling back down at him.

"You look comfortable," he observed in amusement. She laughed softly. She hadn't laughed in so long, sometimes she thought maybe she never had in the first place. "Too comfortable to play?"

She wasn't, but she didn't want to come down either. He handed her up the flute and settled at the base of the trunk and the girl played to the prince like a pixie in a storybook. Even when her lips and fingers had grown tired and the flute was put away, he did not make her go. It was well into evening, the garden flickering with lightning bugs and bathed in starlight, before he finally told her it was time to leave. She would have slept on the grass, under the stars if he had let her. But he hadn't and would not. It wasn't until she was inside her chamber, Anielda realized she had not returned the flute.

Again, Loki had laughed at her worry, but it was gentler this time as he leaned in her doorway, looking far too comfortable. "Do you remember when I forgot to tell you I had given you the time in the music room and not just the lessons?"

"Yes," she nodded. Of course she remembered, but that had nothing to do with the owner of the flute possibly believing she had stolen it! He nodded, looking for all the world sheepish. Princes were not meant to look sheepish. It wasn't natural.

"I may also have forgotten to tell you that not only the time was yours, but the music room as well."

She stared at him uncomprehending. She must have misheard him. No one gave a pet a fortune in musical instruments. Not even a prince. "I don't understand."

"The room and instruments are yours," he repeated. "I gave them to you."

"To me?" She could not fathom it.

"Yes, to you," he insisted with a chuckle. Of course, to a prince something like that would be trivial, but to her it was unthinkable. That room filled with beautiful instruments, the flute in her hand, were… hers. She blinked rapidly as her eyes stung and the room blurred. Her heart pounded in her chest and in her head and she needed to sit down, but first she needed him to leave.

Without so much as a goodnight, she shut the door in his face. It wasn't until the next day, when the girl awoke on top of her covers, clutching the flute case to her chest, that she realized what she had done and was properly horrified. She rushed from her chamber, bare, dirty soled feet slapping lightly against the marble floors as she raced to Loki's great room. She pounded on his door, praying he would be in, that he would forgive her for her thoughtlessness the night before. That he would not take away the music room as punishment for her ingratitude. When he opened the door, all thought of why she had come fled her mind. He looked exhausted, eyes a bit bleary and half closed. His hair was mussed and sticking up in places. His shirt was open almost all the way down the front, revealing his lean, smooth chest beneath and his britches were on backwards.

"Do you have any idea what time it is?" he growled at her in a gravelly voice. Oh, heavens, she didn't know what time it was. Only that the sun was up. Or… mostly up.

"Oh no!" she backed away, out of his reach, in case he moved to hit her. He growled again, turning away from the door, but not shutting it. After a moment, she crept after him. "I'm sorry. I didn't realize it was so early. And I'm sorry about last night. I shouldn't have just shut the door on you. I'm sorry I was so ungrateful over your generous-"

"Stop," he ordered, running a hand through his hair. Her mouth snapped shut so fast, her teeth clicked. "Stop apologizing to me. Stop sniveling like a…" He huffed irritably. "Why are you like this?"

She had no answer. She didn't understand the question.

"When I first saw you, you were screaming and biting men that could break you in half with a flick of their wrist," he said, eyes growing clearer as he spoke. "The night I interrupted you on the balcony-" Her stomach knotted. So he had read her mind. "-you snapped at me like I was no one and now you wake me up barely passed dawn to cry at my feet for forgiveness? How can you be such a mouse now, when you were a hellcat then?"

She was quiet for a long moment and, in the end, dropped her eyes from his before she spoke. "I had nothing. So, I had nothing to lose."

"What will you lose now?" he sounded genuinely confused.

"Everything." She found his eyes again, her own beseeching him to understand and shimmering in a way that shamed her. "You have given me time and words and books and music and a place to myself and a day in the garden and the harp and-"

There was so much more, but he cut her off anyway. "And no one can take those from you."

"You can," she insisted. He could and she knew he would if she displeased him. That was the way of things.

"I will never take anything from you," he told her, his voice firm, eyes clear like emerald. "The things I have given you are yours to do with as you will. No one will steal them away, least of all me."

Her heart was slamming against her ribs so hard she thought they might crack. She had to still be dreaming. Nothing was yours when you were not your own. But his voce was so sincere, his eyes so honest as they fixed on hers. He was the mischief maker, the lord of deceit, but what could he possibly gain from tricking her, a Midgardian girl who was completely at his mercy?

"I swear to you, on my honor as a prince of Asgard, I will never take anything from you that you do not wish to give," he told her in a stone-solid, imperial tone, chin high and one fine hand over his heart. On his honor. Those words held great weight. If he had given his promise on a swear like that, he would not break it. It would be against his Asgardian ways, it would disgrace his station to break an oath so freely given. A ruler could not be seen worthy in the eyes of his people if he could not keep the most insignificant of promises.

Never. She could slam a million doors in his face and he would not punish her in a way that could truly harm her. Yes, he could strike her, beat her, even kill her should he choose, but those things were so trivial when compared to the monstrosities that might have been leveled against her. He would not take her music. He would not bar her from the cliff garden. He would not give her back to Skeld, which was her most secret fear. She spent long days afterward working on her music, suffering over the notes to make it just right. She was exhausted and frustrated, but barely allowed herself a chance to rest, feeling a deep need to finish what she had started.

The first time she told Loki "no" was in those days. When he had asked her to play for him the thing she was working so diligently on, the girl had refused. It wasn't finished and she could not let him hear until it was done. He had not been angry, as she expected. Astonishingly, he had smiled and apologized for interrupting her. The prince truly was the master of mystery, for she certainly could not understand his actions.

Finally, finally, she was finished. It was not one song she had written, but several to be played on several different instruments. When he came, she warned him it would take a long time to perform them all, but he was adamant that he had waited long enough for her to finish, he could take the time to hear her work. The first piece was on the piano, fitting as it was the first she had learned on. Something tentative and lyrical, growing more confident as the music progressed. It ended on an uncertain, eager note, as though she had stopped playing before it was time, leaving him leaning forward to hear more. She moved on to the clarinet, this piece all of a slow flowing stream, winding its way lazily through time. The notes trailed back on themselves over and over in places, but it was not tedious; it was a thing of languid pleasure - like a cat being stroked.

The next piece required the flute and the violin. It could have been a duet with some simple tweaking, but she had no partner to play against and so the parts alternated instead of being intertwined. First the flute trilled high and fast, like an excited heart, racing over the notes as if it could not wait to reach the next and the next. The violin took over with a shock of discord, harsh and fierce, it pulled at her heart to play it. The music was weeping through the instrument, its broken heart singing through the strings. The flute took up the mantel once more, a soft, hesitant refrain floating from the keys as it tripped uncertainly over the notes and fell away on a high, thin plea. The last piece was for the harp, an instrument of wonder, and was thing of wonderment and awe. When she played the final note, her fingers aching and her arms tired, she turned shining eyes on the prince and held her breath.

"Don't change a note," he ordered softly. He may as well have piled praises upon praises. Her heart leapt and she felt flush with pride and joy.

"I am glad you like it," she said in a soft voice. She had written it for him, after all.

"I want you to play it again." For a moment, she thought he meant he wanted to hear it again right then. She would have acquiesced, though her hands and arms might never forgive her for it. But that had not been his meaning. "I will tell you when."

And he had. And when he had, she had nearly swooned again. The Emerald Concert Hall was his place of choice and it would not just be the queen he intended her to play for, but the entire royal court!

"You're mad!" she gasped, eyes wide as shields.

"I've been told so before," he conceded with a shrug. "You will play, however. And you will shine, just as you always do."

"I can't!" she implored him to understand, feeling sick with fright. Her skin felt cold and clammy. Her hands were shaking until he took them in his own, so strong and warm.

"You can," he insisted firmly, but with a gentle smile. "But will you?"

She could only gape at him. Of course, she would. What choice did she have? She would fail miserably, but that was beside the point. She was at the mercy of his will and when he ordered, she must obey.

But he hadn't ordered, Anielda realized. He had told her the plans he had laid and assured her she would shine, but he had not demanded she actually do it. He had asked her. He had given her another precious gift - choice. She could say no, should she wish. She could refuse.

"I will." He had fairly beamed at her and her heart caught in her throat. He was beautiful.

He was Asgardian! And a prince. Of course he was beautiful, stupid girl. She tamped down the fluttering feeling in her stomach, dismissing it as a combination of the fear at her upcoming performance and happiness over the freedom of choice. Freedom. A hard concept to come by in a prison.

She had played her best before the royal court, the king, the queen, the prince Thor and his cohorts and so many others she did not know. She would not shame Loki by failing and her determination made her notes ring clear and true, sounding far grander with the acoustics in the concert hall than they had in her tiny music room or lost to the ocean air in the cliffside garden. They had applauded, these Asgardians, as though she were a great musician and Anielda did not know how to feel about that. It was all so overwhelming.

It was her first performance, but it would not be her last. She continued to weave her music and people continued to wish to hear it. She heard people humming her tunes in the corridors sometimes. They knew her name. Her name. Some days the girl could not make her mind work passed the astonishment over it all.

Hardly a girl anymore, either, she found. The time had crept by, filling out her frame into smooth curves and graceful, feminine features. She would never be so beautiful as Sif, nor so much the temptress as the ladies that fluttered around Thor and Loki like so many moths, but she was pleased with her looks. She was not the only one, it seemed, as she could feel the eyes of men on her as she walked the palace halls. A woman grown to full flower now, it had been only a matter of time before someone tried to pluck her.

His name had been Roneth, a noble warrior and member of the court. He was handsome, tall and strong, with golden hair like wheat in the sun and eyes like deep hued sapphires. He had come to her in the concert hall as she made certain all her instruments and music were where they should be for the next night's performance. He had called her beautiful, her hair was spun copper, her eyes like honey, her skin like alabaster. He had caught her wrist and brought it to his soft, pink lips and she had snatched it back. Handsome he might be, but also Asgardian and a warrior and no one she wanted to touch her - certainly not so intimately.

Not used to be turned away, least of all by Midgardian pets, he had persisted. The more she rebuffed him, the more determined he became until he'd pinned her against her own grand piano and crushed his mouth to hers. He tasted of ale and anger and her stomach clenched in revulsion. She was not afraid of this man. He had no power over her that mattered, he could not take from her what was hers. She bit his upper lip hard and he pulled away with a shout, cursing her as a harridan. Cornered against the piano, she had not been able to move away fast enough and his hand connected squarely with her face, knocking her to her knees. She lost count of how many times he struck her, but had not given in, clawing and biting, fighting and shrieking hard enough to make her father and Loki proud.

In the end, he had given up or his lust for her had been cooled by the battle. Either way, he left her there on the stage with blood in her mouth and a ruined dress. Looking into the mirror in her own bath, she could see her injuries hurt more than they showed. There was a great, dark bruise on her cheek where Roneth's first blow had landed and another just under her jaw where she had hit the stage when he threw her to the floor. Her lip had felt like a thick slug on her face, but in reality, it had only swollen slightly, though the split that had filled her mouth with blood was real enough.

Her ribs ached and her shoulder protested whenever she moved it. But it was her injured lip that brought tears of anger and sadness to her eyes. Anielda called for a page and sent word to Loki and the concert master that she must cancel her performance. Not half an hour later, the prince had come pounding at her locked door, demanding entrance and explanation. She had opened the door to him with her head hung low to hide her face. She told him she could not perform, but he would not be satisfied until she told him why. And for that matter, why wasn't she looking at him? He caught her chin and she flinched away, which made him more insistent. Finally, she lifted her gaze to his. His eyes hardened like stones, burning like green fire so furious it had frightened her and she stepped back.

He only asked one thing, one word, "Who?" And when she told him, he spun out of the room, slamming the door so hard behind him, the small painting of a bird on her wall fell to the ground.

Anielda never knew what Loki had done after that. Only that once she was healed and confident enough to show her face at court once more, Roneth had approached her in full view of everyone.

He dipped his head in a partial bow and said, "I apologize for my rash actions, my lady, and swear I shall not further impose my company upon you."

My lady. That was a title for an Asgardian, a woman of high regard. She was only a Midgardian pet, nothing more. The girl did not understand. Why should he apologize to her? By his own laws, he had done nothing wrong. If not for Loki, she would have been punished for her own actions in fighting back against him.

Loki. This was his work, she was certain of it. She could not see how or why, but he had done something to change the way people were looking at her. It all hit her at once, but she realized the changes had happened so gradually, she had not noticed them at the time. The servants catered to her, the members of court spoke her to and knew her name and looked her in the eyes. She had her own place in the society of the palace, her own purpose. A master of magic, indeed. Perhaps he had cast a great spell.

When she had gone in search of the prince, his valet had told her he was outside the palace walls, gone to the Rainbow Bridge, to the Bifrost. The palace guard had let her pass, the shock of which was only overshadowed by the fact that she had no idea how to proceed further. She knew the general direction in which the Bifrost lay, but it was far from the palace gates and the city was huge and filled with hidden danger for a woman alone. A man from the livery was waiting just outside the gates, as if he expected her. Perhaps he had been, she didn't know, but he took her to the bridge in his carriage.

Standing at the edge of the Rainbow Bridge, she was speechless. It shone even to the high balcony of the palace, but up close it was glorious. Shimmering and shifting in every color in existence, hanging in the air like a true rainbow. When she stepped upon it, she half expected her slippered foot to sink right through and let her fall into the waters below. The bridge held her weight, though, and she hurried across toward the huge dome that housed the Bifrost. Heimdall - the gate guardian - was standing in the entrance, his gold armor shining in the light of the Rainbow Bridge, and he was facing the raven-haired prince. Loki looked up as she approached, looking in equal measures pleased and somber.

"Heimdall, this is Lady Anielda," he introduced her as easily and formally as a courtier. The ebony-skinned goliath looked down at the girl, his face passive, yet unyielding.

"I am sorry, my lady," he said in a voice so baritone it resonated through her. "I cannot let you pass. The Allfather's decree forbids those brought to Asgard by force to leave."

She nodded. She understood. That was not why the girl had come here.

"I asked Heimdall to look to your home," Loki told her, his too soft tone drawing her notice and filling her belly with icy apprehension.

"Your forest is gone," the onyx Asgardian told her, not ungently. "Your family is gone, their descendants are gone; your people have moved on to a new way of life. Even if you could return to Midgard, there would be nothing for you there."

She had feared as much would be true for along while. So much time had passed here in Asgard, she might not have been surprised to find her sun had burned away and Midgard had turned to dust. She could never go home again. But neither was she lost among the stars. Asgard was her prison, but she had a place, she had a name, she had a choice. Loki had given her the keys to her cell; though she would never be truly free, she was no longer Skeld's leashed hound.

She owed the prince much, the girl knew, but even in her gratitude, even with her honor urging her to repay him, she could not forget who and what he was. Prince of the realm of Asgard and privy to anything he desired - or any one. Masters often forget their servants have eyes and see all. She was fully aware of the dalliances of the men of court. Thor was the most popular, young and gorgeous and quickly given to smiles and passion. Loki was no innocent, either. His coolly smooth manner and lithe grace made him quite the object of desire for many a courtly maid or buck. Even Odin, married to the regal and handsome Frigga was not above such liaisons.

Anielda knew it was commonplace and accepted, but would not allow herself to be drawn into this world of carnal intrigues. So when Loki laid a hand lightly on her hip, she stepped back. When he caressed her cheek, she turned her face away from his delicate touch. To his honor, he never tried to force her, never grew angry when she took herself from his reach. He had dozens of others waiting in the wings to slake his passions. Hers was the draw of the new, the untasted fruit, it was simple as that.

She knew to some people she would always be the prince's Midgardian pet, but they didn't matter. She knew who she was. She feared no one, not even the great Odin. He could rain his rage upon her, but he could not take from her what was truly hers. Her knowledge, her sense of self. Her worth. Only her life, which she had no terror of losing. If he killed her, he would only be setting her free of the prison he warded over. Skeld had captured her, but Odin was the gatekeeper, and so she hated him just as much as the boorish warrior who snacked her away from her forest.

Asgard was her prison and home now, if it fell, she would fall with it. She felt perverse. Her hatred of the Asgardians and their king simmered under her skin, urging her to yearn for the fall of the kingdom and the death of the ruler, her apathetic jailer. But her heart trembled in fear for all she had come to love. Mother Fridr would not survive the fall of the realm, nor would any of the others she had befriended in her long years in the palace. The beautiful garden would wither and its denizens would die. All the beautiful art and music and the endless shelves of books in the royal library would be destroyed. The glorious Rainbow Bridge would crumble and Heimdall, with his golden eyes so like her own, who never refused to look to her home and tell her all he saw, would be slain.

And Loki, her touchstone and friend and benefactor… princes of fallen kingdoms did not fare well. With Thor gone and Frigga unmoving from her husband's side as he slept, the remaining monarch would be left alone, dealing with his own fears and grief in silence and solitude. To that end, Anielda stepped into the grand throne room.

He was seated in the throne, dressed in full armor and on his head rested a helm with the long, antelope-like horns he favored curving away from his skull. A long cape draped the throne beneath him as he lounged in a display of arrogant, royal laze. One hand was clasped around his staff and it was the only indication of the turmoil beneath the calm façade; his fingers were clenching the pole so tightly, they were bloodlessly pale.

He didn't acknowledge her as she approached the dais, looking every bit the detached, brooding king he was playing at. She reached out and carefully plucked the helm from his head. It weighed more than her baritone and thunked loudly when she placed it on the marble floor. There was no reason for him to be dressed for battle. Not yet. The armor was protecting him from the world and whatever tumult was raging within his breast, not any enemy in in the realm. Only she would have dared do such a thing, only she in all of Asgard had nothing to fear from Loki, the master of magic.

"Annie," he said, his tone clipped and angry, calling her by the nickname he had taken to using when he was feeling cross with her for some reason or another. She ignored it, knowing it was all bluster and no bite, and curled her own fingers around his staff, gently tugging it from his grasp and laying it beside the helm.

"How fares Odin?" she asked softly, kneeling at his feet, not out of deference, but to put her more on his eyelevel. She never referred to the king as the Allfather, as was the custom. He was not her father, nor the father of her people.

"The king sleeps," he said dismissively, his eyes skittering away from her own. Something was very wrong, beyond what she knew of the situation. Odin might not be her father, but he was Loki's and the prince had never addressed nor referred to him as 'the king'.

"What is wrong?" she asked, reaching for his hand. He snatched the appendage back, pushing to his feet and stalking away from her down the steps, his footfalls clacking where they were usually silent as a cat's. "Loki, what is it?"

She stood to follow him, reaching out, but he whirled on her, his face a mask of fury. "Do not touch me!" he snarled.

The unexpected outburst shocked her and she pulled her hand back quickly out of instinct. His sudden fury had pulled the veil of dispassion from his eyes and she could see how raw he was inside. Something was causing him great anguish and -unbelievably- shame.

"What is wrong?" she demanded, all but begged. He stared at her and she couldn't tell if he was about to lash out or run away. After long, tense moments of silence, he did neither.

"Follow me and I will show you," he said then, his voice strangely hollow. Anielda followed him down into the bowels of the palace, further into the dark recesses than she had ever thought to venture. He waved aside the guards at a thick, iron door and led her into a strange, stark room. A set of stairs led down from the door, ending in a stone walkway that ran the length of the chamber, surrounded by water that drained out of grates in the far wall. As Loki led her along the path, she saw that it broke off to the side at regular intervals into small cells set back from the path. In each cell was a pedestal and on each pedestal was a relic.

She could only guess at their origins or why they were stored down here at what could very well be the base of the palace. Loki stopped at the end of the catwalk where a final pedestal waited. On this stand rested a large carved cube with handles on either side. The object emitted a crystalline blue glow, lit from within.

"Step back," he ordered when she got too close. When she had stepped back a few paces, he looked at the block. "This is the Casket of Ancient Winters. It is the weapon Odin seized from Laufey when he defeated the Jotun armies on Midgard."

She nodded. She knew the story of how King Laufey of Jotunheim tried to conquer all the nine realms, how he had decimated Midgard before being defeated by the mighty and powerful Odin Allfather. The Asgardians used the tale as justification for their actions against her people. Midgard was lucky, they said, not to have been crushed by the Jotuns. They should be grateful.

"It wasn't the only thing he took from Jotunheim that day." Loki laid his hand upon the casket and the glow brightened. At first she thought it was just the luminance of the cube that cast the prince's fingers in blue, but as the pallor crept up his hand, she realized that wasn't the case. Lifting her eyes to his face, she gasped. His skin had turned as blue as the casket and taken on a strange, scarrish texture. His eyes shifted as she watched, turning from the clear green of her forest to icy blue-black. They seemed to shimmer in the pale gloaming of the casket and as he turned his face aside, she saw that same light glint off wetness at his cheeks.

"I am no son of Asgard," he said in pure agony. "He lied to me. It is no wonder I grew into the lord of lies, my whole life has been a deception. I am the monster in the darkness."

Her heart ached for him and she could feel her own tears well up. She stepped forward silently, chest cracking as his shoulders shook gently. Though she knew the stories and knew what she was risking, she fearlessly reached out and lay her hand over his.

"Don't!" he gasped, but it was too late. His skin was like ice, so cold it burned her palm, but she never flinched. Even as the icy pain lanced its way up her arm. He looked to her again, eyes wide and bright with fear. Fear for her. The girl lifted her other hand and he tried to move back, but could not, and he dared not catch hold of her wrist for fear of what his touch would do to her tender flesh.

She lay her palm against his cheek, biting back the hiss that tried to escape at the harsh chill against her skin. "You are not a monster," she told him, her voice even and firm. Though she couldn't feel her fingers anymore, she brushed her thumb against his cheekbone and watched his throat move as he swallowed hard. Barely able to make her limb obey her, she tipped his hand on the casket up, sliding her palm against his.

For his part, Loki tried to resist as she pulled him forward, making her lift up on her toes to bridge the last of the distance between them and press her lips to his. It was like kissing death, but she didn't pull away. She felt him tremble and pressed up more firmly against his mouth. The cold was spreading through her, up her arms and across her shoulders, and would soon consume her, but she still did not break away. Instead, she tried to get even closer. A shudder rippled through him and he twined his fingers with hers, squeezing her hand. He let out a soft, icy breath against her lips and his free arm came around her, his hand splaying wide against her back as he pulled her against his frozen body.

Heat bloomed at her mouth suddenly as his tongue slid along her upper lip, then dipped inside. He painted her own tongue with spiced wine, the warmth spreading through her and thawing her chilled flesh. She stroked back against him, drawing him deeper, inviting more. He obliged, sealing his mouth against hers passionately. Her head swam, her hand slipping back from his cheek and into his sinfully soft midnight hair. She held on tight as his fever filled her and reflected back onto him, fairly shining from her fingertips.

He groaned into her mouth and she gasped as the sound sent a jolt of molten heat through her and pooled in her belly like lava. He pulled back then, panting down at her and looking shocked and far too vulnerable. His face hardened then and he pushed her away. Or tried to; she would not relinquish her hold on his hand and their joined fingers made it hard to shake her grasp.

"Why did you do that?" he demanded, scowling and looking like she had slapped him. "I've reached for you a thousand times and you've always pulled away. Why now?"

"I had too much to lose," she told him, but he cut her off before she could say more.

"I swore to you!" he shouted, incensed. "You had nothing to fear from me!"

"I wasn't afraid of what you would take, but of what I might give you," she insisted, trying to make him understand. "I know the way of lovers. Together for a time and then going on your separate paths as if they had never cared for you, nor you for them. Giving up so much of yourself for a few moments of simple pleasure may be the Asgardian way, but it is not mine."

"That doesn't answer my question," he told her, eyes green once more and flashing dangerously. "Why now? After what I just showed you, you should be running."

She lifted their joined hands. "I have nothing to fear from you," she repeated his own words back at him. "Many women have done far grander things in the name of love."

His emerald eyes locked onto hers, shocked anew. He did not fight when she drew him forward this second time, but dipped his head and took her mouth for his own. He did not pull her against his body, actually resting his hand on her hip to keep her back, and after a moment broke the kiss.

"Not here." He unlaced their fingers, but kept hold of her hand, pulling her back up the stairs and through the palace. She hurried to keep up, his long legged stride far outmatching her own shorter gait. He was leading her through narrow passageways she hadn't known existed, avoiding the main palace halls with ease until they stepped into a familiar corridor. She thought he was taking her back to her own chambers, but he walked right passed, not stopping until he'd reached the hidden door at the back of his great room. Flicking the secret latch, he pulled the door open and drew her inside after him, letting it shut on its own.

Leading off the great room was a door she had never been through, the entrance to Loki's own bedchamber. Her heart fluttered like a bird in her chest. Once inside, though, he seemed at a loss. Shutting the door behind them, he stopped and just looked down at her as if she were a curious puzzle he could not work out. He lifted he hand, fingertips barely brushing her jaw and instead of turning away as she always had, Anielda leaned into his touch.

His long fingers slid back, curving around the nape of her neck, his thumb gently lifting her chin. "I want you, Anielda," he breathed.

Her stomach clenched, but in the most lovely way. The desire she could see in his gaze warmed her almost as well as his kiss had and her toes curled inside her slippers. She smiled up at him, doing her best to let her own longing show on her face.

"I couldn't tell," she teased impishly. She reached up, fingers deftly unclasping the catch at his shoulder, letting the cape fall away on that side. He made a soft sound, halfway between a growl and a grunt, and pulled her forward, slanting his mouth against hers once more. She felt her need bubble up in her and let it out, the feeling manifesting as a moan against his lips as she unclasped the other catch and his cape fell away altogether.

His hands stroked her jaw, sliding down over her neck and shoulders, leaving gooseflesh in their wake. He coaxed her tongue into his mouth and sucked, pulling another moan from her chest. With a groan of his own, he pulled back, nimble fingers making quick work of his armor until it lay in a heap at their feet. He grabbed her roughly then, pulling her flush against his body and without the metal in the way, she could feel every delicious inch.

His fingers had moved on to the ties of her dress and she returned the favor, attacking the lacings of his shirt. Her own fingers felt far less skilled than his, however, as she fumbled over the simple knots. With a sound of frustration she pulled away from his lips and glared at the lacings. She had been certain it was some sort of intricate tying she could not figure out, but it was simple a matter of her impatience. Finally she pulled the cord free of itself and tugged at his shirt.

Loki chuckled, lifting his arms and pulling the offending garment with them. Anielda's breath caught in her throat. His skin was almost as pale as her own, smooth and flawless. She lifted her hands to touch, unashamed of how they shook. She could not understand how he could have been so cold in the vault, when he was so hot now - like freshly moulded iron under her touch. Bending forward, she kissed his chest, breathing his scent deeply. He shivered and it made her smile like a cat stalking a canary.

His hands rested on her hips as he bent to nuzzle her throat. She was loathe to part with his smooth flesh, but when his tongue teased against the nerves at the base of her neck and he pressed his lips to her pulse point, sucking firmly, her head fell back with a startled whimper of pleasure. She could feel him grin against her skin, following it with a gentle scrape of his teeth and her knees all but gave out. There was a soft rustle of fabric and suddenly she felt cool air on her shoulders and back. It took a moment for her mind to catch up and when it did, she almost clutched her loose dress to her chest, as if to hide herself.

But she did not want to hide. She let the dress fall, leaving her in only a thin shift that was almost translucent. Loki smiled down at her like a wolf to a lamb, his fingers gently plucking at the shoulder straps of the flimsy garment. The girl lifted her arms obediently, letting him pull the shift up over her head and off. It fell silently to the floor as he stepped back to look at her.

"Nine realms," his voice rumbled breathlessly and she flushed all over. He moved in close again as if not able to bear not touching her for more than that moment. His hands were impossibly soft on her flesh and his touch skimmed her bared hips and thighs, upward over her ribs and shoulders, fingers trailing down her spine. She squirmed under his caress, biting her bottom lip almost hard enough to draw blood.

"Loki," she whined his name, reaching for the fastenings of his britches. His stomach contracted, pulling away from her touch in a way that made her giggle and tickle her fingers over the taut muscles there, trailing her index along the coarse line of dark hair below his navel.

"Don't tease," he huffed, nipping at the shell of her ear and sending a shiver through her from head to toe. Her hands returned to his britches, unfastening the closure and letting them fall lose around his hips. Before she could go further, he grunted and pushed her back. She watched with an amused smirk as he bent and tugged off his boots, laughing when he nearly lost his balance on the second one. The sound died in her throat when he stood straight again and brought her hands to his hips.

The indication was clear and she followed suit, pushing his britches down until they slipped from her grasp and fell around his long, lithe legs. Nine realms, she heard in her head, though her mouth would not work at the moment. Asgardian he might not be, but Loki was a God in the flesh before her. And such flesh; all lean muscle and sinew and pale, perfect skin hot to her touch.

He was hard with want, flushed deeply and throbbing when she curled her fingers around him. He groaned, head falling back to display the long column of his throat. His fingers slipped over hers, tightening her hold on his shaft. He moved her hand up and down his length slowly and she shifted on her feet, thighs pressing together as her core throbbed almost in time with him.

When his breathing grew slightly ragged, he pulled her hand away. Walking to the bed, he trailed her behind, still holding her hand, and tugged her close when he'd reached his destination. He lifted her fingers and kissed them, eyes sparking wickedly as his tongue stole out to flick against the pad of one and made her gasp. He sat her on the end of his bed, the lush mattress giving under her and cupping her backside nicely.

"Lay back," he ordered warmly, motioning her up the bed. She scooted back as he dictated, but stopped when he caught her ankles. He moved forward, sliding his hands up the insides of her legs and making her quiver in anticipation, but stopped far sooner than she'd expected. The girl didn't understand at first, until Loki bent to kiss the inside of her thigh. Her eyes widened in surprise, heart skipping several beats in her chest. He winked at her devilishly before bending low to slide his tongue against her most sensitive nerves.

Fire shot through her in an instant, hips lifting against the wet heat of his mouth, and she cried out in shock at how intense the feeling was. He groaned, sounding pleased with her response and kept going. Her breath came in short, whining pants as he continued to torment her with fiendishly skilled lips and tongue. She gripped the blankets tightly, hips rocking under his onslaught and when she cried his name, he slipped one of those long, nimble fingers inside her. Stars burst behind her eyelids and she shrieked as a shock of the most intense pleasure slammed into her, exploding from the place he lavished his attentions.

It went on and on and she wouldn't have cared if it lasted forever, but it didn't. Panting like she'd run twenty miles, she slumped down against his bed and waited for the feeling to come back to her toes. Her fingertips and ears tingled and she had never felt so warm in her life.

"Oh, Loki," she breathed as soon as she could make her lips form words. He chuckled and kissed her hip.

"I knew I was good at that," he grinned puckishly up at her. "But not that good."

But he was, she thought. Whether he'd known it or not. As she gazed down at him, still addled from the climax he brought her to, he gently slipped his digit from her. His eyes never leaving hers and that smug, impish grin firmly in place, he lifted the finger to his mouth and sucked it clean as though she were a meal he'd savored. Anielda's core throbbed anew, aching once more as if he had just not eased her yearning only a moment ago. She whined and sat up, fingers gripping his hair and chin, and he let her pull him up for a needy kiss.

He moved forward, his mouth remaining locked with hers as he slid over her. The friction of his skin against her own was like the static in the air before a lightning storm and it made her tremble. He shifted his hips, settling himself between her thighs. His hard length rested against her center and her hips rocked up against him of their own accord. Now it was his turn to tremble, groaning heavily into her mouth and nipping her bottom lip sharply. He soothed the bite with his tongue and her own chased after it as he rocked down against her gently.

Reaching between them, Loki guided himself to her entrance, wet and ready after his earlier attentions, and slid into her with a moan. Anielda's moan matched his, her head arched back against his pillow as she felt him stretch and fill her. She gasped at the sudden sharp pain, her honeyed eyes snapping open and finding his emerald ones. He looked caught halfway between bliss and surprise, but did not stop his invasion of her most secret place until he was fully imbedded within her heat.

Only then did he let his forehead drop to rest against hers. "I should have known," he lamented softly, chest heaving against her own. She moaned his name softly, pushing the pain aside and trying to take his mouth once more. He kept his lips almost out of her reach, teasing her cruelly. When she tugged his hair hard, he growled, giving her what she wanted and sealing their mouths together. He gently rocked his hips against her, barely moving at first. The heat was flowing through her veins again, pooling in her stomach. The pain wasn't gone, but it no longer mattered when he drew himself back slowly and slid fully into her again. The girl groaned against his lips, pressing up against his careful thrust and tightening around him.

He moaned her name and began to move in earnest, falling into a rhythm that made her shudder and quake beneath him. As he pushed her body further, she lost track of her thoughts and actions, only knew that each move he made drove her closer and closer to that blinding point he'd brought her before. It was far more intense now, feeling his body reacting to her own, his sounds of pleasure ringing in her ears, and when she reached the pinnacle, the girl screamed his name.

He drove into her harder now, again and again, all rhythm lost to her convulsing center. He stiffened above her, burying himself deeply, his body jerking against hers as he pulsed within her. His arms slipped under her back, holding her tightly to him and she clung to him in kind, her face pressed against his neck.

Long, lazy minutes after that, Loki lay on his back with a very sated and soupy Anielda curled against his side, tracing idle lines over his chest.

"It was the harp, wasn't it?" he asked from no where. She smiled and kissed his ribs.

"No," she assured him. "It was you."

He combed his fingers through her riotous curls, tenderly brushing them back over her ear. "I think I started to love you the day Skeld burst into the throne room, hollering that you tried to murder him in his sleep."

She snorted against his chest and he shook under her cheek with laughter. Anielda had never been as content as she was just then. Already her mind was filled with music she would create from this night. She blushed, grinning to herself as she wondered if she would ever be able to play it for anyone but Loki without turning red as a lobster.

Loki was gone and the Bifrost destroyed. The great Rainbow Bridge was broken off short, leaving a jagged edge jutting out into emptiness. Heimdall still stood at the edge, remaining staunchly at his post, gazing out over the realms. Every day, Anielda went to the guardian and asked the same question and every day, she was given the same answer. No sign of her lover, her prince. Most days, she tried to go about her life as normal. Some days, she avoided anything associated with the fallen prince, even forsaking her beloved music room. Others, like today, she went to his chambers and curled herself up in his fading presence.

She sighed, moving towards the bed they had shared for one glorious night and sat, staring at his possessions. Little trinkets here and there, paintings, and so many books. She rose and walked along the shelf, trailing her fingers over the spines. They were mostly tomes dedicated to magic and illusion, but one caught her eye. The title read "Music Maker", but not in Asgardian; in her own Midgardian language. Her chest froze and she quickly looked about herself as if someone were about to rush into the room and seize her. Her hands shook as she pulled the book from its place on the shelf and opened it.

The whole thing was written in her Midgardian and in Loki's neat, flowing script. She'd been right to worry about him reading her diary, then. Her face flamed as she wondered just how much of it he had read, considering he featured quite heavily in a lot of her entries. Not that it mattered. She sat on the edge of the bed again, eyes moving over the writing.

There is more than one way in and out of Asgard and Heimdall does not watch them all…