A/N: I know that many of you that are reading this story probably have come from your author alert email, hoping to find a sequel to my Eomer story. Well, rest assured that I'm working really hard and trying to get that going as quickly as I can. But, for now, this was just another piece of brain crack that I had to get out before it consumed me. I hope you enjoy. Also, this story is un-beta'd, so I would really appreciate ya'll pointing out any mistakes so they can be fixed (i.e.-the correct way to spell 'Allfather' or "All-Father" or "All Father").
UPDATE: This story now has a beta, so the forth-coming chapters will be sort of sporadic, based on how often she gets back to me. I have a bunch written, and it is going to be good, if you'll just stick with me.
She stood in the middle of the room, shaking like a leaf in a hurricane. She was looking at her bare feet, dirty against the shining marble floor. Her filthy dress was no more than a rag that barely covered her thin frame. She gave brief, fleeting glances at the guards that stood on either side of her. But mostly she kept her eyes to the floor, trying to take deep breaths.
Then suddenly, the door off to one side of the throne was thrown open, the bang loud enough to cause her to jump. She nearly yelped in fear and surprise, but kept her emotions under control. Her head was bowed and her shoulders wee slumped forward, hiding her face. Three men strode to the center of the room upon the dais. The eldest sat upon his throne, as Odin the Allfather often did. His sons flanked him, Thor taking a stance on Odin's right, while Loki moved to the left. All three stared down at the girl with her guards, but none gave any indication of their thoughts. The guards looked to the girl, waiting as well. But she didn't move. She kept her head down and her eyes closed.
"You will kneel before the king, girl," one of the guards growled.
He roughly took her shoulder and pushed her to the ground. The girl couldn't help the tiny whimper that escaped her lips as she came crashing to the floor. Odin sighed silently as he regarded her. He knew of the squalor that some Asgardians were unfortunate enough to inhabit, so seeing a girl in such a sorry state was not altogether surprising or upsetting.
"Why have you been brought before me?" Odin asked, sounding a little bored.
The girl tried to control her fear, but despite several attempts, her voice would not escape her throat.
"You will speak when spoken to," the other guard said sternly, raising a hand to strike the girl on the floor.
She cowered, whining a little in fear. Odin felt a tugging at his heart at this girl's sorry state. He stopped the guard before the blow was landed and dismissed them, leaving on he, his sons and this girl in the massive hall. It was silent for several more long moments. Thor looked down at the pitiful creature, disgust rising in his belly. He had known nothing but the abundance and luxury of the palace, so the desolate message the girl brought in her mere presence was disturbing to the crown prince. Loki, however, felt immense sadness and abundant sympathy for the girl.
"What is your name, my child?" Odin asked, his voice significantly softer than before.
The girl started at the sound of his voice, but kept her head bowed almost ridiculously low, her face still shielded from their view.
"Sonja, my king," the girl breathed, the loudest she could manage for all of the fear constricting her throat.
Loki's eyes widened ever so slightly at the sound of her voice. Despite being covered in a thick layer of fear and doubt, it was one of the most alluring sounds he had ever heard. He kept his stance neutral and tried to return to his passive state, but his heart would not slow.
"Sonja, why have you been brought before me?" Odin asked, trying to be kind.
They all watched as her shoulders began to shake slightly, as if she were crying. Loki felt the almost uncontrollable urge to walk to her and gather her up in his arms, holding her until the tears stopped.
"My brother…he was sick. Our mother and father are gone, so he's the only one who can take care of us. He was going to die…and we used all of our money to pay for the healer…but it left nothing for the cure. So I…"
Sonja dissolved into sobs, and was unable to continue with her tale. She fell further to floor, her forehead touching the cold marble as she cried. Odin sighed a little, unable to shake the pity from his body.
"Sonja, I need to know what happened," Odin said, trying not to push her too far, but he did need to hear exactly what happened.
Sonja tried to take deep breaths, but the tears seemed to only come harder. "I didn't mean to…I just needed a little bit of the herb to make the tea with, but the shop owner wouldn't take anything except gold coins. But my brother was dying…the shopkeeper wasn't looking. And it was right there…the substance that could save him. So I tried to just…," Sonja said, much louder and much more passionately this time.
Odin's shoulder's sagged. "You stole the herb?" Odin supplied heavily.
Sonja nodded, but her face never left the floor.
Odin sighed and rubbed the good side of his face. Theft was a hefty crime on Asgard. He looked to his sons. Thor was almost glaring at the girl, uncontained disgust written across his handsome face. He could not understand why this miserable girl was making such a fool of herself in their presence. Did she have no idea what she even looked like? Loki, however, wore almost the exact opposite expression. He had the beginnings of tears in his eyes, and seemed to be barely holding himself in his spot. He wanted to comfort her, to ease the pain of her terrible life. Odin looked back to the Sonja, who was starting to pull herself together a little.
"To take the possessions of another is a serious offence, Sonja," Odin said, speaking softly but sternly.
Sonja sighed, and her shoulders sagged. "Yes, my king," she muttered.
"Has your brother been cured?" Loki asked, unable to contain himself any longer.
Everyone in the room was startled that he spoke out of turn, including Loki himself. At that moment, Sonja looked up at the sound of his voice. All three men silently gasped in awe. Sonja's long pin-straight blond hair had hid her face from view up to that moment, but as she stared, all three came to realize that she was undeniably, extraordinarily beautiful. Her high cheek bones and almond shaped eyes gave her a mysterious look, but there was a definite innocence to her full, pink lips and her piercing grey eyes. Loki felt his breath leave him, and he almost forgot that he even asked a question until she answered it.
"Yes, my prince. He has made a full recovery," Sonja whispered.
All three royals were momentarily stunned, though Thor was the first to recover. While he had initially been taken aback by her stunning face, his disgust came rippling back as he looked over her state of dress again.
"To commit such a crime bears a punishment, Father," Thor said.
Odin looked at Sonja, who had dropped her eyes back to the floor again. He could still see that she shook a little, though he could not tell entirely if it was from the cold of the marble she still knelt upon or from fear.
"But if your brother was dying, would you stop at nothing to save his life?" Odin asked in a whisper so his voice would not carry to the girl.
Thor looked at Loki, who was looking back at him almost expectantly.
"Of course I would not stop until I found a way to save him or a way to exact revenge on the man who dared to harm him," Thor said, without a moment of hesitation. For all of his faults, Thor loved his little brother unconditionally.
"Then how can we punish a girl who only sought to save the provider for her household?" Odin questioned back.
Thor thought for a moment. "But Father, every thief has a justified reason for committing a crime, even if only in their own mind. It would set a bad precedent to allow this to go unpunished," he said slowly, rubbing his own whiskers in thought.
The three royals were silent for another moment. Sonja had heard nothing of their whispered conversation, but the silence only served to make her more nervous. She closed her eyes and tried to pray. Yes, she had committed theft, but she regretted nothing. Her brother had been saved, and that was the only thing that mattered.
"Perhaps there is a way to allow justice to be served, but not sentence her to the traditional punishment," Loki said softly, looking at Sonja's kneeling form.
Odin and Thor looked at the younger prince, conscious of his thoughtful expression. Loki felt immensely sorry for Sonja. She seemed all too beautiful to be condemned to a life of poverty. He knew of women who were raised in the court who were not even half as beautiful as Sonja, but had everything they ever wanted.
"What do you suggest, my son?" Odin asked, pleased that at least one of his sons was inclined toward mercy.
"She says that her brother is the provider for their family. Now that he has recovered, perhaps an arrangement can be worked out so that the price of the herb taken is repaid in full, plus a little more for the trouble," Loki said, speaking slowly, as if picking every word with care.
Odin rubbed her beard, thinking on this solution. It was much better than cutting off her hands, as was the tradition for thieves.
"What say you to this, Thor?" Odin asked. Thor looked at his brother, who only wore a calm mask.
"I believe that it teaches the girl nothing," Thor said firmly.
"As cutting off her hands would?" Loki shot back before he could stop himself.
Thor was about to retort violently, but Odin stopped the scuffle before the words had left Thor's mouth.
"Thor, if she had stolen gold or something more precious and for a less noble cause, I would be inclined to take your side of the argument. But, we cannot fault someone for trying to do the right thing. Think of what would have happened if he had passed on. She would have been left with next to no way to live, and more than likely would have died on the streets herself," Odin chided, calming his more passionate son with ease.
Thor relaxed from his aggressive stance and sighed. He looked away from Loki and his father, thinking over the words. Yes, she had stolen, but Thor himself could find no fault in the beautiful, yet decidedly pitiful, woman's actions. Loki's chest swelled slightly, beyond proud that he was able to show wisdom and mercy, and his father had seen his logic to be more sound than that of his brother's. Odin turned back to the girl on the floor.
"We have agreed that, while your actions do deserve some rebuke, we cannot, in good conscience, condemn you to the traditional punishment," Odin said, loudly and clearly.
Sonja looked up, unable to believe her ears. New tears started to form in her eyes, but this time of happiness.
"We have decided that, because your brother is responsible for you, he will have to work to pay back the price of the item you stole, and the price of the trouble the shopkeeper was put through," Odin declared. Sonja winced a little, feeling immensely guilty now.
She had been glad to commit the crime, but to have her brother pay for her actions was not right.
"Allfather, you are both kind and merciful, but I must beg of you not to place the burden of responsibility for my actions on the shoulders of my kin. I am of age, and I will fully accept whatever duties may be expected of me in order to repay this debt," Sonja said, sounding more passionate about this than anything thus far said.
All three pairs of eyebrows shot up in surprise. The girl, woman, looked no older than her early teens. She was thin, almost sickly skinny, and small. Her stature was not common among Asgardian woman, who often stood taller than most mortal men. Odin looked to Loki, whose brow had furrowed in concentration. He had not expected the girl to be of age. Working in a shop was not women's work, and Loki was concerned that some advantage might be pressed.
"Father, if it pleases you, I would like to go with Sonja to the shop in order to ensure that a fair agreement is reached," Loki said, turning to Odin.
Odin considered his youngest son for a moment, unsure of how to proceed. Yes, he, too, was concerned that Sonja's honor might be compromised, but he was more concerned that Loki might be too lenient with her. Loki, seeing the hesitation in his father's eyes, moved quickly.
"I will ensure that the price of the herb is fair, by seeking out other opinions from merchants of the same material, and see to it that the price of the trouble is not overly exaggerated. I will bring all details back to you, Father, to make a final decision," Loki spoke quickly, eagerly, trying to gain favor.
Odin rubbed his beard again, and looked to Thor. He expected to see some form of jealousy in his eldest son's eyes, only to find nothing but pride for his little brother. Loki would become Thor's chief advisor one day, and he was glad that Thor was seeing Loki's worth.
"This seems a fair judgment. You will go immediately," Odin said, rising.
Loki sighed a little with relief.
"I shall go as well, Father," Thor said, not wanting to be left out.
Odin looked at Thor with a knowing smile. "It will not take both of my sons to accompany one girl back home," Odin said.
Thor sagged a little, but decided not to fight. It was not worth the argument. Odin clapped Loki on the shoulder and looked at Sonja again. She had moved to sit on her heels, but her head was still bowed. She had enough sense to tuck some of her hair behind her ear, but most was still falling forward. The Allfather sighed again, but decided it was best left alone. He looked to Loki, who was staring at Sonja with a strange expression, one he had never seen on his son. But Odin decided that, too, was best left alone. Odin and Thor left the hall, leaving Loki and Sonja alone.
Loki stepped down from the dais, slowly approaching Sonja's kneeling form. As he moved, his gold armor and rich clothes dissolved and were replaced by clothes that were decidedly less magnificent. He wore but a simple tunic and coat with breeches and boots. All of his clothes were black, save some stitching that was emerald green. He also wore a simple emerald green cloak with a gold clasp, the only symbol of his rank on his person. He moved to stand over Sonja, looking down at the top of her head. He hesitated before extending a hand to help her up.
Out of the corner of her eye, Sonja saw the gesture and her eyes went wide with surprise. She looked up, not sure what to expect from his expression. But he only wore a kind smile. His green eyes were bright and Sonja felt immediately that she could trust him. There was just something in his face and demeanor that put her at ease.
"Shall we? The hour grows late, and I do not wish for you to be out in the streets after dark," Loki said softly.
Sonja nodded and gently took the hand that was extended to her. Loki was surprised at how soft her hands were. For some reason, he expected her to have rough hands, to match her rough life. After helping her off of the floor, Loki gently looped her arm through his. Sonja blushed at the movement, and made to pull away.
"We will attract far less attention if I am escorting you in this manner, Sonja. If it makes you uncomfortable, however…"
Loki suddenly felt very uncomfortable under her stare, as if his temperature was rising for some unknown reason. Sonja was wide-eyed, unable to understand the prince's behavior. Why would it matter what she wished or felt? She was a commoner, and a criminal for that matter.
"What ever pleases you, my prince," Sonja said softly, looking away.
Loki sighed, relishing in the sound of her voice. It was airy, but almost musical, as if she were singing her words instead of speaking. Loki began the walk from the palace, but quickly had to let Sonja lead the way, for he knew not where she lived or the shop from which she had stolen.
The walk was silent, for the most part. The two made occasional small talk, but nothing more than to note the condition of this building or the quality of produce at that stand. As they walked, Loki began to notice the conditions diminishing. While the area around the palace, the area in which all of the nobles lived, was quite beautiful and luxurious, the buildings were quickly turning from ones made of gold to stone, and the streets lost their beautiful paving and gave way to only dirt. The air became darker, despite the ever present sun in the sky. The sun never set on Asgard, but the twilight seemed deeper in this portion of the realm. Loki felt uncomfortable, for even his simplest clothes were more extravagant than anything that any of the people the two passed wore.
Eventually, the pair reached a shop, run-down by most standards, but by far one of the better buildings in the neighborhood. As the two entered, Loki glanced around. It was a medicinal shop, filled with cures and herbs for every malady imaginable. At the sound of their entrance, a decrepit old man stepped out from a doorway. His initial expression was one of eagerness and excitement, clearly happy to have customers.
But his eyes quickly landed on Sonja, and the wide eyes narrowed to an aggressive glare. Sonja gasped a little in fear and moved the shrink away. But Loki stood firm, his chin jutting out a little, ready to defend Sonja at a moment's notice.
"Thief! Harlot! How dare you show your face in my establishment after the dishonor you did me! Be gone before I deal out my own punishment!" the man began to scream, coming around the counter.
Loki stepped in front of Sonja, moving between her and the shopkeeper.
"Good evening, dear sir. I am Loki, and I am here to handle the punishment for Sonja's supposed crime," Loki said calmly.
At the mention of his name, the shopkeeper froze and nearly fell over himself to bow and show respect for one of the princes of Asgard.
"My prince, I beg your pardon, but there is nothing supposed about the little wretch's crime. The fact that she stole from me is as plain as the nose on my face," the shopkeeper said, trying to contain his rage to save face.
Loki pursed his lips. He already had a bad feeling about this man, and was loath to even mention the agreement he had made with his father.
"Can you tell me about the incident?" Loki asked, trying to be diplomatic.
The shopkeeper stood at his full height, which was not even close to as tall as Loki, and tried to look around the prince to glare at Sonja. But her short stature lent itself to cowering behind the prince.
"It happened like this: she comes in here, making a right fool of herself. She's crying and pleading 'Please, he's dying. I need the herb to heal him'. So, I ask her what she needs and she tells me that it's the root of the mandrake, a rare herb indeed. I have to get it special from Midgard. I tell her the price, ten gold pieces per root, and she nearly faints. She tries to tell me that she doesn't have any money, but she wants me to give her the plant anyway. But what kind of businessman would I be if I gave charity to every mewling quim who comes through my front door? So what does she do? When I have my back turned, she takes off with a handful of it, nearly half of my stock!" the shopkeeper explained, throwing glares at Sonja with every possible opportunity.
Loki listened with the patience only time could bring. He kept his face generally impassive, though the effort to keep it so brought a tightness to his jaw. He could tell right away that, if left with this man, Sonja would suffer beyond what was just for her crime. After the shopkeeper was finished, Loki thought for a moment. He looked back to Sonja, who was looking at her feet again. He felt his pity rising in him. She didn't look nearly as filthy as she had when she was kneeling on the floor of the palace, but it was merely the setting. Loki turned back to the shopkeeper with a small smile.
"Thank you for your time. You will be informed of our decision regarding this matter soon," Loki said, spouting the decidedly vague response he had heard his father use innumerable times when he was still deciding on a course of action.
The shopkeeper seemed confused, but pleased all the same. Loki turned back to Sonja, and he led her from the shop. Once outside, they walked a few blocks before Loki decided to speak.
"If it is any consolation, I do not believe that a little theft to be the worst thing that man deserves to happen to him in his lifetime," Loki muttered, a little more bitterly than he should have allowed.
A sound came then, one that Loki was not expecting so caught him completely unaware. It was a gentle sound, one of merriment. Loki looked to Sonja to find her smiling. He had to fight not to gasp audibly at the sight. If she had been beautiful before, when her face was stained with tears and clenched with fright, she was truly stunning when a little grin played across her cheeks. Her laugh, for that must have been the sound Loki heard, was just as joyous as her speaking voice. He stood a full minute in awe, unsure of how to proceed. Sonja's smile faded into a curious expression as she looked into Loki's wide green eyes. She found herself lost in their depths, unable to look away. It was Loki that moved first, clearing his throat.
"It is time that I return you to your home," Loki said softly.
Sonja started a little at the sound of his voice, but nodded all the same. Loki looped her arm through his again, enjoying the warmth of her hand on his arm. Sonja led the way through the winding streets until they came to a rather deserted and dark back road. There was only one small house, if it could even be considered that. It was stone, like all of the houses in the neighborhood, and seemed to leaning slightly as if it was off balance. The few windows were bright with light, and there was a little smoke curling from the short chimney. Sonja made to stop, so Loki would not have to enter the house, but Loki was morbidly curious. He wanted to know more about her, and seeing her dwelling would tell more than she could ever say. Sonja moved to open the door, but it was flung open before she could even touch the handle.
A man, though he could barely be considered a man, stood in the door. Loki knew immediately that he was Sonja's beloved brother. The man gathered Sonja in his arms in a fierce embrace, not even noticing Loki's presence. Sonja hugged him back, though was clearly hesitant. The man pulled away, putting his hands to Sonja's face, inspecting her.
"Are you hurt?" the man asked, his voice deep but soothing.
He, too, had the musical quality that Sonja possessed, but his was less alluring due to its maleness, at least to Loki. Loki had to note that the man was just as beautiful as Sonja. If not for his poverty, he would have had no issue with wooing any of the women of the court that often fell over themselves to please any attractive male.
"Rhys, I am fine," Sonja said, trying to sooth her brother.
Rhys looked over his sister, and then looked around. He noticed Loki for the first time and seemed extremely startled. He stood a little straighter and unconsciously placed himself between Sonja and Loki. Loki had to admire the protective nature, but found it more than a little frustrating.
"Good evening," Loki greeted, nodding his head slightly.
Rhys returned the gesture and words, though was noticeably more guarded in his actions.
"Rhys, may I introduce Loki, son of Odin Allfather, Prince of Asgard," Sonja said, stepping in to complete the proper introductions.
At the mention that Loki was a prince, Rhys's entire demeanor changed. He had been subtly guarded before, but became fiercely territorial and possessive in an instant. He pushed Sonja all the way behind him, and into the doorway, his spine curling into a defensive stance.
"So they let you make one last trip to say good-bye before they throw you in prison? The Allfather can be as cruel as he is kind," Rhys snapped with brutal sarcasm.
Loki was taken aback violently by the outburst. There were sparks snapping in Rhys's grey eyes, eyes that were so similar to Sonja's. Loki raised his hands in a surrendering gesture.
"On the contrary. I am not here to imprison Sonja, only to assess her punishment," Loki said, trying to calm the young man.
"And what was it decided to be her punishment for saving my life? You would condemn a girl for that?" Rhys said, raising his voice slightly.
"I have to report the information I have gathered back to my father, and then a judgment will be passed. Sonja is free to stay until such a time that a choice has been made," Loki said, trying to calm Rhys.
"What information do you need that you would have to come down from your precious tower to gather? Do you not lord o'er us enough already?" Rhys said, growing even angrier.
"Rhys, please calm down," Sonja said, trying to soothe her brother. She knew that he had a temper, and she did not want him imprisoned for attacking a prince.
"It is not my intention to insult you. I only sought to ensure Sonja's safe return and speak to the man who was supposedly wronged," Loki said, starting to grow frustrated with Rhys's anger.
"Supposedly! That man robs his customers blind. He is the only place to go for healing herbs with a reasonable distance and he knows it, so he raises his prices to the ridiculous, and we have a choice to walk for a full day to find another shop, or pay his prices."
Rhys was shouting fully now. Loki looked to Sonja, but found that the girl was looking into the house, worry pulling her mouth into a harsh line.
"I will be speaking to other merchants regarding the prices for the wares, but I have little control over how a man chooses to make his livelihood," Loki said, trying to be diplomatic despite how much he wanted to side with Rhys.
"No control? You are a prince!" Rhys said.
"Rhys, stop before-"
But before Sonja could get her whole sentence past her lips, a cry cut through the twilight air. It was the cry of an infant, a small one at that. Sonja gave Rhys an exasperated look before moving into the house. Rhys glared hot daggers at Loki, but the prince was still in shock from the sound of the crying infant. He knew Sonja to be of age, but did not suspect her to have borne a child as well. Loki looked to Rhys, trying to find an answer.
"Our father was killed defending his friend's honor. He left my mother with a baby in her belly. She succumbed to the same illness that nearly took my own life shortly after her last daughter was born," Rhys said shortly, still glaring at Loki.
The prince looked back into the house, still at a loss for words. He found a new respect for Sonja, but the child also presented a problem. He could not, in good conscience, make her sacrifice her time that should be spent taking care of the babe. Loki's curiosity grew and he made to walk around Rhys, but the man stopped him.
"You cannot enter our home without our permission," Rhys said, highly offended.
Loki almost used his rank to force Rhys's hand, but stopped. He somehow wanted Rhys's respect, not his blind following.
"May I come in?" Loki asked softly, trying to keep any edges off of his voice.
Rhys seemed surprised but Loki could still see the mistrust in his flashing silver eyes.
"Do I have a choice?" Rhys spat back.
Loki gave a little smile. "You always have a choice," he said, his voice barely above a whisper.
Rhys was caught off guard and froze for a moment. There was silence except for the cries of the baby, but still Loki waited. Rhys finally relaxed and stepped aside from the doorway. Loki nodded and walked into the little house.
At first, Loki was surprised by its size. It was small, the entire space being no bigger than his smallest closet in his suite of rooms. The main living space featured a small hearth over which sat a cauldron, most likely used for cooking. There was a tiny sofa and one rocking chair around it. Beyond that, there was a chest of drawers and a wooden table with four stools surrounding it. The walls were next to bare, save a few items, the chief among them was a brilliant sword hung vertically over the mantle. It seemed so magnificent, that Loki had to imagine that its worth to be greater than that of everything else in the house combined.
"It was our father's sword," Loki heard Rhys say from behind him, clearly catching the prince staring at the precious item.
Now Loki understood why they would not sell it. With so few items, every treasure of their past must be closely guarded.
Loki noticed then that the baby had stopped crying, but a new sound reached his ears. It was entrancing, and Loki found himself pulled to the single doorway off of the main room. There was a short hall which featured three other doors. One was to a privacy chamber, but the other two were bedrooms. The door at the end of the hall was open, and Loki stood silently in the doorway, listening and watching the scene before him. Sonja sat next to the cradle, gently rocking it to lull the baby to sleep. But she wore a serene expression, one that Loki never expected to see on a face that had experienced so much hardship. But Loki felt his breath leave him as she began to sing. The tune was haunting and beautiful, and Loki knew in that moment that it would be with him for the rest of his life. She spoke as if she were singing, but her singing voice was altogether something much more pure and sacred. Loki found himself transfixed, unable to move, unable to think for fear that he would miss but one note of her song. He was not entirely sure he ever breathed while she sang. And when her song did end, and the baby was asleep again, she stood and smiled down at cradle.
"I love you, Eliisa," Sonja whispered.
She turned and jumped when she saw Loki standing in the doorway. She flushed a deep red color, and looked to the floor. Loki suddenly felt like he was intruding somehow on a deeply personal moment, so turned to walk away. But, against his expectations, Sonja stopped him. He turned with a mild expression, waiting to hear what she had to say. She took a few shy steps forward, twisting her hands in front of her.
"I know that, in the eyes of the law, there is no reason I can give that would justify my actions," she started, hesitating every few words.
"Then it is lucky that men are not so blind. I have seen much, and I will relay it all to my father. He can be stern, but he is not cruel," Loki said, interrupting her speech.
Sonja looked up at him, and Loki suddenly felt very uncomfortable. Her silver eyes seemed to pierce right to his heart, seeing everything he ever tried to hide. Without thinking, he reached down and took her hand, bringing it to his lips. He gently kissed her knuckles, watching as the action brought another wave of color to her cheeks.
"We will meet again soon, Sonja," Loki said, finding that he enjoyed the way her name rolled off his tongue.
She smiled a little, and Loki suddenly felt that he wanted to stay longer. But he felt Rhys's eyes on his back, and knew that he was overstaying his welcome. He released Sonja's hand and gave her a little bow before sweeping from the tiny hut.
Thor sat with Sif and the Warriors Three in his usual parlor. Volstagg was lounging on one of the many couches, gently snacking on a leg of pork. Hogun and Fandral were watching as Thor stood at the balcony, Sif at his side. She was looking up at his concerned face, trying to understand. The room was silent, except for Volstagg's chewing and occasional burps. But then the quiet was interrupted as the door opened. All turned and saw Loki walking into the room, his brow furrowed in thought. Thor instantly relaxed and walked to meet his brother near the massive firepit in the center of the room.
"Brother! I am glad to see you have returned from your miserable errand unharmed," Thor said, clapping Loki on his shoulders.
If Thor noticed how Loki was dressed, still in the simple clothes that he had accompanied Sonja home in, he made no note of it in his address. Loki gave Thor a little smile before the two brothers walked over to the couches, joining the Warriors.
"So tell us: where have you been? You had Thor in quite the state," Fandral said, smirking playfully.
Loki sighed a little. "I had matters to see to," Loki said simply, not wishing to share the special moments he shared with Sonja with anyone quite yet.
"Come now, Brother! Do not hold secrets. Where did you take the thieving wench?" Thor said, laughing a little at his own jest.
Loki shot him a hot look before walking to the balcony. He looked over the expanse, trying to see if he could see Sonja's little home from here. But could not. He looked down at his feet, and he knew that those behind him were waiting for an answer.
"To her home. I stopped and spoke to the shopkeeper, a corrupt man who exploits the poverty around him. But I also spoke with other merchants of the same item Sonja stole, and learned its true worth," Loki said, controlling the waves of rage that were threatening to spill out.
"And what will be done to teach her a lesson?" Thor asked, hoping for something exciting to happen for once instead of simple imprisonment.
Loki sighed again and closed his eyes. The song that Sonja had sung to her baby sister played in his ear.
Hush, child. The darkness will rise from the deep and carry you down into sleep…
He could hear her voice clear as if she were only standing beside him.
"I cannot say what our father will do. There are many complicated variables," Loki said, picking his words with care.
He had told Odin of the infant that Sonja had to care for and, while he had never been told to keep Eliisa's existence a secret, he felt that, if Sonja wanted Thor to know, then she would have said something while she had been in his presence.
"What can be so complicated about a simple theft?" Sif laughed hollowly.
Thor had relayed the trial - if one could even call Sonja's ridiculous display a trial - to her, so she knew the basics of the situation at hand. Loki shook his head and looked out of the balcony window again. He wondered vaguely if Sonja was asleep yet, or if she was still awake.
"Your father is too merciful for his own good, Thor. She should never had stood trial," Sif scoffed when Loki did not answer.
"You were not there. The state of the little wench. I asked one of the housekeepers to make sure that the floor was washed after she left, for fear that her filth would leave a stain on the marble," Thor said.
All of his friends laughed at the joke. They had known the battlefield, but they had not experienced poverty once in their lives.
"What did she look like?" Hogun asked, his voice the calm and soft tone that never once wavered.
Thor gave a hollow chuckle, but Loki beat him to it.
"She was beautiful. More beautiful than any woman that has ever attempted to woo any of you."
Loki's hot words took everyone by surprise. They had not expected the second son of Odin to leap to the defense of some common girl. Thor chuckled a little, thinking Loki to only be jesting.
"Oh, I will admit that she was physically attractive, or at least at the potential to be if she had a proper meal and a bath."
Everyone laughed most heartily at Thor's joke, save Loki who only could gnash his teeth to hold back any vicious remarks.
The topic of conversation quickly turned from Sonja to more pleasant things, and they all but forgot about her. But Loki stood at the window, looking out, his whole mind consumed with thoughts of her.
Sonja sat on her cot, one hand gently rocking Eliisa's cradle while the other gently played with a lock of her own hair. She was staring into nothing, just thinking about the whole day. She had been sure that she was going to be severely punished, but she was back home, where she belong. And it was all thanks to one merciful prince.
Merciful, kind, and handsome, she thought to herself with a little giggle.
It had been hard to be around Loki and not stare. She could have so easily lost herself in the depths of his green eyes. She gave a longing sigh.
Of course, he would not think of me the same way. I am but a poor criminal, she thought morosely.
There was a soft knock on the open door and Sonja looked to find Rhys standing there. She smiled and beckoned him in. Rhys sat down next to Sonja on her cot, pulling her into his side in an embrace. He kissed her temple fondly, and Sonja had no choice but to smile. They both looked down at their baby sister, a sad reminder of how much they had lost.
"I am glad to have you back safe, Sonja," Rhys said softly.
Sonja smiled. "Prince Thor wanted my hands removed, but Prince Loki stopped him before the punishment was carried out," Sonja said, recalling Loki's face again.
Rhys sighed heavily and Sonja looked to her older brother curiously.
"Prince Loki is known as the God of Mischief and Lies to the people of Midgard, and there is good reason for this title. Please do not let your heart become attached to someone it can never have," Rhys said.
Sonja smiled a little. She loved Rhys unconditionally, and that included his almost brutal sense of honesty. He was rarely subtle, which some took as cruelty. But Sonja knew that Rhys had a heart of gold, and could never be cruel.
"I know, Brother. He is a prince and I am a commoner. But is it a crime to think he is handsome?" Sonja asked, a playful little smirk lighting up her face.
Rhys returned the expression with a fond chuckle.
"No, as long as you do not let your thoughts and feelings go any deeper than that," Rhys said.
He gave her shoulders a little squeeze before wishing her good-night. He shut the door and the way out, and Sonja sighed a little. She lay down on her cot, facing the cradle. She closed her eyes, and could not help the little smile that played across her face as she recalled those sparkling emerald green eyes one more time before slipping into sleep.