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Nightmare

By Pengping

Adventure / Children

Lessons

Thor finished off his mug of cider, and pushed his chair back to stand. Everyone else had finished eating by now as well.

"Come," Thor told them, "it's not snowing outside."

With Thor were Loki, Hogun, and Fandral. Fandral and Hogun followed him happily. A break from the snow was welcome for them.

Loki followed out of habit. His thoughts were still troubled by what he had done in the Healer's Ward. Eir had said that he was unstable. Then he shattered that glass without meaning to.

Another thought occurred to him. What did Eir mean by blood samples? I don't remember anyone taking blood samples. Were they taken when he was still unconscious?

Slítas clicked at him in his sleeve, sensing Loki's troubled thoughts. Loki didn't respond.

They were stopped in sight of their goal to the outside by the queen. Fandral and Hogun bowed as was respectful to her, but Thor only said, "Hello mother."

"Hello my dears," she greeted both her sons. "Where are you off to?"

"Outside," Thor told her. "We'll figure out what to do once we get there."

"No you won't," Frigga promised them. "Do you know what day it is?"

Thor's eyes clouded in confusion, and Loki frowned as Frigga's words tugged him from his thoughts. What was mother talking about? Today's just Thursday.

"You children have lessons today," Frigga told them.

"Oh mother!" Thor whined instantly.

"Uh huh, don't start," Frigga scolded. "All four of are to report to your lessons."

Loki supposed he should have seen that coming. Lessons for the godlings were limited. They had such a long lifespan that they didn't need to attend school nine months out of the year to learn everything.

During the spring, summer, and fall, they were free to be children. Once winter came, so did the lessons. Because of everything that had lately happened with Nira and the Tesseract, lessons had been postponed. It seemed their holiday was over.

"I don't see why. We're not stuck inside from a blizzard. It's not even snowing out," Thor whined again.

"Go," Frigga repeated. "Hárekr is expecting you for lessons."

Thor started to complain again, but stopped at his mother's look. "Yes mother," he sulked.

Frigga made sure that they made their way to the classroom. Once there, the godlings filed inside and took their usual seats. There were already a few others sitting moodily, as happy as Thor that their holiday was over. Among those children were Jaro and his friends. All of them were still wearing their jackets as if they too, had been interrupted in their attempt to go outside.

A few more children were escorted into the room before Hárekr signaled for quiet. Hárekr was the tutor for the noble and royal children, and he now stood to begin lessons. On the wall behind him was a board that looked like it was made of black metal. Written on it in clear large white runes was a paragraph.

Well, Loki thought, at least it was school work with Hárekr and not lessons of courtesy with Snotra. She was far more annoying than Hárekr.

"Welcome back," Hárekr greeted them. "Events of late have been rather unusual, but we will be returning to your normal schedule of lessons. You will return here next Tuesday and every Tuesday and Thursday."

That elicited a few groans.

Hárekr waited for them to die down before continuing. "I am curious to see how your handwriting has dissolved over these few weeks. Copy down the paragraph behind me. I expect neatness."

There were a few more grumbles as a stack of black parchment flew through the air and magically dispersed itself so there was one sheet on each desk. Most of the children there took off their jackets and draped them on the back of their chair, relenting to the inevitability of lessons. It was already warm in the room, and set to get even hotter. Loki meant to take off his jacket when Slítas clicked at him.

Loki froze. Slítas! Hárekr hates snakes! Slowly, Loki set his arm back on the desk and looked at the board. Now what was he going to do?

He memorized the words within a few seconds using a mage's eidetic memory, and then looked down at the paper. The only thing to do was pretend that he didn't have Slítas. With little choice, he picked up the quill with his right hand.

Loki's handwriting was terrible. It felt awkward to hold the utensil in his right hand. He would rather write with his left hand, but most of the adults wanted their children to write right-handed. Hárekr had never snapped at a child for using their left hand because no one ever did. Everyone knew better.

Another problem arose after Loki wrote a few runes. Slítas had taken to being in Loki's right sleeve, and was there now. As he moved his arm to write it jolted Slítas.

This was getting annoying, Loki thought. Trying to move his arm as little as possible, he wrote the paragraph and put the four runes of his name up on the top left of the sheet. Not being able to move his arm made it look even messier than normal.

Because Loki didn't have to keep looking up at the board and then down at the paper he had finished writing first. He rested his head in his left hand as he looked at the scratches that you might be able to call handwriting – from a distance on a darker night.

Hárekr was used to the advantage of Loki's memory and so ignored him as he sat at his desk, waiting for everyone else to finish.

Something black moved and Loki glanced down and tensed. Slítas must have gotten curious as to what Loki was doing, and had poked out of his sleeve to look down at his paper. He didn't seem to understand what the messy runes meant. Curious, he slid out of Loki's sleeve a little more and rotated his head so he was looking at the runes upside down.

Thor stopped writing, and slowly glanced Loki's way. Loki shrugged helplessly, and tried to nudge Slítas back in his jacket before Hárekr saw him. Slítas was ignoring him as usual. The sounds of the other children writing were growing quieter. Hárekr would look up in a moment to collect their papers.

Finally, Slítas returned to his hiding place. No sooner did his head vanish then did Hárekr look up. Loki's sleeve was still moving as the tutor began to walk around and pick up the papers.

Thor's handwriting, though large, was neat. Loki's was small, cramped, and messy. Hárekr blissfully didn't say a word about it as he took Loki's paper. The tutor sat at his desk and shuffled through them. Everyone's handwriting was a little worse than usual but not very bad at all, though Loki's was far worse. Was the Tesseract's magic still interfering with him?

"Well," Hárekr said as he set the papers down, "most of you seem to be the same. If that's the case then I can skip making you copy more paragraphs. So I will get straight to our planned lesson."

He tapped the gold crystal on his desk, and the letters on the board vanished.""

Another tap of the crystal and a 3-dimensional model materialized in front of his desk. The lights dimmed accordingly. It was a giant ash tree with nine branches. Nine different colored orbs hung on it like apples, one on each branch.

"Do I need to ask if anyone knows what this is?" Hárekr queried as he stood and walked to stand next to the giant tree. "I hope not, for this is Yggdrasil. It is the force that connects the nine realms. It unites all nine of the worlds in a way unique throughout the rest of the known galaxy."

Loki couldn't resist asking something and raised a hand.

"Yes Loki?" Hárekr asked in a somewhat wary voice, aware of just how curious Loki was and how many questions he liked to ask.

He lowered his hand, and realized too late that he had lifted his right hand and Slítas had almost fallen out of his sleeve in surprise. Oops.

"Is that really what Yggdrasil looks like?" Loki queried. "The model of it in the library is different."

"Only Heimdall has the sight to see Yggdrasil," Hárekr admitted, "so only he truly knows what it looks like. This is simply an artist's representation. It may be perfectly accurate or it might be drastically wrong. I have not asked Heimdall of late about it."

That made sense to Loki. He would have kept querying the teacher, but he needed Hárekr looking away from him so he could calm Slítas down.

A child with golden hair who looked almost exactly like his cousin Thor raised his hand. "I don't think that's what it looks like. It looks too fragile."

"Well what do you expect it is?" Jaro snapped, "An oak tree?"

"Watch it Jaro," the boy snapped.

"Or what, Baldur?" Jaro challenged the boy.

Hárekr cleared his throat and the two boys settled down. "That's a valid question Jaro," Hárekr correctly gently. "Yggdrasil could look like any of the known species of trees or none at all."

"Well why can't someone go and look?" Jaro challenged. "Just take an airship."

Baldur snorted a laugh and leaned back in his chair. His ice blue eyes apprised Jaro with amusement. Jaro gave the Third-In-Line for Asgard's throne another scythign glare. It was returned.

"Yggdrasil is not a part of the visible plane," Hárekr replied levelly. "Once an airship leaves Asgard's atmosphere then its engines won't function, and there will be no oxygen for its pilots to breathe."

"So no one but Heimdall has seen it?" A third student asked.

Loki glanced back to see who the speaker was and saw a rather plump Godling with fire red hair. He had seen that boy from somewhere, but where? Oh well, it would come to him eventually.

"Some mages have claimed to catch a glimpse of the great tree in their more advanced spells," Hárekr waved a hand. "There is no way to prove their accounts and no way to deny them. Most catch only a shimmer of leaves. None have managed to see the entire tree, not even Heimdall. If you could though, you would see that the entire sky is comprised of leaves and branches. Asgard is in a unique position to see Yggdrasil, can anyone tell me why?"

Loki couldn't resist answering, "Asgard's a plane. You can stand on the edge and look down."

"Correct," Hárekr nodded. "You could, as said, stand on the edge and look down. It is possible to see not just the tree in the sky, but also the parts of the tree underneath Asgard."

"I still think you could just use an airship," Jaro called out. "There's one right now by the docks that I have access to." His tone softened into a more manipulative one and Thor turned back. Jaro did?

Thor remembered Jaro's scorn that Thor was loyal to Loki, and that Thor did think about the consequences of killing. He still remembered seeing that cadet's body all too vividly at night. With that in mind, Thor turned back around to face the teacher.

Jaro frowned to himself. Rats, he was almost sure that would spark Thor's interest. He had made a calculated error taunting Thor before, and wanted to get back in the good graces of Asgard's future king. He'd get it eventually.

Loki glanced back at Jaro, and the two boys glared at each other until Hárekr began speaking again. "Airships aside, Volstagg has pointed out your homework which is due next Tuesday."

More groans echoed around. Now Loki remembered where he had seen the red-haired boy. That was the one Sif stormed by on her way out of the medical bay. Loki had been in there recovering from his brush with the Tesseract.

"I expect a two page sheet on what you think Yggdrasil looks like and why. The branches the leaves, the placement of the galaxies, leave it up to your imagination," Hárekr paused and held up a hand. "I do want you to include facts and even stories you've been told about Yggdrasil, but make it realistic. Loki," he asked when Loki raised his hand again.

Loki accidentally raised his right hand again. Slítas finally got fed up and bit him. It wasn't enough to break the skin, but enough to remind Loki he was there. Great, now Slítas was going to think Loki was doing it on purpose.

When Loki lowered his hand he thumped the arm on the table, banging Slítas around. Slítas hissed quietly in irritation at Loki's payback. "Do you know how a mage can see Yggdrasil?"

Hárekr smiled slightly in understanding. Loki probably wanted to see it himself. "Some mages have said that they have caught glimpses of it when they are in a very deep spell. No mage has managed to do it on purpose."

But normal mages have done it, Loki nodded at him.

Thor, sitting on Loki's left, poked his brother. "You should have looked up when you were using the Tesseract. I bet that would have been enough energy."

Loki put a hand to his forehead when he realized that Thor was probably right. He used his right hand – again – and earned another hiss for it. This one was loud enough that Thor was able to hear.

"Have no fear," Hárekr promised the young prince. "If you become a powerful enough mage and work a strong enough spell I see no reason why you could not see it."

Loki had been able to tame the Tesseract. That was something no mortal had ever survived doing before, and he had managed to do it at such a young age with so little training. There was no doubt in Hárekr's mind that one day Loki would see Yggdrasil again.

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