Chapter 1: Night Flight From Asgard
Loki kept to the shadows.
Moving stealthily he slipped past the palace guards on their nightly patrol and sprinted across the governmental complex. Skidding to a halt in the shadow of the statue of King Bor, he flattened his body against the base of the immense monument to Asgard’s first king and considered his next move.
The night air was freezing, but Loki didn’t mind. The cold and dark were his natural elements. He grinned, his breath forming steamy puffs in the frigid air.
So far his plan was working perfectly.
A full moon rode high among the glittering stars and swirling galaxies of Asgard’s night time sky. Its light made the blanket of newly fallen snow sparkle with the brittle beauty of a thousand fallen diamonds, and the frosted spires of the royal palace to reflect back fantastic rainbows of crystalline ice.
It was breathtakingly beautiful.
On any other night, thought Loki, he might have commemorated the moment in a musical composition, or captured it in his sketchbook for a future painting.
But this was not any other night. This was the night he was leaving Asgard.
Nothing must be allowed to interfere with his resolve. He did not belong on Asgard and probably never would. No matter how much he wanted to deny it he was always going to be the dark, puny misfit, the perennial ugly duckling in a pack of over-developed, blonde übermenche.
For as long as he could remember, Loki had been bullied and ridiculed. But he’d fought back with his superior intellect, razor sharp wit, and a frightening mastery of magic.
At the very least, he thought, he’d managed to level the playing field.
Capitalizing on his mischievous nature, he’d becoming a trickster, a clever gamester who took delight in turning the tables on his tormentors. Of course, that had done nothing to enhance his popularity, nor had it earned him the love and attention of the one he craved it from more than any other, his father, Odin.
Loki’s smile turned bitter.
The irony of that fawning title was especially painful, for Odin it seemed, had all but forgotten his second son. Dark Loki, treacherous Loki, always standing in the shadows, eclipsed by the shining glory of his older brother, Odin’s first born...
It was always Thor, the Golden God of Thunder, Lord of Storms. Thor was the brilliant sun of Odin’s universe, dazzling everyone with his power and goodness.
Loki’s jaw clenched.
Undoubted heir to the throne of Asgard, his golden brother would have the honor and responsibility of carrying on Odin’s legacy. But…was not he, Loki, also a son of Odin? Was not he also a Prince of Asgard?
What had he done to earn his father’s coldness and distrust?
It wasn’t fair, he thought… but after tonight it would no longer matter.
He’d made up his mind. He was leaving.
The time had come to let go of useless sentiment. There would be no place for it where he was going.
Wherever that was...
Angrily, the young prince shook off the tiny flicker of doubt that gnawed away at the edges of his resolve.
Coward! After everything that’s happened how could you ever contemplate turning back, now?
Chapter 2: A Vain and Foolish Boy
Loki drew the cloaking spell around him. Becoming a shadow, he made his escape from the dust and noise of the physical training yard.
The illusion of himself he’d left sparring with Fight Master Tyr would soon fade, but by then he hoped to be tucked away in a hiding place where no one would find him. The book he’d stolen from the Royal Library was a classic, “The Magics of Interdimensional Projection”, by Master Kai Winn, and he could hardly wait to dive in.
The Master’s theory of classical portal projection was lost on his dull teachers at the Asgardian Academy, and so much more interesting than sweaty sword thrusting.
His heart racing with guilty exhilaration, he crossed the tilt-yard, running past the stables, and cutting through the kitchen herb garden where he leaped over the wall, dropping lightly down into the orchard behind the palace.
Shedding the cloaking spell, he darted a glance over his shoulder. Satisfied he was unobserved, he turned and trotted down the path between the apple trees searching for the particular one he was looking for, an ancient specimen with thick, gnarled branches perfect for climbing. When he found it, he swung high up into the welcoming limbs and leaned back against its trunk, sighing happily.
Free at last!
From where he sat he could easily keep a lookout for anyone searching for him. The leaves provided both cover and shade, while the thick branches easily bore the weight of his lanky adolescent body.
But the best of all, the tree was heavily laden with ripe, golden-green apples.
What a truly delightful spot, he thought. Conjuring the book into his lap, he reached out to pluck an apple, and was just about to take a bite when he heard the sound of voices rising up from the path below.
“I simply don’t understand why you put up with it, Thor,” a feminine voice complained.
Loki instantly recognized the complaint as well as the complainer. It was the Lady Sif, and the booming laugh that followed belonged to his brother, Thor.
What fun, he grinned. Could it be sweet Lady Sif and his brother were having a lover’s quarrel?
If he stayed very still, they would never know he was there, and with any luck he’d be able to overhear some tidbit he could use to embarrass them later. Bored gods loved nothing better than a bit of juicy gossip, especially when it involved a member of the royal family.
With a languid gesture, Loki recast the cloaking spell to more completely conceal his body among the branches of the tree, and sat back to enjoy eavesdropping.
“Sif, you are taking things far too seriously,” Thor rumbled.
“I don’t think so,” the angry warrior maiden replied. “You saw what he did to my hair.”
The thunder god’s laughter shook Loki’s tree ever so slightly. “Are you still angry about that? You’ve never forgiven him, have you?”
“The potion he gave me made me bald!” cried Sif indignantly. “And when my hair grew back it was straight as a rod and black as a raven’s wing. He lied when he promised the potion would give me beautiful golden curls like Freya’s.”
Thor shook his head, his own glorious mane of golden hair gleaming in the sunlight. “It was your own vanity that was to blame, Sif,” he said. “You can hardly blame Loki for that fault in yourself. Besides, your raven locks become you.”
But Sif was on a roll and not to be mollified by shallow compliments.
“What about the time he tried to use his magic to open a portal to connect the Nine Realms?” she argued. “When he lost control of the spell it tore a rift in the Bifröst. Mortal time from the Realm of Midgard rushed in through the cracks and aged everyone horribly until the All-Father was able to seal the portal back up.”
“A school boy’s prank,” replied Thor with a dismissive wave of his hand. “Loki is fond of making mischief, but there is no malice in him.”
The beautiful shield maiden shook her dark head angrily. “I don’t see it that way,” she replied, “and there are many others who agree with me. One day, Thor, you and the All-Father will be sorry you were so lenient with him. Loki is vain and jealous. He’s dangerous and will turn on us all someday. Mark my words, Lord of Thunder,” she said, “Loki is not to be trusted.”
And with that bit of dire prophecy hanging between them, Sif spun on her heel and strode away, leaving Thor gaping after her.
“Huh, women,” he grunted, shaking his head.
With a sigh he propped his great, war hammer, Mjölnir against the trunk of Loki’s tree and sat down in the shade.
Meanwhile, cloaked in the branches of the tree, Loki seethed.
Sif… that sanctimonious bitch!
She was going to rue the day she ever dared speak against him to his brother. He and Thor might have their differences, and even on occasions fight like a cat and a dog, but they were still brothers. Thor was the only one to ever freely offer Loki warmth and friendship, and Sif had no right to force a wedge between them. Any threat to that special relationship would have to be dealt with swiftly… and memorably.
“Good morrow, my Prince!”
Loki rolled his eyes at the sound of yet another familiar voice.
“Well met, good Volstagg,” Thor smiled and waved a greeting to his portly friend.
“Forgive me, my Lord,” said the red-bearded warrior, as he waddled down the path between the apple trees. “I did not wish to intrude, but was that the beauteous Lady Sif who just departed?”
Thor sighed, heavily. “Indeed it was. But you look as if you have something on your mind, my friend. Come, sit with me and tell me what troubles you.”
Volstagg the Valorous Lion of Asgard dropped his mighty bulk down beside his prince.
Loki hissed with frustration. Was he going to be forced to spend all day trapped in this wretched tree, listening to his brother and his idiotic friends have their idiotic conversations while he had pressing business to attend to with the Lady Sif?
Alas, it seemed so…
For at that very moment, Hogun the Grim and Fandral the Dashing, the remaining members of the group who theatrically referred to themselves as “The Warriors Three”, Thor’s boon companions and unofficial fan club, galloped up and drew rein under the very same tree.
Loki’s nose wrinkled in disgust at the reek of the training yard, stale ale and dirty leather that wafted upward from the bodies of the warriors on the morning breeze.
Damn, he thought, leave it to Thor to attract a malodorous mob.
Chapter 3: Treason and Demon Horses
“Come and sit with us, my friends,” said Thor, his arms opening wide in an expansive gesture. “It is a rare thing for us to sit in the shade and enjoy each other’s company. We should do it more often.”
Hogun and Fandral dismounted. As they joined their prince and Volstagg under the tree, Fandral inclined his handsome head in a bow. “My Prince,” he said, “I fear we have not come here on this fine morn merely to enjoy the shade.”
“Aye,” rumbled Volstagg. “We have come to speak with you about a much more serious matter.”
Thor laughed, but Loki leaned forward listening intently, sensing an undercurrent he didn’t like. The oddly humorless demeanor of the three clowns who fancied themselves heroes made him suspect whatever they had left their usual drinking and wenching to discuss was serious indeed.
“What’s wrong with everyone this morning?” grumbled Thor. “First Sif comes to me with prophecies of doom and now the three of you come looking as grim as Hogun. Really, I find it hard to believe anything could be so serious it could ruin such a beautiful morn as this.”
The three companions exchanged glances, none of them wanting to ruin Thor’s expansive mood. Finally, the warrior called “Hogun the Grim” broke the awkward silence, uttering a single word:
With a sharp intake of breath, Loki stiffened. What mischief was this?
Thor frowned. “I don’t understand. What does my brother have to do with anything?”
“He’s a traitor, my lord,” Fandral flashed back, recklessly.
With a furious roar, Thor leaped to his feet. Grabbing up Mjölnir, he whirled to confront Fandral as Volstagg and Hogun scrambled to defend their friend.
The ground shook like an earthquake, mirroring the thunder god’s wrath. Loki clung to the tree trunk, his heart thudding wildly against his ribs, his mind reeling with the accusation.
“This is the second time today someone has come to me complaining of Loki and questioning his loyalty,” snarled Thor. “Explain yourself Fandral, or by the All-Father’s beard you will rue slandering my brother so.”
“My lord, it’s true,” replied Fandral. His face was pale, but he refused to back down. “Would we dare to come to you with such an accusation if it was not?”
Thor’s eyes narrowed but his grip on Mjölnir relaxed, and much to everyone’s relief the ground stopped shaking.
Thor fought to regain control of his temper. While he might not want to believe his brother was capable of such a thing, he had to admit Fandral’s words had the ring of truth about them… at least the truth as his friend believed it to be.
“Forgive me, good Fandral,” Thor said. “I will hear what you have to say, but be warned. I have already heard Lady Sif’s complaints against my brother this morn. I will have little patience for hearing how Loki’s plaited fairy knots into your horse’s manes or glued your swords into their scabbards.”
“Would that it was something so simple,” muttered Volstagg.
“Indeed,” replied Fandral.
Thor put Mjölnir aside and sat down. “Well then,” he said. “Unfold your tale.”
Above them Loki crouched, trembling with fury. The mindless dolts! How dare they accuse him of being a traitor?
It was true he’d played many a trick on these three clods in the past, but to accuse him of treason?
Loki was no traitor!
A part of him wanted to leap down and confront the three fools with their lies, but his cool head counseled him to wait. At least if he listened to Fandral’s story he would know what kind of “treason” he was accused of.
With a pounding heart, Loki faded back into the foliage as Fandral began to tell his tale.
“My lord, it has been much remarked upon that Prince Loki has lately been conspicuously absent from the palace and training yard,” Fandral began. “Often he’s gone for hours at a time, refusing to give any explanation of his whereabouts and upon returning, laughs or makes some rude jest to anyone who dares question him. Even the all-seeing Heimdall cannot say for certain where the prince has been.”
Volstagg and Hogun nodded in agreement.
Thor shrugged. “What is so unusual about that? Who among us has not stolen away from the prying eyes at the palace for a few hours to follow more… private pursuits?” His previous animosity apparently forgotten, Thor winked at Fandral. “After all, my brother is no longer a child.”
“Ah, well, women are one thing, my Prince,” replied the roguish blonde warrior with his usual dramatic flair, “but…”
“But this is something entirely different,” Hogun cut Fandral off sharply.
“Ahem… indeed… yes… it is…” Fandral stammered, awkwardly.
Volstagg took up the story from his faltering friend.
“Forgive me, my lord, but what Fandral is trying to say, is that Loki has gone cloaked from even Heimdall’s gaze thereby making his actions suspect. We Warriors have made it a priority to discover what your brother has been up to and why he is being so secretive about it.”
“And what have you learned?” asked Thor. “The fact that Loki is using a cloaking spell to guard his movements is troubling perhaps, but hardly worthy of an accusation of treason.”
Volstagg nodded. “You are correct, my Prince. The cloaking spell is not the problem. The problem is what Loki is hiding beneath it.”
Thor rolled his eyes in exasperation. “And that is?”
“Murder,” replied Hogun, cryptically. “The assassination of the All-Father.”
“Foul liar!” Loki screamed. Leaping from the tree, he landed on top of the unsuspecting Hogun, his fists balled, striking wildly.
Instinctively, Hogun rolled out from under the slender prince, drawing his sword in a single, deadly motion as he rolled to his feet.
“Hold! Enough!” Thor ordered. Stepping between Loki and Hogun he pulled his brother out of the way of Hogun’s unsheathed blade.
Loki’s eyes flashed emerald fire. “Liar!” he spat, struggling against Thor’s iron grip. “You’re a damned liar, Hogun!”
“Am I?” sneered the usually stoic warrior. “Tell us then, Prince Loki, why you’ve summoned a demon to do your dirty work?”
“What demon?” Loki demanded. “What are you babbling about Hogun? Have you and your idiot friends been pigging-out on the honey-wine again?”
“That’s enough, Loki,” warned Thor, squeezing his brother’s shoulder painfully. “We will get to the bottom of this, right now.” His brows knit together in a frown, Thor turned to face the dangerously expressionless Hogun. “What’s all this about a demon? Explain.”
Bravely, Volstagg reached out and placed a calming hand on Hogun’s sword arm. As the berserker light faded from Hogun’s eyes he slowly put away his sword, but continued to glare at Loki.
“It’s the horse, my lord,” replied Volstagg. “A coal-black demon summoned from the very Pit of Hel.”
Loki looked up into Thor’s thunderous face and realized he was not helping his case by letting his temper get the better of him. He lifted his chin and answered the accusation as reasonably as he could
“Shogün is not a demon,” he said. “I was training him for Father. I kept the training sessions a secret because he was going to be a surprise gift for the All-Father’s coronation anniversary.”
Fandral pointed an accusing finger. “There, you see. He admits he was training the creature to kill the All-Father!”
“That’s not what I said, you fool,” snarled Loki.
Confused, caught between conflicting loyalties, Thor shook his head like a wounded bull. The situation was rapidly careening beyond his control. “How do you know the creature is a demon and not just an ordinary horse?” he asked.
“We have proof,” Hogun answered.
“What kind of proof?”
Hogun ignored the poisonous look Loki shot him and continued the story. “As usual, Loki’s pride made him careless. One day when he did not suspect his movements were being observed Fandral and I followed his footprints to where he was training the demon. We watched him put the creature through its paces, and after he left, Fandral tried to ride it.”
Fandral nodded. “Forgive me if I boast, my lord,” he said, “a horse has not been born I cannot master. But, when I mounted this devil it leapt into the air as if to fly away, kicking its hind legs out behind it so violently I was… unseated, and when I hit the ground---”
“The demon turned on him and tried to kill him,” Hogun growled.
“You are a conceited fool, Fandral,” cried Loki. “Shogün is a warhorse, especially trained to carry the All-Father into battle. No one can ride him if they don’t know the proper commands. He’s been trained to kill anyone who tries.”
“And what if your ‘warhorse’ had tried to kill the All-Father?” Fandral sneered.
“It would never have happened.” Loki turned, appealing to Thor. “I would have given Father all of the proper commands. I would never have presented Shogün to the All-Father unless I was certain Odin could ride him.”
Thor put a hand to his aching forehead. “Stop this,” he ordered. “There is only one way to tell if this creature is horse or demon.” He turned to Loki. “Where have you been keeping it?”
Loki gave his brother a pleading look.
“WHERE?” Thor’s order was rumbling thunder.
Loki slumped in defeat. “In a cave behind the Great Waterfall,” he replied.
“You will take us there, Brother,” said Thor. “We will determine if this creature is a demon or not.”
Fandral and Hogun exchanged a glance.
Thor pinned the two warriors with an icy glare. “What?”
Since neither Hogun nor Frandral spoke, Volstagg again braved his prince’s anger with a reply.
“My lord,” he said softly, “the demon is no longer there.”
“Well, where is it?’ Thor demanded
“The demon is dead,” replied Hogun. “I killed it.”
With a cry of rage, Loki wrenched away from Thor. Pulling his dagger from its sheath at his waist, he lunged recklessly at Hogun.
With incredible speed for one so large Volstagg intercepted Loki, twisting the furious prince’s arm until he dropped to his knees, the knife falling from his numbed fingers. Cradling his injured arm, Loki glared up at his accusers, his green eyes dilated, almost black with fury. “How dare you accuse me of murder when it is you who kill,” he panted. “You are the murderers, not I.”
“Silence, Brother!” roared Thor. Reaching down he wrenched Loki to his feet, then turned to his three companions. “Good friends,” he said, “I must speak with my brother alone.”
Bowing, the three warriors departed.
Thor watched them go without a word. Finally, he turned his ice-blue stare on Loki.
For the first time in his life Loki felt a tremor of fear as he gazed up at Thor’s towering form. This was not his tolerant, oafish brother he faced, but the full manifestation of the wrathful God of Thunder. “Brother,” he stammered, “surely you don’t believe…”
“Shut up, Loki,” rumbled Thor. “I don’t know what to believe, anymore. All of your life I have taken your side in any dispute. I have believed you and defended you, even when your mischief warranted a sound thrashing. But I can do so no longer. You are almost a man, Loki, but your childish behavior has won you few friends here on Asgard. These are serious charges that have been made against you. I’m afraid I have no choice but to speak to the All-Father. So, until further notice, I must ask you to return to your quarters and remain there until you are summoned.”
Thor’s patience snapped like a brittle twig and the hum of unleashed lightening filled the air.
“By the All-Father, do not argue with me, Loki. Now go!”
Biting his lip, Loki snatched up his dagger and shoved it back into its sheath. With a final defiant glare at Thor, he whirled and stalked back to the palace.
Chapter 4: A Fateful Decision
The shadows stretched out across the marble floor of Loki’s bedchamber. Already the sun had made a full circle of the Asgardian sky since Thor had ordered him to await his summons, and still the All-Father had not sent for him. Soon it would be dark and he would face another endless, dreary night of waiting…
Gods knew he’d done his best to remain obedient to Thor’s command, but the hours filled with uncertainty weighed heavily upon him.
At first, he’d tried to pass the hours finishing a family portrait he’d started months ago.
In the scene Loki had imagined, the All-Father was seated in majesty upon the High Throne of Asgard with his brother Thor, and his mother Frigga standing on either side of him. In Odin’s left hand he had painted Gungnir, the golden spear of justice, symbol of The All-Father’s kingly authority, while his father’s right hand was stretched out, resting proudly on Loki’s shoulder as the young prince knelt before him in perfect filial obedience.
It was a complete fantasy of course.
Loki couldn’t remember how long it had been since his father had so much as looked in his direction, much less reached out a mighty hand to touch him.
With a sigh, he opened his sketchbook to begin another sketch, but the pages fell open to the watercolors he’d made of Shogün, prancing proudly across the pages, tossing his long, dark mane.
His stomach clenching, Loki flung the sketchbook aside.
Perhaps he could lose himself in music.
But as he placed his silver flute to his lips and began to play, the delicate notes seemed to jangle and jar, until finally admitting defeat he returned the beautiful instrument to its case.
His heart was simply too distracted to compose.
Thor had been right when he’d said Loki had no friends on Asgard, but now he felt truly friendless. Even Thor would not stand by him this time. Nor had Frigga come by his chamber to offer even the slightest bit of motherly comfort.
He’d been abandoned, left to endure the humiliation of being called before the entire court to answer for an endless catalog of “sins” both real and manufactured.
How his enemies would rejoice.
He’d played them all for the fools they were, but now he would have to endure their gloating, sniggering laughter.
On The High Throne, Odin, The All-Father remote and expressionless, would act as Loki’s judge and jury. Would he extend his hand in mercy or, with a wave of mighty Gungnir, pass the sentence for treason?
Loki’s mouth went dry as he imagined Odin, leveling Gungnir at him and intoning:
“Dark Loki… trickster… liar… traitor…unworthy son… I cast you out to fulfill your destiny. Your birthright is to die!”
With a cry of rage, Loki smashed the unfinished portrait over his knee, hurling it with all his strength across the room. A furious sweep of his arm sent paints and brushes flying, the paint pots shattering on the floor, the colors flowing together into a muddy stream.
He doubled over, gasping, his fury robbing him of breath.
So be it!
If that was to be his destiny, there was nothing he could do to change it. Even gods were powerless against Fate… and yet…
Why submit meekly?
Eventually he would have to face whatever destiny the Norns had woven for him, but until he was forced to dance to their predetermined tune, he would play his own.
He would play for time. Delay the inevitable as long as he could.
The Norns had the power to weave the fabric of his destiny, but until his fate was unalterably sealed, he still had the power to choose abject submission or freedom.
Loki grinned. After all, he did have the reputation for being a trickster. Why disappoint the crowd?
He would simply…. vanish.
Chapter 5: Desperate Measures
Heimdall, The Guardian of Asgard, stood with his great golden sword Hofund by his side, gazing out into the swirling cosmos.
Every night, from his post on the Bifröst he focused his gaze into the heart of the Nine Realms. His far-seeing, golden eyes scanned the vast reaches of space between the distant galaxies, always watching for any sign of trouble.
It was a never-ending job. Asgard had many enemies.
But Heimdall never complained or took a day off. For all his awesome visual capabilities, The Guardian was an uncomplicated man, living only to serve Asgard and his King. In his one defect, his strange, golden eyes, he had found his saving grace, and the knowledge of who he was and what destiny held in store for him.
He counted himself among the luckiest of the AEsir.
And so, on this particular night, while contemplating the vast beauty of the stars and planets glowing like rare gems in the velvet darkness, he felt the tiniest of breezes brush against him.
“Did you think to slip by me so easily, my Prince?” rumbled Asgard’s Guardian.
There was a startled intake of breath and a greenish shimmer as Loki discarded his cloaking glamour. “How did you know I was there?” he demanded.
The colossal guard almost smiled. “Your clever cloak may hide you from my eyes,” replied Heimdall, “but hearing as acute as sight is needful in a Guardian. Your footsteps betrayed you.”
“Then it’s too bad I never learned how to fly,” grumbled Loki.
“Indeed.” The giant Asgardian gazed down at the defiant young prince, taking in the traveling clothes and the back pack slung over his shoulder. “Going somewhere?”
“That’s none of your business, Guardian,” snapped Loki. “As your prince, I order you to let me pass.”
Loki’s eyes flashed with anger. “How dare you,” he cried “I order you---”
“I don’t take orders from you, boy,” growled Heimdall. “It’s obvious you’re running away like a coward instead of facing your accusers as befits a true prince of Asgard.”
Loki’s face turned crimson beneath the hood of his traveling cloak.
“Why should I do that?” he muttered through clenched teeth. “I’m guilty of nothing more than conjuring a cloaking spell, and since when is that considered treason?”
Heimdall shook his head. “It’s not,” he replied. “But doing such a thing makes even the most innocent of actions appear suspect. A prince must always be aware of how his actions appear to others. It may not be fair, and you may be guilty of nothing more than poor judgement, but running away will only make matters worse.”
Loki bit his lip and turned away. “It appears I’ve misjudged you,” he said, finally.
“In what way?” the Guardian asked.
“I’m disappointed, that’s all,” Loki replied with a shrug. “I thought you of all people, with your weird, golden eyes would understand what it’s like to be different. But now I see even you stand against me… just like everyone else.”
“Not so,” replied Heimdall. “It is merely that I understand what you do not, young prince. I embrace what makes me different. It has brought me opportunities I never could have dreamed of. Besides, everyone is different. The challenge for each of us is to embrace our uniqueness, to make the highest and best use of our gifts. There is a reason for everything.”
The high-pitched neighing of a horse cut sharply though Heimdall’s monologue.
Loki spun around. “The guards,” he gasped. “They’re coming to take me back. Please Heimdall,” he pleaded, “you have to let me pass.”
Again the Guardian shook his head.
“I’m sorry, my Prince,” he said. “You must return to the palace and face judgement. A prince must have respect for authority if he is ever to rule others.”
“To Hel with that,” spat Loki, and before Heimdall could stop him, he dashed to the edge of the Bifröst. “I’m sick of your sermonizing, Heimdall,” he cried. “Farewell.”
And as Heimdall watched in disbelief, Loki leaped off the edge of the Bifröst Bridge and into the freezing waters of the Asgard Sea below.
Casting Hofund aside Heimdall frantically began stripping off his golden armor. “Guards, come quickly,” he cried, “help me rescue the Prince!”
“Guardian… Stop!” a rumbling voice commanded.
Heimdall whirled about to see a single majestic figure where a dozen palace guards had been riding up only a moment before.
The Guardian of Asgard went down on one knee. “My King, forgive me for not recognizing you, but I must rescue the Prince. He…”
“I know what Loki has done,” said Odin.
“My Liege, I beg your forgiveness. I should have stopped him, but who would have thought he would…”
“Be calm, old friend,” said Odin. “The Prince will be fine.
Reluctantly, Heimdall rose to his feet and retrieved Hofund. “Forgive me, my King,” he said, “but how can that be? The waters below the Rainbow Bridge are icy cold and swift moving. Even if he were to survive the fall, would Loki not be swept away to his doom?”
The All-Father’s lips quirked up into a tiny, cold smile. “Loki will be swept away,” he replied, “but not to his death. I have set tasks for the boy to test him. If he behaves honorably he will be allowed to return, and no one will ever again question his loyalty.”
“And if he does not?” Heimdall asked, once again taking up his post.
For a moment Odin did not reply, instead, he raised his great golden spear and held it out over the deep, dark waters of the Asgard Sea.
“Then Loki shall have chosen his own fate,” intoned the All-Father solemnly. “He will live out the rest of his days in exile, stripped of his magic, never again to be called ‘Prince of Asgard’. He will live a mortal life and die as any ordinary, mortal man.”
Then Odin brought the hilt of Gungnir down upon the Rainbow Bridge with a reverberating clang.
“So let it be written… so let it be done!”
Too late Loki regretted his rash action.
The shock of the icy water closing over his head took his breath away. Gasping, he struggled to the surface, but the current rushed away with him, making it impossible to swim. His backpack filled with water weighing him down, but the swiftly flowing current made it impossible for him to slip out of it.
It was all he could do to keep his head above water.
Faster and faster the icy flood raced on until all Loki could hear was a deafening roar. The immense waterfalls at the edge of the Asgard Sea plunged into oblivion. Anyone unfortunate enough to go over them would be doomed to fall for all eternity, never reaching the bottom.
Panic clawed at Loki’s insides. If he went over the falls his fate would be well and truly sealed. Desperately he fought the relentless current, but the odds were against him. Like a boneless rag doll he drifted helplessly, crashing into rocks, swirling in whirlpools until his bruised and battered body was numb and his limbs were heavy with exhaustion. At last, half frozen and too tired to struggle any longer, he had no choice but to succumb.
A strange, languorous feeling came over him. Floating alone in a realm without fear or pain, where life and death had no meaning, he was conscious only of a vague surprise when he felt his body grow heavy and he began to sink, spiraling down… down… down… into the murky, icy depths.
TO BE CONTINUED...