As the six Aesir stood on the frozen ground of Jotunheim, surrounded by scores of enemies on all sides, all Loki could think was: He’s done it again.
Granted, this was not surprising. Loki’s big brother was not exactly known for his well-mannered behavior. Thor was famous for charging ahead impulsively, with great enthusiasm but very little consideration. If Loki hadn’t known that Thor never put any thought into these adventures, he might have believed that his brother purposefully rushed headlong into the most dangerous thing he could find. There had been almost five months without any trouble and all of Asgard had known that something was bound to happen. Loki only wished that it hadn’t involved him standing ankle-deep in ice surrounded by malicious giants.
In truth, though, it always seemed to end up this way. With Thor making a lifestyle of leaping before he looked, someone had to be there. Father had given up on keeping up with his brash, headstrong son long ago, instead opting to chastise him whenever the boy stood still long enough and let him be otherwise. It fell to Loki to make sure Thor managed not to kill himself, not to mention anyone else. This was not a duty Loki enjoyed, but it was one he pursued determinedly nevertheless. He used his quiet nature to draw his brother back when he could, and where Thor improvised (often badly), Loki had a plan. Loki was always there for his brother. After all, it was very unlikely that he would have ended up facing half an army of Jotuns in their own realm otherwise.
Of course, this would probably be less humiliating than the last time he had been here.
“I don’t believe this!”
Thor stomped about the room in a huff, pacing the confines like an angry, trapped beast. He grumbled to himself and occasionally took his rage out on whatever part of the room happened to be nearby. The look on his adolescent face, however, was less an expression of unbridled fury than a pout. Loki perched silently on the edge of a table, eyes following his brother.
After a few minutes, Thor spun around to face Loki. “What am I supposed to do?”
Loki blinked and straightened up. “You’re asking me? What did Father say?”
Thor’s face darkened. “He said I was the one who ‘acted reckless’ and threw Mjolnir, so I have to get it back.” He folded his arms and worked up a teenaged glower. “I acted reckless? It’s a hammer! What am I supposed to do with it?”
“Not toss it at tentative allies, apparently.” Loki was too much enjoying the sight of his brother being forced to do something constructive.
“Ha, ha,” Thor shot back. He brought his fists together with a thud. “I should just go and do battle with this Trym.”
“Battle a Frost Giant without Mjolnir?” Loki asked dubiously.
Thor’s face contorted with thought. “Very well. I see your point.” He grinned. “He demands a wife. If Freyja will not help, perhaps we could give him Sif instead.” Lately Sif had been showing her affection for Thor by beating him soundly at the quarterstaff, a display which Thor found so infuriating that he refused to speak to her directly.
“Trym demanded Freyja,” Loki pointed out, “and Sif is no Freyja. And in any case I wish you luck in forcing Sif to do anything against her will.”
Thor threw up his hands in surrender. “I have no more ideas, brother. What do you want from me?”
Loki said nothing. As Thor watched him with mingled petulance and pleading, his amusement at the situation faded somewhat. Normally Thor only came to him to rant and confide, and Loki only listened. He was exceptionally good at listening. With his elder brother, that was often all he had time to do before Thor ran off to start trouble again. This time, though, Thor just stood before him, looking slightly lost – looking to Loki to guide him. Loki watched and waited to see whether this was genuine… or if Thor would regain his self-assurance and go save the day by himself.
Thor sighed and leaned against the table beside Loki. “Come, Brother,” he cajoled, punching Loki lightly in the arm, “I need your help.”
A ghost of a smile, almost imperceptible but quite genuine, crossed Loki’s face. “Really, now? You want me to get Mjolnir back?”
“You think you can do it?” Thor asked seriously, folding his arms.
Loki’s eyes flashed, and he smiled slyly. “You do nothing but get into trouble, Brother. What about me?”
“You’re never in trouble,” Thor grumbled.
Loki held up a finger. “No. There is a difference. I never get caught.”
Thor broke out into a lopsided grin, which elicited a slighter echo from Loki, and clapped him on the back. “I knew it,” he crowed. “I knew you had it in you. So will you help me, Brother?”
This time Loki’s smile was big and bright and full of teeth. “I happen,” he said lightly, “to have an idea.”
“That’s what you said half an hour ago, Brother,” Loki reminded him patiently, “yet here you are in a dress.”
“No,” Thor repeated, but he was in a dress, and that fact diminished his normal formidable bearing. He was sulking, face twisted into a scowl and broad shoulders hunched from within the bridal gown Loki had managed to temporarily procure. “This is stupid,” he complained. “I look nothing like a woman. I am the furthest thing from a woman there can be. I am completely un-womanlike.”
“Debatable,” Loki teased as he straightened out a bridal veil. “But consider this: Freyja’s response is proof that no woman in Asgard is going to agree to marry Trym, no matter how important Mjolnir’s return is.”
Thor muttered, but did not argue. His cheek was still slightly red where Freyja had slapped him.
“It falls to you to return the hammer,” Loki continued decisively, and put the veil over Thor’s head.
Thor lifted the veil to glare at his brother. “But why must I wear a dress?”
“Stealth,” Loki replied insistently. “There are advantages to being able to walk in unchallenged.”
“Where is your dress, then?”
Loki pulled the veil back down to hide Thor’s face and stepped back to examine his work. “I am the schemer, Brother; you are the hero of the day – or heroine.”
“You expect me to….” Thor yanked the veil off to give his brother an incredulous look. “I am to do this alone? You have to come with me!” Desperate, he added, “A bride needs bridesmaids!”
Loki’s eyebrows ascended. “You are concerned for your wedding party now? Touching, but I hardly think Trym will mind.”
Thor huffed and threw the veil at him. “Not what I meant,” he growled. “I cannot do this by myself.”
Loki considered Thor solemnly for a few moments before nodding. “Of course I am coming,” he said quietly. With that, he left Thor standing in the middle of the room in a wedding dress. Loki would need something of his own. If he was to be a bridesmaid, then most anything would do… but why settle for just any dress when he could make things interesting? He slipped into an invisibility spell as if it were a comfortable shirt and tread softly down the corridors to his destination. Loki was more than familiar with theft; compared to some of the items he had relocated over the years, taking a dress was almost boring, even if the owner was in the next room. Only a few minutes later, he had returned to the room (where Thor was trying unsuccessfully to sit down in his dress), clothed in a frilly, light green gown.
Thor stared at him, face straining in the battle between utter amusement and suspicion. “Is that Sif’s dress?” he blurted out at last.
“Of course not,” Loki deadpanned.
Thor shook his head and exploded into laughter. “This must be the most insane thing I have ever done.”
“It will likely be the most successful.” Loki handed Thor his veil and donned his own. “Now come. We must make it past Heimdall.”
Thor fixed the veil over his head and stood straight. He did not cut a convincing figure, but with the veil he looked somewhat less like a large young man in a dress. “Very well,” he sighed. He adjusted his skirts so that he could stomp toward the Bifröst. “This will not be enjoyable.”
The change in Heimdall’s bearing as they approached, for instance, was very entertaining. Heimdall was a stoic man, unfazed no matter how much trouble either Thor or Loki managed to cause. Now, as the two walked toward him in dresses, he wore a subtle expression of befuddlement which Loki found rewarding. Heimdall’s amber eyes flicked back and forth between the brothers.
Loki stepped forward. “We need to get to Jotunheim,” he stated grimly, brow furrowed. At Heimdall’s hesitation, he continued urgently, “I beg you take us seriously. I know it seems difficult, but you are the only one with enough sense of duty with whom we can trust this.” Loki was watching when Heimdall straightened, just slightly. He lightened his approach with a wry look. “My brother is wearing a dress. Do you really believe he would embarrass himself in such a fashion if it were not an important matter? The future of Asgard could hinge on this – or Thor would never be caught like this; believe me.”
Heimdall gazed at him. It was unnerving, but Loki remained steady beneath his scrutiny. Eventually, Heimdall nodded and turned on the spot, striding into the device. Loki followed, and he heard Thor clomping along behind him. They stood side by side as Heimdall prepared to send them to Jotunheim. Thor was ready for battle, stance ready to lunge forward in an attack. Loki prodded him. “Stand like a woman.”
Thor turned, bewildered, but dropped his fighting stance. “How in the nine realms does a woman stand?” he hissed.
And then, with a blurring flash of light, they were in Jotunheim, suddenly flanked by two Frost Giants. “My lady Freyja has arrived,” Loki told them imperiously in his best falsetto. “She has been sent as a gift to Trym.”
The Frost Giants looked at one another. One shrugged and jogged off toward a stone building.
It took Loki a moment to realize that Thor was shaking not because of cold, but because he was trying not to snicker. Loki rolled his eyes. Trust Thor to ruin even the best of plans.
Shortly thereafter, another Frost Giant, one who held himself more proudly than the rest, emerged from the building, followed by several others. Loki could only guess that this was Trym and his household. He had more girth than was normally seen in his race, and his face was split in a leering grin. Frost Giants were never particularly appealing as a rule, but Trym made Loki’s skin crawl. It was no wonder Freyja had attacked Thor when he suggested marriage to this thing.
“My bride!” Trym boomed. “I am gladdened to see that the Aesir have finally come to their senses. I thought I would be forced to hide Mjolnir away forever.”
“That would be a shame,” Thor snapped.
Loki closed his eyes and took a deep breath. He did not have to look to know exactly what the Frost Giants’ astonished expressions looked like. “Please excuse my lade Freyja,” he put in, pitching his voice higher, with a small curtsey. “Her voice is hoarse. My lady has not had drink in… eight days.”
The Giants paused, shifting about uncertainly for a moment. “Then let us begin the feast!” Trym bellowed at last. “Come! My bride is thirsty!” Trym led the procession back to his hall. Frost Giants surrounded them. Loki could feel them behind him, slowing their long strides to accommodate for the two Aesir. Loki took dainty steps in the crunching ice, wishing his brother would do the same, and tried to stay calm.
Trym’s hall was full to bursting with more Frost Giants, who all cheered bawdily upon their arrival. Food and drink covered every bit of the long stone tables. Trym parted the crowd to sit at the head of the largest center table and pulled closer the seat to his right, leering at Thor again. It took several inconspicuous shoves from Loki to get Thor to his appointed seat. By the time Thor reluctantly sat down, the entire hall was seated.
“We celebrate my wedding!” Trym roared. “Have you ever seen a more buxom bride?” The hall filled with hoots and wild laughter. “Raise your drinks, all! To the lovely Freyja!”
The Frost Giants bellowed in response and drank. Loki raised his goblet minutely to his brother before taking a sip. He did not have to see his brother’s face to know that he was glaring again. Thor lifted his cup and gulped its contents down in three swallows. Trym seemed delighted. “More wine!” he yelled, but Thor had already started on the food. He tore without decorum into the meat, simply ripping enormous bites off with his teeth. Loki took a long swallow of drink in an attempt not to shake his idiot brother by the throat. Thor was attracting stares from around the hall, not the least of which was Trym’s. The Frost Giant was taken aback this time; no matter how viciously he ate, he could not seem to outdo Thor.
“I have never known a woman to eat so much,” Trym commented uncertainly as Thor started on his second piece of meat.
“Forgive my lady Freyja,” Loki said smoothly. “She has had nothing to eat in eight days.”
Trym nodded. “Then bring more food!” he decided, bringing his fist down on the table. “What could cause such a fast for eight days?”
“Why, it was in preparation for the wedding,” Loki told him. The falsetto was beginning to strain his throat, but he was also starting to have fun. “It is tradition in Asgard for the bride to take no food or drink for eight days before a marriage banquet. That is why it took so long for my lady to arrive.”
Trym’s doubts vanished into a wide smile. “Aha! Then let her feast!”
Thor continued to devour the banquet until he must have eaten an entire ox, and neither did he stop draining his goblet every time it was refilled. Trym ate and drank voraciously, too, in a futile attempt to keep up with his bride. Loki glanced about a few times, but after catching the Frost Giant next to him giving him a suggestive look, he lost his appetite and decided to keep his attention on the action at the end of the table. Between Thor and Trym, the dishes were being destroyed systematically. The wine, too, was running out, and the more they drank, the less concerned Trym became with Thor’s behavior.
“Another toast to my beautiful bride!” Trym called, thrusting his cup into the air so violently that wine sloshed over the sides.
“May she be as eager in the bedchamber as she is at the dinner table!” a Frost Giant bellowed from the back of the hall. All his fellows doubled over with raucous laughter, howling and pounding the tables. Loki was careful to hide his chuckle in his goblet; Thor looked ready to bash someone’s skull in.
“Indeed!” Trym slurred. He set his cup down and leaned toward Thor. “Here, bride, give me a kiss.” He lifted the veil – and twitched back as if something had bitten him, eyes wide with horror as the veil fluttered back over Thor’s face. “The many stories of Freyja made no mention of her terrifying eyes,” he whispered loudly at Loki.
“You must overlook my lady Freya’s appearance,” Loki replied. “She has not slept in eight days.”
“I see,” Trym said, winking. “Is this part of the fasting?”
Loki smiled and leaned across Thor as if to impart a secret – which of course ensured that everyone nearby was paying attention. “No, not at all. My lady could not sleep for excitement.” Loki could feel Thor’s gaze trying to burn a hole through his skull as he sat back up, but the snickering around them was worth it.
Trym stood unsteadily. “It is time to end the wedding banquet. Bring forth the hammer!” Loki straightened up as a chest was lugged in by two Frost Giants and put at Trym’s feet. Trym pushed open the lid and, with great effort, hefted Mjolnir into the air for all to see.
Loki had briefed his brother on the plan. Thor well knew that he was to get Trym alone, incapacitate him, and retrieve Mjolnir, at which point he and Loki would leave through the back door and return to Asgard before anyone noticed. Even so, staring at the war hammer, Loki knew what was about to happen just before the hammer soared from Trym’s hands into Thor’s. Thor stood, knocking back his chair, and ripped his bridal veil off to reveal a wolfish grin. “The wedding’s off,” he said, and swung.
The hall exploded into chaos as Trym flew backwards. Loki ducked under his brother’s overzealous swings and retreated a distance. He meant to be of some use with magic, but it was hardly necessary. Thor was rampaging through the hall, Mjolnir spinning around him in a deadly series of blows. Frost Giants fell all around him, yet there were hundreds in the hall. Trym, roaring with rage, was attempting to pull himself into a standing position.
“Thor!” Loki yelled. With a quick burst of magic, he had opened up a path to the door. “We need to get out of here!”
“No fair, Brother!” Thor returned. He brought Mjolnir up under a Frost Giant’s chin. “You had your fun; I should have mine!”
Loki dodged a Frost Giant and performed the spell again, pushing them back. “You can battle later. Father will have noticed our absence. We have Mjolnir; let’s go!”
A moment later, Thor burst out of the crowd of Jotuns, barreling toward the door. The skirts of the wedding dress were torn and tattered, but they no longer hindered Thor’s full-out charge. “Run!” he yelled, grinning and breathless. Loki scrambled to stay ahead of him. Thor gave him a good shove anyway. “Faster!”
Together they rushed up the slick icy path just ahead of the Frost Giants. “Heimdall!” Thor called, pulling Loki along by his elbow. “Heimdall!”
Loki and Thor pitched forward into a blast of light and landed in a crumpled heap in Asgard. Loki sat up, dazed, and pulled off his crooked veil. They were safe on the Bifröst, unharmed and far from angry Frost Giants. Thor grunted and looked at him sideways, hefting Mjolnir. Loki watched his brother expectantly.
After he had regained his breath, Thor’s expression hardened. “That was a horrible plan.”
“That was a wonderful plan.” Loki pointed at him accusingly. “You, Brother, are a horrible actor.”
They glowered at each other for a moment before exploding into helpless laughter. That was how Odin found his sons: on the floor of the Bifröst, in ragged, stolen dresses, laughing so hysterically that neither of them could breathe. Odin’s eyes glanced over them and landed on Mjolnir. “Thor,” he rumbled, “you retrieved it.”
Thor gasped for breath between fits of mirth, but at last managed to stand. “Yes, Father.” He slung Mjolnir over his shoulder. “No Frost Giant can keep Mjolnir from me for long.”
Odin nodded slowly, eyeing his triumphant, gown-clad son. “Very well. Please, the both of you… change clothes before you’re seen.”
At that, Loki began laughing again. Odin sighed and walked back toward the palace. Under the circumstances, he had apparently decided not to ask too many questions. Thor extended a hand to help Loki up. “I hope this is the last of these schemes in which I have to wear a dress, Brother.”
“Very likely so,” Loki told him haughtily. “You do not make a very good woman.”
Thor chuckled. “I should hope so.” He put his arm around his brother and they set off for the palace. “I haven’t had this much fun in ages. Who knew you were such a troublemaker?”
Loki smirked up at him. “I have my moments.”
Thor grinned in return. “Some moments! I’ll have to bring you along more often, Brother.”
Loki had been surreptitiously involved in Thor’s mischief for years now, not that it made much difference. Despite Thor’s protests, he was always the schemer; he hardly ever became part of the action, preferring to take the background and let his brother do the work. It was fair, though; despite Loki’s protests, Thor never actually listened to any of his plans. On rare occasion, however, Loki could talk his brother into not getting himself killed.
Loki strode over to stand just beside Thor. “Brother,” he said softly, “perhaps this one time we should retreat. We only came for answers.” Thor’s gaze was fixed on the Laufey, the Frost Giant King. Despite the hundreds of Jotuns all around them, Thor did not look likely to forfeit this battle. Loki shook his shoulder. “Come,” he insisted. “Let us not start a war today.”
Thor clenched the Mjolnir, and then forced a grin. “Fine.”
Loki let out his breath and followed his brother away from the throne of Jotunheim. It had been a close call; even now he could see that Thor’s knuckles were white from the force of his grip. Even so, they were headed back to Asgard, and no one would be the worse for it. Sometimes, then, Loki could save the day, if only a little bit; he could save his idiot hero big brother.
“That’s right,” one of the Jotuns growled from behind them, “run away, little princess.”
Thor jerked to a halt, eyes blazing. Loki sighed. Then again, he couldn’t win all the time. “Damn.”