A safe distance away, Loki could hear his stupid older brother’s battle cries on the other side of the castle grounds. Judging by the sheer volume of his dumb roar, it was clear he had again won whatever inane game he and his friends had been playing.
Cries of victory, glorious battle spoils would inevitably spill over into kiss-rewards from Mother, who would marvel at his King-worthy achievements at such a tender age, followed by the thunderous back-patting of a champion from Father at the dinner-table. Plates would be heartily emptied, and Loki would feel his want for food left wanting. Father would tell him a King must be strong and consume every last pea and parsnip, with which Mother would predictably agree. No-one would notice that the little trickster vanquished his unwanted food with illusion rather than actually eating it. His older brother’s diet was clearly deserving of more attention.
He had been learning magic and illusions quickly, despite having neither an instructor nor a lesson-book. With Thor’s inimitable rise to the Throne, his days grew tedious as they became increasingly unchallenged and unsupervised. In short, he was bored.
Aside from the ongoing boorish chants of victory, he had found a secret patch of meadow close enough to stay out of trouble for wandering, but far away enough that he could do what he wanted. Peace, quiet, clean air, a few trees, including a large oak that always sheltered him when it rained, and kept him cool when the sun was strong and low. An apple tree beside it was slowly dying, its roots shrivelled and its fruit rotting. He remembered Mother’s friend Ydun had been lamenting its imminent loss, but it could still be put to good use.
Closing his eyes, he willed all his concentration to his fingertips, clenched in a tiny fist, then spread out and downwards to release the energy. At once, the roots shook and writhed from the earth, peeling from the mud, unravelling from the long-grass and turned ink-black. Separating into living strands, they grew eyes, sharp pitchfork-tongues and seething hisses.
A little cry eked out from behind him. Pretending not to be startled, he glanced sideways and saw a little girl his age peering from behind his oak tree. A strange-looking, jade-eyed creature, with wild black curls strewn about her face.
“What slimy little beasts they are!” she exclaimed softly, a curious little smile creeping its way into her features.
Loki was aghast. “That’s my tree!” he pouted indigantly. “Who are you?”
“Klytië,” she replied. “And you are Loki. Your mother and my mother are friends.” She looked off into the distance. “Why aren’t you playing with Thor?”
Loki looked down at his skinned knee, still unhealed and tender from his victorious brother’s last victorious victory. “His games are stupid and boring.”
“Oh.” She nodded, noticing his knee. “I like the snakes. They’re shiny like your hair.”
Loki waved his hand over them, making them leap slightly. “They listen to me.”
Klytië inched around them and crouched next to her new friend. “Can you make them move?”
He tilted his wrist to the right, and curved his hand back to the left. The snakes followed suit, and the little girl let out a burst of laughter. He reversed his movements, the snakes did the same, and the girl tucked back her wild curls to marvel and giggle at their funny-looking serpent-dance. The little trickster found himself laughing in turn.
He led all of them to the base of the withering tree and they clung to it. But the weight of all the serpents dislodged an apple that had been precariously dangling above the little trickster’s head, and down it came, bouncing suddenly off his skull and rolling into the long-grass. The little boy winced in pain and rubbed his head, though it didn’t hurt for more than a second. His pale skin blushed in embarrassment.
Klytië stifled a giggle, then leaned over to kiss him on the cheek. “I like you!” she laughed.
Loki grimaced, but only a little bit enough to break his still-angry pout of crushed little-man bravado. To make up for it, he grumbled a little “hmph”.
“I have to go help Mother now,” said the little girl. “Bye.”
Loki sat there alone with the apple. Looking at the tree, he willed the serpents back into roots and placed the decaying fruit at the centre. For a few minutes, keeping his eyes open, he focused on nothing but the tree – the musty colour of the roots, the splintered prickle of the bark, and the acrid, sour smell of its fallen flower. He concentrated on the smallest tendril of root, no bigger than his little finger, and saw it blossom with a faint, but growing, hint of new life.