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The Merchant of Death

Chapter Text

Thor = 960 y/o (12 y/o)
Loki = 480 y/o (6 y/o)

 

The orange of the setting sun bled through the trees casting long shadows over the underbrush as two small figures crashed through it with shouts of panic.

“Hurry Loki!”

The larger of the two boys yelled back as a smaller boy scrambled after him, both covered in scrapes and dirt.

“Thor it’s gaining!”

Loki gasped out. His lungs burning at their mistreatment so soon after recovering from fever, but he dared not slow. Behind him he could still hear the thundering of heavy hooves.

Ahead of him Thor threw a frantic look over his shoulder as a dark bulging form slammed through the forest not forty meters back from his younger brother. The flayed bull’s rotting flesh flapped limply with its movements and its remaining eye rolled with madness.

They had merely wished to explore the forest, they were older now and their mother had said they could play near the tree line, but the forest was nearly untouched by the Æsir and had presented an inviting figure to the young princes. They had wandered in its expanse for nearly the entire day before stumbling onto the old structure. How were they to have known it housed the dead, as worn and old as it had become, they would never have approached. As it was no sooner had they begun to search through its crumbling structure had the draugr appeared. Its rotting stench had nearly gagged the young princes as they had fled, but the blacken, swollen form had pursued, soon utilizing its trollskap to take the form that now hunted them.

The sun was sinking further, and the princes were tiring, but they knew that if they stopped now, they would surely perish. Thor pushed on ahead of his brother, his blue eyes wide as he desperately searched for somewhere to hide. Finally, just ahead he caught sight of a rocky overhang, perhaps they would find a cave to hide in at the base!

Thor had just begun to turn to call it out to his brother, when his heart dropped to his boots at the sound of a surprised cry from behind him. He jerked to a stop his blond hair whipping around his face as he turned in terror to see his brother fall, rolling with his own momentum. In a blink the bull had caught up and lowered its enormous horned head while continuing its charge.

“Loki!”

His brother had kept his bearings during the rough tumbling and had since regained his footing, lurching back into a run, but it had cost him precious ground and speed. Realizing what was about to happen Thor cried out warning as he grabbed for the short sword strapped to his side.

Terrified green eyes met his and after seeing his position the younger ducked at the last moment allowing Thor to draw his blade and swing at the beast’s head and spin to the side to avoid the sharp horns.

The draugr bellowed in rage and pain as the strike bit into its rotting flesh, but it wheeled around in a large arc and immediately charged again.

“Thor! Thor it won’t work! Only iron can harm it!”

Loki managed to position himself just behind Thor’s left side and the elder quickly used his elbow to shove Loki further back.

“It matters not now, we must hold our ground if we are to stand any chance! Now get behind me, when I move you move.”

The younger boy sounded as though he meant to protest but was cut short when the bull reached them again. Thor swung his sword as hard as he could while twisting his body out of the creature’s path once more, feeling his brother mirror his movements fluidly at his back, a small dagger burying itself in the bull’s head. But still the draugr continued, snorting and bellowing its fury.

Thor rounded to face the bull again and Loki shifted with him, though he could hear his brother muttering frantically in the old tongue. He could only hope his brother finished his enchantment quickly. The beast charged again, and Thor was ready, bracing himself he swung again and began to twist away, but this time the beast twisted with him swinging it’s massive head around with unnatural speed.

A scream tore from the blond prince’s lips as the sharp horns ripped into his side. He felt his fingers slip from the hilt of his weapon and his knees impact the dirt and his vision was stolen by the pain.

Gore spilled onto the soil as he vaguely registered hands grasping at him, but he couldn’t think, couldn’t breathe past the agony. As consciousness fled, he thought he heard his brother shouting something, but he had not the strength to linger any longer. He prayed his brother did the clever thing and fled, but before he could even finish that thought, he slipped away.

(~)

Loki felt his blood freeze as his brother sagged limp in his arms, but he didn’t dare stop or stutter, though his voice rose to a desperate shout as he continue to recite the words of the spell he had been studying. A teleportation spell, he had read of it in the book his mother kept, but he had never attempted such complex seidr.

The bull was almost upon them as his voice rose, but he dared not speak faster for fear of fumbling the precise words and killing them all. Three more words as the bull reached them and he desperately pictured the edge of the forest in his mind. The last word left his lips as he felt the sharp horn tip pierce his upper arm, but there was a sudden nauseating twist in his chest and suddenly they were surrounded by blackness, then blinding light. Blinking his eyes desperately Loki cleared his vision enough to see that they were no longer in front of the bull.

Elated relief poured through him and he almost laughed as the adrenaline stole his thoughts, but then he heard the angered screams of the draugr just off their right and his eyes widened.

The spell had worked, but not how he had intended.

A new surge of energy shoved him into action as he saw a rocky outcrop a few feet in front of him and a small dark opening at its base. His seidr sang in his veins as he frantically cast it towards the cave, a simple detection spell assuring him that the cave was in fact empty.

With a ragged sound he lurched to his feet and grabbed Thor’s shoulders, tugging and dragging the larger boy towards the sloping entrance. A few steps later he realized that he was leaving a clear trial of blood and froze, before grabbing his brother and heaving him over his shoulder in one desperate lift.

The smaller staggered under the dead weight but locked his knees and stumbled the last meter to the entrance of the cave, carefully ducking them both inside.

He could see nothing in the darkness as he staggered deeper in, using his feet to try the judge the slope of the floor and search for anything ahead. Finally, he felt the grit of the floor even out into a flat surface and after shuffling forward a little more, collapsed to his knees.

He knew he was bleeding, but the numbness of adrenaline blocked out everything as he focused enough to make a small ball of light in his hand. He immediately set to work inspecting Thor. The wound was grisly, and if Loki were thinking more rationally, he would have recognized there was nothing to be done. But as it was, he placed the light down and dug into his pack for his water skin and shed the outermost layer of his tunic. Tearing it into strips he folded a large chunk into a makeshift compress and held it firmly against the gaping wound as his other hand worked to uncap the waterskin.

Bracing himself for a moment, he quickly pulled the padding of fabric away and poured water over the wound allowing him a slightly better view of the damage before he pressed a new compress against it, carefully securing it with a few longer strips of the ripped fabric.

It was by no means a proper dressing, nor would it do anything in the long term, but for now it would help until he figured something better out. Shifting he quickly made to stand, after all he needed to cover the entrance or move them further in before the draugr had a chance to find them. However, as soon as he was on his feet he was overcome by a wave of dizziness and before he could even begin to react, he felt the world slip violently to the side as he too fell unconscious next to his brother.

(~)

Loki woke to pain and the smell of blood. Disoriented he tried to move and was stunned by the shear exhaustion that rolled through his body. He simply laid there a moment, allowing his mind to drift slightly as he struggled to remember what had happened and just bask in the heat of a nearby fire.

Fire?

His mind snapped to alertness just as he heard the rustle of fabric nearby and the memories of earlier began to snap back.

It took all his willpower not to stiffen or give any outward sign he was awake as he quickly ran through every possible scenario. The earlier exhaustion he had felt echoed through his very core as it always did when he overused his seidr which meant he would not have the strength to cast anything large for quite some time. He still had his daggers and a short sword on his person. Odd that this new threat had not removed them, but he would not waste his good fortune.

He listened carefully to the sounds of movement to determine where the other was, judging how fast he could stab them before they had a chance to escape. And Thor, where was Thor? No time, he would deal with this new threat first then he would worry for his brother.

Taking a slow breath, he finally tensed and in the blink of an eye was up, sword drawn and lunging at the dark figure a few feet away.

The other person jerked as they registered the attack and with a shout brought their arms up to protect their head as Loki’s sword swung down at them.

Only to pass through empty air a mere moment later as the other vanished. Snarling in surprise and anger Loki turned sharply and threw his back against the wall, eyes darting to every shadow in an attempt to locate his foe.

“Stop this, I was helping!”

Loki merely snarled again and spun to where he had heard the voice, but there was still no one there. This being was using seidr, they had to be, but his own was worn too thin to sense their energy. His eyes flickered to the prone form of his brother a few feet away, trying to judge his state, but in the low light it was impossible to tell if he had been harmed further.

He could probably make it if he moved fast enough. If he got to Thor, then he might be able to drudge up enough seidr to teleport them out of here so they could escape. Dropping into a lower stance he readied himself to move, when suddenly the voice spoke again.

“You need not fear me princeling, I was called here to help, and I plan to do so.”

“And who spoke this call? Certainly not I!”

The other made a noise of agreement, Loki’s gaze following it as it seemed to travel around the small space.

“A far greater power then you or I liten viper (small viper). But for now, you must trust me to complete my work. I feel you may find it most beneficial.”

“And what work is that?”

“Bringing your brother back from the gates of Valhalla.”

Loki’s heart stuttered as his eyes fell back on his brother, finally recognizing the stillness of his chest and dullness of his skin. Without his permission a small wounded sound squeezed from his throat.

“Impossible, he is gone, he cannot be returned, so state your true purpose here liggende lur (lying coward)!”

The other finally appeared at the opposite end of the cave and Loki could finally make out his features in the flickering light. He was handsome, dressed in dark leathers and armor pieces he had tanned skin and bright eyes framed by dark hair and a neatly braided beard. Beads shifted in its strands and caught the light as he spoke again.

“I know of your grief young one, but I assure you that death is not so permanent.”

The young boy’s eyes widened as the words registered.

Død uærlig (death dishonorer)r ! I would never allow you to dishonor his spirit in such a way!”

He hissed and spit in disgust at the mere thought of the man raising his brother in such a fashion. He would die himself before casting such a fate on one as honorable as Thor.

“You misunderstand, I am not one who creates those such as the being which caused this, I am he who serves Death herself. It was she who instructed me to seek you this night and to heal the wounds you and your brother bare. Please, trust me and allow me to show you what I can do. If my intentions proof false, then I permit you to strike me down.”

Loki hesitated, he should not even entertain the idea, but it was Thor, his brother and best friend, and in his heart, he knew that he couldn't pass by the chance to set things right. His hands trembling, he slowly lowered his sword and spoke in a wavering voice.

“Do your spell work stranger, but I will strike you down if your words prove lies.”

The other nodded and knelt next to Thor. Carefully he placed a hand on the blond prince’s head and another on his chest and bent his head. As he watched Loki saw strands of golden light begin to slither and wreath around his hands, and his own seidr trembled in the face of the sheer power that now ebbed from the other’s bent form.

In the face of it’s overwhelming presence Loki felt himself sink to his knees, his seidr flagging and trembling as it brushed at the edges of the force and his mind and body numbed to the outside world.

He was broken from his overwhelmed state an unknown time later when a raspy voice broke the silence.

“Loki?”

The younger prince’s eyes slowly focused back onto his brother as his previously still form shifted, his chest rising and falling softly.

The man had shuffled back and now leaned on the wall of the cave, his power having been pulled back as he watched silently.

Loki began to stand but felt himself still weakened and dizzy from the other’s power so instead managed crawled to his brother’s side just as Thor’s blue eyes fluttered open.

Loki could not stop the tears that welled in his eyes as he realized that the stranger had been telling the truth, his weakened seidr gently drifting over Thor and sensing no darkness.

Thor who was becoming more aware by the moment frowned as he caught sight of Loki, his hand clumsily coming up as if to touch the other’s face.

“Loki? Loki what’s wrong? Why are you crying?”

That was all it took for the stress and tension in the younger prince to finally push forward in the form of a rough sob before he grabbed his brother’s hand and held it close as he quickly worked to regather his composure. Thor’s eyes widened at his brother and he immediately sat up and curled himself around his younger brother, asking softly what was wrong and trying to soothe him.

So concerned for his brother it was several long moments before Thor registered the presence of the other man in the cave. Upon seeing the stranger so close he tensed and in a slightly disoriented movement managed to get himself into a half kneel with his brother behind him, one arm still in Loki’s grip.

“Who are you? Why are you here and what have you done to Loki?”

The man snorted and raised both hands in a placating gesture.

“Peace Thor son of Odin, I have not harmed your brother, nor do I mean any harm to you. I am merely here to help.”

“Help?”

“Thor it’s alright, he is speaking the truth.”

Thor glanced over his shoulder as Loki finally released his grip on Thor and straightened, his face now back to its normal composure and eyes calculating as they stared at the strange man.
“You’re the hyrde av sjeler (shepherd of souls) aren’t you.”

Thor startled at his brother’s words and he immediately turned back to regard the man with no small amount of shock.

“Such a formal title of old. I prefer to simply be called Kjøpmann (Merchant) if you would, it makes things far easier on this plane.”

Loki nodded shallowly as Thor looked quickly between the two in utter confusion.

“Loki what happened?”

The younger seemed to struggle to speak for a moment before the Merchant spoke up, pushing off the wall.

“You were fatally wounded by the draugr and fell. Your brother was also wounded and overextended his power to save you both. You died of your wounds shortly after he collapsed in exhaustion. But Death has other plans for you both and deemed it important enough to send me to offer aid. As such I was able to pull you back from the path to Valhalla and heal you and your brother.”

Thor nodded and relaxed his posture, still awed by the being before him, but hiding it well.

“Then we owe you our thanks and a great debt Kjøpmann and as a son of the All Father I should see that debt repaid. Name your price and I shall see if fulfilled to the best of my power.

The Merchant shook his head firmly.

“Though your offer is well Odinson, it is unnecessary, I only do my Lady’s bidding and have no need for compensation. You are of importance in a greater scheme as is your brother and as such it is my duty to offer my aid. However, just because you know I am looking over you that does not mean that you should needlessly endanger yourself in life. You are still mortal despite your heritage.”

The Merchant glanced at Loki as he spoke the words and the younger boy’s eyes narrowed in confusion, but the other was speaking again.

“I shall see you safely back to the main city and then I shall be on my way. You will find your injuries healed but your body and minds will need time to recover the energy I used to heal you. Now come, the Lady Frigga must be worried.”

Thor nodded and carefully rose to his feet, gently tugging Loki up with him and holding him steady as the younger weaved slightly from exhaustion. The elder prince nodded once in permission and the Merchant returned the nod as he stepped forward and placed a hand on each boy.

Mere moments later they were stood just inside the front hall of the palace, both swaying in the older man’s grip as the events of the day truly caught up to them. Assuring himself they would stay on their feet the Merchant carefully released his hold and before he could speak another word there was a call from the end of the hall as a guard recognized the princes and called to another to alert the Queen they had returned. He glanced over before nodding to the two boys and vanishing into thin air.

 

(~)

430 years later

Shouting and the harsh ringing of metal on metal greeted the Merchant as he materialized on the battlefield. The dirt was soft under his boots from blood and the field was already littered with bodies. Angry spirits flashed and shivered all around him as the brutality and anger in their death forced them to cling to their corpses.

He was careful to remain on the parallel plane as he looked around him. The battle would not be a victory for either side, not with this kind of bloodshed. He sighed as another young woman was cut down a few feet from him and blood splattered through where he stood. The beast that had slain her roared in triumph as its nearby companions answered the cry. Such a waste of life these battles were, was there not enough death without introducing slaughter into the equation?

He began to carefully walk through the fighting, his wings pulled close to his form as he surveyed his surroundings, though he knew they would not actually touch any of the physical things around him. Usually he would arrive after the fighting was over and perform his duties all at once, but something was different this time. There was to be another death for him to prevent, he just didn’t know where, only that amongst the throng of bodies there was one who was meant to live.

All around him numbers dwindled into mere minutes and his eyes scanned each face as they fell, but none grabbed his attention. In war it was nearly impossible to tell who would survive.

Nearly an hour later and he was growing frustrated, there had been no indication of who he was meant to save, and the battle was still in full swing. He was about to take to the air when someone yelled his name.

Kjøpmann, it has been long!”

Startled the Merchant turned and met the bright blue eyes of the eldest prince of Asgard. He was covered in gore and blood but grinned widely as he fought his way to the older man. He had nearly reached the baffled spirit when a smaller figure appeared next to him in a flash of gold light.

“Hel Thor, I told you to hold position till I got back!”

Thor simply laughed and cut down another creature.

“But brother, we have an important ally on the field!”

To the Merchant’s utter befuddlement, the younger prince turned and immediately pinned him with an annoyed and then surprised gaze.

Kjøpmann?”

“You shouldn’t be able to see me!”

Loki raised both eyebrows as the older man blurted that out even as Thor snorted in amusement.

“Then I hate to disappoint, but you are as visible as any. What brings you back to our plane on this day of battle mächtig (powerful one)?”

But the Merchant didn’t reply as he double checked that he was in fact still firmly in the parallel plane, going as far as to push his arm through a nearby beast, watching in confusion as it passed through as it was should.

“No, you misunderstand, I should not be visible as I am in no way present on your plane. I should be invisible to all even though I am here. How is it you two can see me? What do I look like to you?”

Loki ducked his brother’s hammer and stabbed viciously into an enemy approaching his back, then spinning to throw a dagger into the face of another charging creature, before he focused on the Merchant looking intrigued.

“I see. To us you appear exactly as you did during our last meeting except it is harder to gaze upon you for long and you appear to have gained wings since our last encounter. As for why we can perceive you, perhaps a discussion for a slightly later time?

Loki created a stream of green flames and spun to scorch the foes closest to him as he answered, Thor moving forward to cover him as he prepared his next spell. The Merchant watched this for a few more minutes, lost in thought as he puzzled over what this could mean, when something flashed in the corner of his eye. Focusing himself back to the present he froze as he realized what had changed.

The numbers above both brother’s heads, previously long and healthy lifespans, had dropped to a few minutes. Straightening his posture, he darted his gaze around the battlefield, trying to discern where the threat would come from, but there were too many enemies around them. Growling in frustration the Merchant stepped forward as he made a decision. Why wait for the threat to appear? Why wait for them to die before doing something? Most of these men, woman and creatures were to die soon so why should he not step in now?

The Lady had long since deferred to his judgment in the moment of how to handle his jobs. With this thought fresh in his mind the Merchant stepped forward and materialized a long, onyx sword as he allowed himself to slip fully into the physical plane.

Stepping forward he executed a perfect arc, lopping the head of an enemy which had meant to take the head of the eldest Odinson. Said prince heard the other’s death and spun around with a grunt, only to stop at the sight of the Merchant standing there with a blood covered blade, dark wings flared in aggression.

The blonde prince regarded the other man for a brief moment before a large grin broke ono his face and he called out cheerfully, also drawing his brother’s approving gaze.

“Well met Kjøpmann! We shall defeat this enemy together!”

The Merchant grunted a reply as he was forced to turn and parry a strong battle axe aimed for his side, but he could hear Thor laughing and yelling still.

What followed was the bloodiest, grittiest battle the Merchant had fought in a very long time. The brothers, young as they were, proved extremely talented warriors. The two fought together seamlessly, Thor’s brute strength decimating foes and covering for Loki’s more wide scale seidr attacks, while his younger brother effortlessly flowed around Thor taking out any enemies that made it too close.

The Merchant began to drift away from the two when he first began fighting, not wanting to interrupt the obviously practiced flow of their attacks, but soon found that he had underestimated the pair again. The princes easily accommodated him into their dance, moving in perfect tandem with his own attacks and together they became a well-oiled machine of destruction, striking down foe after foe until the horns of victory rang out of the field and finally they lowered their weapons, the battle rush fading from their veins.

The three stood there, covered in blood and dust as their chests heaved in exertion, but feral grins stretched their cheeks. Tony’s power sang as his mortal muscles burned and in all his time as the Merchant he had never felt as alive as he did now.

He dipped under the heavy arm that Thor threw over his shoulder and laughed as the two brothers snipped back and forth about the other’s many mishaps during the fight, soon being drawn into the easy banter. And it was many minutes before a shout rang out, as a startled warrior saw the Merchant.

“Thor what demon have you captured?”

The large blonde looked up and grinned at the sight of four warriors approaching the three. The three men and woman stared openly at the Merchant, their eyes flickering between his wings and the arm that Thor had kept on his shoulder.

“Nay, he is an old friend who came to bask in the glory of the fight today and glorious it was my friends!”

The others agreed heartily, their suspicion of the winged stranger already faded, and the Merchant nodded along as he was addressed by each as they introduced themselves. The warrior three and Lady Sif were apparently long friends of the princes.

It was sometime later that the Merchant once more found himself alone with the two princes as they bathed the remains of the battle from their skin in a large heated pool in the palace. Though hesitant at first the Merchant had eventually agreed to indulge in the small luxury of joining the two, and now found himself drifting lazily in warmth as the soothing smell of scented oils wafted over him. The releasing of those killed in the fight had been taxing.

“Did you ever discover the reason we could see you?”

Loki’s voice roused him as he glanced over at the younger prince before shaking his head.

“No, by all laws and happenings I should have been unperceivable by any mortal. There had to be something linking me to you two or allowing you to glimpse beyond the physical plane. Do you know if there is anything that may be capable of such a feat?”

Both brothers seemed to contemplate that for a few moments before Loki spoke up again.

“Could it be my enchantment?”

The younger prince waded across the pool to where their armor lay and after digging through the pile of fabrics produced a small stone carved charm shimmered with a green light on a thin chain.

“I created them after we encountered a deceiver who used illusions as a weapon. Thor and I wear them at all times now as to never be misled by such deception again. I meant to allow us to see through any cloak, but I was unaware they would break through the plane of physicality.”

As he spoke, he handed the necklace to the older man who in turn inspected it thoroughly, probing at it with his power. At first, he found nothing that would cause such an ability, but then his power brushed something familiar and a theory began to form in his mind.

“No, it should not affect such things, but perhaps because my own power flows through you? Do you remember the feeling of my power when we first met?”

“It was crushing, I could barely hold onto myself.”

“Yes, but your own power was drained at the time and you felt such effects because your own core tried to absorb my power to feed itself. It was too much while your core was in such a vulnerable state, but it is likely that you managed to absorb some of my energy. I felt your drain at the time but didn’t realize how little of your own seidr remained. This enchantment contains some of my own power, though it has since been adapted to fit your own signature more, but I can still recognize it.”

The younger magic user’s brow furrowed as he took in the other’s words.

“My magic did feel strange after it recovered from that night, but eventually it seemed to be fine, so I gave it no further thought.”

“It’s likely your own seidr adapted it to work with your own.”

Thor who had been listening silently till now finally spoke up.

“But Loki made those amulets many years after you healed us, should your own power not have faded or been used up by then? Does he still possess its influence?”

The other two bathers nodded as they realized he made a good point. Finally, the Merchant interrupted the silence.

“Well there is a very simple way to find out, Loki if I could feel your core, I may still be able to sense my own power’s presence in you.”

Loki seemed to hesitate for a long moment as his hands unconsciously came to rest on his chest, but a few seconds later they dropped, and he gave a sharp nod which the Merchant returned.

Projecting his movements, the Merchant slowly placed his hand on the other’s sternum and allowed a small amount of his power to seep into the bath warmed skin, feeling Loki’s seidr stir in response. Careful to regulate the connection he allowed his power to blanket the other’s, twisting around it and prodding gently. He was about to declare that there was nothing there when he finally felt a little pulse near the very center of the prince’s seidr. Cautiously he followed that trace back to the source and finally found the answer to their questions.

Thor and Loki watched the older man as he finally drew back, a small frown on his face and their own apprehension grew.

“Well?”

“Well, I found what happened and I have no idea what it means. There is a part of your core that is completely my power, as in you likely over stressed your seidr to the point it crack or fractured and mine patched it. Or something along those lines.”

Thor shifted closer looking outright concerned now even as his brother’s face fell into a perfectly blank mask.

“And you have no idea the possible repercussions of such a merging of our magic?”

“No, but if it is any reassurance your magic seems to have bonded to mine pretty seamlessly so if you haven’t seen any effect up until this point, I doubt any new ones will arise now.”

Loki nodded and cast a look at Thor who after looking back at him for a moment begrudgingly shifted back to his former seat and said nothing.

The three soaked in silence for a long while before that before Thor broke the silence with a comment on the Merchant’s wings and from there the friendly chatter was revived.

(~)

Sometime later they had all redressed and as the princes turned to make their way to the feast, they bid their goodbyes. The Merchant watched them walk away, his gaze fixed on the long, healthy numbers and smiled slightly as he allowed himself to fade onto the other plane.

He had no idea then what awaited the younger prince or the effects it would cause going forward.