The flower lay on the table in the healer’s wing, looking impossibly innocent.
“It makes sense” said a young blonde woman in a white robe.
Eir frowned and shook her head.
“But what of the rash? And the nausea? We know the symptoms of Odin’s helm and that doesn’t fit.”
“We know what happens when you ingest it” said another healer, an old man with grey beard and hair. “Perhaps the poison was administered in another way, through the skin most likely.”
“Who is going to tell the king and queen?” demanded the blond woman. “Not me!”
“Someone must tell them” Eir’s voice was solemn. “He doesn’t have long.”
In his bed, mere feet from where the healers held their council, Thor laid as if sleeping. His breathing came shallow and laboured.
The summons to appear in the Great Hall came at a most inopportune time, Loki thought. He was waiting for Sigyn to come back with Hela so he might feed her, and his chest was tight and swollen with milk. It was one of the few things he really abhorred - since Hela spent so much time with her nanny, feedings usually came when Loki was already in pain, making them very uncomfortable.
Therefore, he was in a sour mood when he arrived in the Great Hall, obeying his father’s command to appear as soon as possible.
There was an air in the hall that made him uncomfortable, as if something that he was not privy to had just happened, and he focused his attention on the woman in the healer’s robe. She was young, and blond, and in other circumstances he would have found her pretty.
“Any news of Thor?” he demanded of her, not bothering with casual greetings. The healer hung her head, unable to meet his eyes.
“We have identified the illness now, Sire” she said.
“Well? What is it?” Thank the norns, then Thor would soon be back with him and Hela, where he belonged.
An uncomfortable silence spread in the hall. Frigga turned her face away, unable to look at her son for one more minute. Loki looked around, a sinking feeling in his stomach.
“Well?” He demanded, “when will he be cured?”
“The illness is a poison, sire” the healer said, clasping her hands in front of her as if trying to comfort herself.
“Odin’s helm.” She said quietly, but in the unnatural stillness of the hall he could hear her clearly. He recognized the name, it was one of mother’s most well-guarded plants.
“That is not an answer” Loki said, panic starting to creep into his voice, “when will he be cured?”
“He won’t” the healer finally said, “there is… there is nothing we can do.”
Loki didn’t understand it. Nothing? Thor… his Thor, and they could do nothing?
“You can’t let him die!” He cried accusingly, turning to Odin. “Father! Do something!”
“There is nothing we can do, my son. There is no cure that we know of.”
Frigga stood up, arms outstretched for him.
“Loki-” she began, but Loki wasn’t having it.
“No, no he’s going to be well. You just need to find a cure.”
“Child” Odin said gently, his eye wide and bright with grief, “there is no cure.”
“That you know of!” Loki cried wildly, “maybe- maybe the vanir-”
“It was a vanir who solved the mystery” said the healer, “the Lady Freyja. She knows no cure, either.”
“Then- but-” Loki was frantic, staring wild-eyed at his mother, pleading with her to do something, make the horrifying news not true.
“He mustn’t die” he begged, desperate. “Please, mother-”
Frigga hurried across the floor, wrapping her arms around him.
“Oh Loki-” she choked, hiding her tears in his hair.
Odin looked at them. Something in what had been said niggled at his mind. No cure that we know of , he thought. But maybe others know.
Laufey slowly folded the piece of parchment up again, wondering what he was going to say to Farbauti. The royal consort was not exactly fond of Aesir, especially not the one whom the missive was from. But this was an emergency, and he was not going to let Loki become a widower so young when there was something he could do. Besides, it would create some excellent goodwill for Jotunheim, which was a rather isolated realm where she lay on one of the most distant branches of Yggdrasil.
Farbauti had, for obvious reasons, no love lost for the youth in question. But Laufey wanted to go; Loki needed him, and he wasn’t going to let him down this time. Besides, it would give him an opportunity to see his son again, and his little granddaughter. And perhaps it was time to heal other wounds, as well. Old wounds, that had festered and rotted for centuries.
“What are you reading?” Farbauti rumbled as he came into the study, leaning over the chair where Laufey sat. His broad frame towered easily over Laufey, bringing a delightful mix of the warmth of closeness and the cold of his consort’s inner core.
“It’s a missive from Asgard” Laufey replied, not seeing any reason to avoid the conversation that was going to take place.
“And what do the Aesir want this time?” Farbauti didn’t sound displeased, but that didn't mean anything. The giant could be fickle like a freshly frozen spring. And messages from Asgard weren't exactly common.
“Thor is ill. Dying. They are asking if there is anything we could do to save him.”
“Why should we?” Farbauti sounded bored.
“Because Loki loves him. And Hela needs her father.”
“Is there anything we can do?”
“Yes. I know the poison, and I know of a way that may cure it.”
“I see” Farbauti said, thoughtful. “Will you be going?”
“I haven’t answered yet.” Laufey replied non-commitically, but he and Farbauti knew each other well after nearly a millennium of mating.
Farbauti’s strong hands stroked his shoulders, thumbs working the kinks in his neck, and Laufey sighed in pleasure. Then the grip intensified, hardened, and he shivered.
“It would be good for Helblindi.” Farbauti murmured, and Laufey blinked in confusion.
“I don’t follow.”
“To rule while we are away.”
Laufey turned his head, staring up at his consort in amazement. Would wonders never cease? Farbauti smiled and pulled him up into an embrace that quickly grew heated.
The letter from Odin fluttered to the floor, where it lay momentarily forgotten.
Sif looked at the small flowers she had picked, unsure what to do with them. She had been told that they could cause what she wanted, but she had no idea of the dosage and had no one to ask. And she did not want to end up like Thor, who lay dying in the healing wing. No, Sif wanted to live - to be free and joyful, like Thor was supposed to be. And now she was in a situation she did not know how to get herself out of. She needed help, she realised. But who was she to ask? The warriors three? They would not understand, nor prove particularly helpful.
It was a split second decision, but Sif turned and threw the flowers into the fireplace, watching with desperation as they immediately turned to ashes. Then she hid her face in her hands, as one would do when weeping.
But she did not cry.
It was mere hours after the news that Thor’s condition was incurable that Loki moved into the healing wing with little Hela, wanting to be as close as possible to the man he loved for however little time was left.
Not that Thor noticed, where he lay. He was somewhere between Hel and Valhalla, and only the norns knew where he would end up.
Loki was too numb to even weep, instead sitting quietly by his husband’s side, holding his hand.
“Don’t leave me” he whispered to a man who couldn’t hear him.
“He won’t, if I can do anything” a familiar voice spoke from just behind him, and Loki almost jumped out of his skin.
“Eadni!” He cried in relief when he realized who it was. “You scared me half to death!”
“Forgive me, child, but I came as soon as I could. I know a way to save Thor’s life.” Laufey stroked Loki’s cheek lovingly, secretly thrilled at getting to touch him. Loki looked up at him, dubious. He had been told that there was no saving Thor, had almost started to make peace with it. And now to be told that there was a way after all? He dared not believe it.
“How?” He demanded when Laufey did not seem forthcoming with the information.
“In Jotunheim it is said that the waters of Hvergelmir can cure any illness and heal all wounds. If you fetch the water, and give it to Thor, he will be healed. While you are on this quest, I will keep him alive here in As,gard.”
“How will you keep him alive, eadni?” Loki asked, still not believing what he was being told.
“I will freeze his heart, thus keeping him in a state between living and dead. There he will remain until such a time when he can be saved. But do not tarry for too long; an aesir heart is not as hardy as a jotun, and he will not last long.”
“Where is this… Hvergelmir? What is it?”
“It is a spring, in the deepest part of Niflheim.” Laufey explained. “But it is guarded by the dragon Nidhöggr, who will not allow just anyone access to the water. Therefore you must go yourself, and plead with him to part with it.”
Loki looked back at Thor, who lay so still and pale on the bed in front of him. To part with him, even for a few days, was unbearable. But if it would save his life… then surely it was his duty to go.
“I will go” he said eventually, his mind made up. “But Hela will remain here. I will not take her on such a dangerous journey. Must I go alone?”
“Surely you can bring one companion” Laufey agreed, “and I expect you have a nursemaid who will take care of the child. And your family, of course.”
Freyja did not need to hear the entire question before she agreed to come with to Niflheim, and thus it was, that less than an hour later Loki and Freyja were on their way across the Bifrost, wrapped securely in a thick jotun fur coats for the cold winds of Niflheim, hoping against hope to find a cure for the dying prince.