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Value of Deception

Chapter Text

This is the baby Loki. He is small, for his kind, a runt. His eyes are red, like rubies, like fire. His skin is a dark, royal blue, and there are white lines etched across it, like scars, but they are not. If you look a little closer, they don’t look like scars at all, because they are exactly symmetrical, flawlessly formed, mathematically precise, perfect in the same way a snowflake or an ice crystal is perfect. He was born like this, with markings distinctive of good breeding and beauty. In this way, he is lucky. He is swathed in rich, expensive white cloth. It is the finest that can easily be produced in a world full of ice, a world where barely anything grows. (It was not always like this)

The baby is lying amongst rubble. This, too, is rich, expensive. He is lying in the ruins of a temple, a temple made of rock instead of ice, and the shattered stones around him are carved with runes of worship, of protection, of sacredness and wisdom. He is surrounded by the most precious kind of debris.

The temple is rubble because there was a war, that has now spanned generations. It was started by an idiot, tyrant king, and most of everyone involved in it wishes it had never started, but that does not appear to be a good enough reason for it to stop. The child is the son of that fool king.

The baby is in the temple because his mother tried to run with him to safety when the royal palace was laid siege to, and it became obvious to her who would win. Her husband by arrangement not love does nor accept his infant son, though the child is calm and quiet and the seers say that his fate will be a great one, that his destiny is already written in the stars. He does not care that the mages say the child may well excel in the magical arts, that he has powerful blood. Laufey cannot love his own son because of how small he is, because he is a shame to his blood, because any firstborn of the royal line should be big and strong and obviously powerful from the moment of their birth. Laufey is a fool.

His mother does not care that her child is small. She names her child Loki, because it sounds right to her. She likes the sound of the word. It is a name none other possesses. She wants her child to have this, even though he will never have the birthright that is rightfully his (she knows her husband will never allow a runt to sit on the throne of Jotunheim). She loves her son because he is hers. She loves her son because she can’t not. She has been promised to the king since the moment of her birth, she has been born and raised a princess and a future queen of a dying planet, and she has never, ever loved anything this much. She does not love her husband this much. She is not this loyal to him. So when the enemy, the hated Asgardians, break down the walls of the palace, Farbauti runs with her son instead of trusting the protection of her husband, for a wife who has given him a runt for a son. (She was right to run. Laufey did not care whether or not she and her son died. He could always get a new wife.)

Farbauti ran with her son, but the gates of the city are smashed and the enemy are everywhere and barely anywhere is safe anymore. There is fighting in the streets of this, the capital city, and so one of the last, most prosperous safe havens on this planet is being destroyed. She tries to run for a horse, but they are all slain. She tries to bargain with a mage for transport off planet, but she has only her son in her arms, she has no gold, and anyway they are all running for their lives, saving their own skins first. She cannot run to the walls of the city, because Asgard's armies crowd a rounded, destroying it from the outside in.

She has no where left to run, so she goes to the temple, because it is old, it is from before the freeze, and it’s walls are made of stone instead of ice, and it is strong. The holy men and women there protect her, but all of them only last for a few hours before the Aesir finally break through the walls of the temple. Everyone who fights against them is slain. Farbauti dies without her son in her arms, because she is wielding a sword in her effort to protect him. Her last thought is to protect him. Her soul dies wishing that he be protected, and the millennia old runes etched into the centuries old stones, like scars but not, do not forget.

Still, she was right to run. As she lay dying, her child still lives, and he would not have done if she had stayed in the palace. Enemy, Asgardian soldiers are raiding it, and they do not care who they kill. They have only been ordered to spare one man, the king, and even he is to be threatened and treated roughly. They would not have cared about a runt baby.

This is the baby Loki, and he is crying, alone in the rubble of a temple, because he is a child, and he is alone.

The Asgardian soldier’s finish raiding the palace, and they make their demands of the king, force him to acquiesce to their wishes. They want total surrender, and they get it. And after they have won the city once and for all, and the order has been given for the laying down of arms, the soldier’s loot the city for all of it’s spoils. The soldier’s and officers and nobility steal and pillage and thieve, and call themselves moral because they do not also rape and kill. Their king even joins in the festivities.

Odin All-father goes to the child after raiding the temple because his own wife has only just given birth, to a young son, and he responds to the sound of a child crying instinctually, already. When he picks up the baby, his skin turns from blue to pink, his eyes fade from red to green. The warmth of the king’s skin has triggered the change.

---

This race, the Jotuns, have not always been creatures of ice, or at least, not ice alone. Their planet has always been colder than any other in the Nine Realms, save of course for the heart of the realm of Niflheim, but then, no place that could support life could ever be as cold as the gateway to the realm of the dead. Jotunheim was cold, but it was still possible to grow crops on the land, to farm livestock and to hunt. Skin that was blue and resistant to cold in winter could become softer and warmer in summer. Eyes that were darkened to prevent glare off the snow and still see in the dark could lighten when light was more abundant. Not only one species, but an entire planet could shift completely from season to season as their planet demanded. The streams that have been frozen now for decades once thawed in spring. There are evergreen trees buried in ice in some places. There are forests, suffocated under snow. There are oceans, under ice, and under them, deep down, there are still fish.

The species survived because they were completely in tune with their planet, and because they developed means to, if not control it, then at least curb it’s power. The Jotuns created the Casket of Ancient Winters to protect the planet’s population, to prevent an ice age, or warming on a global scale. It’s construction is pure genius, and proper handling of it takes decades to learn. Mages have given their lives to it. It is the soul of a planet, a magically made link to the balance of weather and climate across a globe, and the planet froze into a perpetual ice age because a mad king thought he could control the strongest force the planet had. Laufey tried to use the Casket of Ancient Winters, as a weapon, and it backfired in the most magnificent way it could have.

He used it because, after deciding to start a war he could not win against a people with greater numbers and military superiority, he then realised his plight was hopeless, and still he cast around for weapons, and he saw a thousand bottled storms and thought he could control them. Laufey used the Casket of Ancient Winters to kill thousands of Aesir in a battle that tipped the balance of the war in their favour for a moment, and the people rejoiced in the streets because they thought there was a chance they could finally win the war they thought they were doomed to loose their lives too, that the king they had believed a fool obviously knew what he was doing so despite everything.

But by using the Casket, the mad king linked his own soul to that of a planet and the storms got into his blood, unsettled his mind, and the discord flowed back into the Casket. He was skilled enough at magic to aim the power, but not to limit it. The stored cold held within the Casket, that the chosen mages had been carefully siphoning off into the molten core of the planet for the last hundred years, spilled. It spread across the planet, froze oceans, covered continents, and destroyed a world.

The destruction took time. It was long enough for Laufey to use the Casket on half a dozen more occasions, in ever increasingly desperate attempts to finish the war in his favour. The power of the Casket waned each time, but the king did not listen when the mages told him that he had used up all the power it contained, would not let them near it to give it more. He gained a rush from using it, became addicted to the feeling of raw power. He continued to use it, even while it made his mind more and more unstable, and with every use, more cold leaked into Jotunheim. The destruction took time, but it was ultimate. The population did not die out, because they have survived a long time, and they are tougher than that. The people were not glad to be ruled by the man who had damned them to this, but the Royal guard would turn on a rebel just as fast as an Aesir, and they could not afford to fight a war on two fronts. Still, many attempted rebellion. Life got hard. Food became scarce, riches became scarcer. People who should have been farming crops were called to war, and even those that stayed behind could gain almost nothing from the frozen ground.

The war ended, not because one side were victorious, but because eventually, after decades, the other gave up. The Asgardians celebrated their victory regardless, as they were wont to do. After, one planet starved, the other thrived.

---

Odin All-father shushes an orphan in the ruins of a city, rocks him until he stops crying. Loki’s skin warms under Odin’s touch, and the king looks down on a child not so very different from his own. He was a new father, and a babe’s crying moved him, but that is not quite why Odin saved him.

Odin has two ravens, and they are within his summons always, whether on his shoulders or across realms. Their names are Hugin and Munin, Thought and Memory. They are why he is called All-father. Odin commands them, ravens that are older than himself and remember a time before there were stars, and the ravens obey him. He lost an eye, once, and this is what he gained.

The king uses Munin to look into the child’s memory, looks through his eyes. Through the ravens’ power, he can understand what the child cannot, can understand what the ruby eyes have seen. He sees the name ‘Loki’, that is already a part of him. He sees that the child’s mother is dead and his father has disowned him. He sees that this baby is the son of a king.

Odin sees this child as a path to true, long lasting peace, a solution to the enmity between planets that has existed even before this latest war (even the All-father cannot see it’s source; he can only know things that have once been known). He thinks that if he raises the child as his own, he can remove the ice, the Jotun from this child, this Loki. Odin believes that he can make Loki a king fit for Asgard, and that when he is ready, he can return to this planet and rule as rightful king, uniting the two realms permanently. Perhaps that is why Odin saved him.

Odin is called All-knowing, but this is not true. He is wise, because he is a king, and he has experience, and he is good at it. He is called All-father, but he does not yet have any experience at being a father to a child. Odin grew up in Asgard, and Asgardians hate Jotuns. He wants peace, but he does not want the ruler of Jotunheim to be a true Jotun. He will raise Loki as his own, but he will not forget that his skin can turn blue, and, in his mind, that means something. But Odin will love Loki, because he can’t not love a child he brought up.

Odin does not question that he still calls the child Loki when he brings him home to his wife.

Odin once stayed strung up on the tree that is a metaphor for the universe for nine days and did not perish, has two ravens who can know everything you know by looking at you, has lost an eye in exchange for wisdom, but that does not mean he knows everything.

Old runes do not forget.

The baby Loki has storms in his blood.

---

(Centuries later, when Loki touches the Casket and his arms turn blue, he hates himself.

When Loki touches the Casket the storms in his blood that have been raging since he was a child call out to the storms that raged decades ago, were captured and have been swirling and boiling inside a cube that can fit in your hands, and their song sounds like the wind, but it is silent.

When Loki touches the Casket with intent to destroy the planet it was created to protect, it bends to his will. It has never truly done that for anyone else. The soul of a planet bows to Loki, and he hates himself for it, because he does not understand, because all he knows is that he is alone.)

---

Frigga is the wife of Odin, and the mother of Thor and Loki. She is also the most powerful seer in Asgard. She can see what is coming, in the same way that she can see the patterns smoke makes in the air. She can predict the future in the same way she can tell which way the wind is blowing. She does not know details, dates, specifics, names.

When Frigga looks at her son Thor, she can see sunshine, and understands bravery and glory and honour and truth. She can see battle, too, and arrogance, and pride, but it does not worry her too much. Her son is going to be strong, and he is going to be a good man, one day. He will gain wisdom through experience. He will be a great king.

When Frigga sees her son Loki for the first time, she knows that he is different. Frigga can see where has come from, without the aid of either Hugin or Munin. She can see that he is going to be strong, and powerful. She can see that there is something inside him that refuses to be moved. There is also something constantly shifting, that refuses to be pinned down, refuses to cease, to remain still. She sees passion, big enough to burn skies. She sees as much arrogance and pride as she sees in her other son, but she does not see it curbed. The battle in his future is less about conflict, more about blood. Less anger, more death. She sees that her son will create monsters, will destroy worlds, though she doesn’t know how, or when, or why. What Frigga sees in her second son’s future scares her, but she still accepts him as her own.

Frigga does this because she knows that what she sees before her is not yet a man, not yet a god. At the moment, he is a child, and he is alone. He was once a mother’s son, and he has the right to be such again. He deserves to be loved, as every child does. If anything, sensing Loki’s fate only makes her more willing to raise him. She does not trust any other with the task, now. Asgard is a good place, a good kingdom, and is the ideal place to raise a child like Thor. Loki is another matter. He will not do well if raised in the traditional way of Asgardian children, as warriors or wives, in set roles, living set lives, practicing parts known by centuries of experience to be successful. Loki would go mad. She will not do that to a child.

She cannot allow him to be sent back to Jotunheim either; he is too small to be welcomed to any family willingly. Frigga knows how scarce food is in Jotunheim, how unwanted an extra hungry mouth is, even if most in Asgard to not. Besides, his markings are too distinctive. He would be easily recognised as descended from royalty, and as such would be hated, maybe even killed. The royal family is not currently popular, since the deceased king’s many blunders, and although the royal guard protects Laufey, Frigga knows he will not extend his protection to Loki.

No one else can raise him, so she will do so herself. (Frigga does not even think of just letting the child die. She does not even consider it for a second.)

So when her husband brought home a Jotun child from a war-ravaged temple, Frigga accepts him as her own. She understands that her husband plans to use the child as a tool to attain peace, listens to his plans as he tells them to her, and agrees with him. Frigga does not want war between realms, because she knows that it is pointless, and thoughtless, and it kills mother’s sons. She knows that children are not tools though, in a way she is not sure that Odin does. She can sense the web of lies being woven already, can sense the half truths being spun around Loki before he can speak. She lets her husband lie to the staff of the palace, lets herself be secluded for months before returning to the palace with Loki, so all will believe that he is her child, despite his obvious lack of resemblance to her firstborn son. She tells the lies herself, even.

Frigga is a wise woman, but not because of mystical powers given to her from before the dawn of time. People do not call her All-knowing, All-mother. Frigga is wise because she is. She is an Asgardian, but she will not fear or hate a child because of it’s race. She sees the tides of history in the making, and she knows that she cannot stop them, that even her husband cannot control the way the universe wants to work. She knows that all she can do is guide. She can shield one path, encourage another, protect and prevent, that’s all she can do. She has two sons now instead of one, and she must protect both of them, although she suspects that their battles are interlinked, opposing each other. Frigga refuses to choose between her sons. That is a path she could take, a way the river of events could flow, and she does not take it.

Frigga loves Thor, and she will teach Loki how to lie, and how to do magic. She knows that she is quite possibly arming a weapon that will be used against Thor, her beautiful, blond, perfect son, but she does it anyway. Loki is being lied to already, and he cannot yet walk. He should have some knowledge of this, he should have some understanding of it, so that he may one day understand why they did it. She knows that Loki’s life will one day be very hard, and she is arming him against the world, as well as his sibling. He deserves that. He deserves protection.

Frigga is, in many ways, wiser than Odin All-father. They do not call her All-mother, but they do not need to. Frigga knows that old runes have power, and she knows that there is something in her little green-eyed son that could kill thousands of people, but she loves him anyway. She can’t not.

Chapter Text

Loki grows up as brother of Thor. He grows up in the shadow of the taller boy, but he does not mind, and the shadows suit him. It’s much easier to get away with mischief when your audiences’ eyes are somewhere else; misdirection is the main component of any trick.

His father tells him that he will one day be king of a realm, and he accepts it as truth, because his father is the All-father, and the All-father does not lie. Loki’s mother tells him that one day, he is going to have to be very strong. She also tells him about how to act around people to get them to do what you want. She tells him how to speak in such a way that people find themselves what they want to believe in his words, she teaches him how to never actually tell a lie. She tells him how to stop bullies from picking on him, how to scare them just enough so that they go away, no more. Loki’s mother teaches him how to do magic, how to conjure illusions of light, to distort space in order to move through it, to weave spells. Loki’s mother tells him that he is not alone, that he will never be alone. Loki’s mother teaches him how to unravel the secrets of the universe. Loki loves his mother, so, so much.

Contrary to popular belief, Loki loves his brother too. People say that Loki and Thor are polar opposites, but people say a lot of things, and Loki and Thor spend a lot of time together, and they love each other, so they can’t really be that different, fundamentally. Perhaps they’re two sides of the same coin. Loki makes friends with Thor’s friends, plays nice, plays a part, and only rarely lets his mask slip. He does not make friends of his own, because if friends are all like Sif, Hogan, Volstagg and Fandral, they are nothing he wants. He has a lot of acquaintances though. They are very useful.

Loki likes to hunt with his brother and his brother’s friends, but even more than that, he likes to practice magic. He can bend light, show people something that isn’t there and make them believe it is. He can weave a spell of protection, or privacy, light or warmth and they work. Loki can bend the universe to his will, in little tiny ways, and he loves it. Loki likes to learn things, to master arts that other people have little to no knowledge of. He likes to spend hours reading in the library uninterrupted, and he likes to be taught lessons by his tutors. Thor’s friends make fun of him for it, but he knows that it is just because they do not understand, because his mother taught him that. He ignores them when they mock him. They do not need to understand him.

Loki likes to play tricks too. He is very good at it. He can organise for his enemies to be humiliated in the most entertaining ways possible, and for himself to remain unsuspected. He has done this ever since his mother taught him to lie, almost since he learned to talk, and at first, he is clumsy and makes mistakes, so people notice, and he gains a reputation as a liar and they nickname ‘Liesmith’. Although he is, in a perverse way, proud of his nickname, he quickly learns to rectify his mistakes, but by then, it is too late, and the blame almost always goes to him. The next skill he learns therefore is to hide all evidence, and this keeps him out of trouble with those who have the authority to discipline him. He knows that most disapprove of his antics when his victims are their children, but not so much otherwise. Most just hide their smiles at the mischief of the young prince, that while they pretend to scold him, they are holding back laughter. He knows that his mother does not mind it, because she does not tell him to stop, so it can’t be too bad.

When he becomes older, the attitudes of some change. They no longer think it is appropriate for a princeling to take such pleasure in the embarrassment of others, that a fledgling king should pay more attention to politics and fighting than tricks and books and lies. His mother tells him that it would be prudent for him to be seen practicing sparring in the courtyards on occasion, and that he may take an interest in the workings of the court.

He resents being told to fight, at first, as he does not immediately excel at fighting, as Thor does, and he very quickly tires of being beaten and mocked for his weakness. He particularly hates being made to beg to get up after he has lost a fight, how it fed the other’s mirth and his own shame. However, he soon learns that there are methods of fighting other than direct attacking, that it is possible win with speed and cunning instead of brute strength. He watches Sif’s methods and learns them, and once he has learned his fill of those, he observes the other, older warriors who always manage to beat Thor and his stronger friends without effort. Loki learns how to use an opponent’s weight against them, how to trip them up and block their blows. He sees how it is possible to trick your opponent, to feint one way and dart the other, how to duck in close beneath their guard and catch them unawares. He particularly likes daggers and knives, and practices throwing them, alone in his chambers, for hours until his aim is satisfactory, and then carries on for days until it is perfect. He practices sparring with those who deign to teach a weaker, younger student, and the next time Thor challenges him to a duel, he trips him to the floor in under a minute, and holds him there with a dagger to the throat until he asks for the fight to end. Loki considers pretending not to hear him, to force him to beg to be allowed to get back to his feet in front of his friends and those who have gathered to watch them spar, as Thor has done so many times to him, laughing all the while. But he does not. Because he is his mother’s son, and she would not approve. Instead, he offers his brother a hand, amongst the cheers of the crowd, and realises that this was indeed the crueler move, because now Thor is in his debt. Loki is greatly cheered by this notion. (Of course, Loki does not beat Thor so easily and quickly again, for his brother improves his skill in opposition to Loki, and visa versa. But that was the first time that Loki realised that it was possible for him to beat his brother in a fight.)

Loki enjoys observing the court almost instantly. The suggestions of this court cannot be ignored by Odin, and he almost always does as they advise, so they hold much power. Still, at first glance, it is made up of musty old men and woman arguing, but after just the first time Loki sits in at a meeting of the royal court of advisors, he begins to sense the meanings behind the patterns of behaviour, speech and tension in the room. After a few more visits, he can tell who hates who, and learns why. He can predict who will oppose or support which ideas, based not least on who proposes them. He can see which of the members of the court have true intelligence and skill at debating, and who are only there because their fathers have been for generations, and it’s what’s expected of them. He starts to see exactly how one could manipulate these people to affect any change imaginable in Asgard, how it is possible to rule the Nine Realms from this room. He knows that he is going to be a king one day, but this is raw power.

Loki does not have a right to a seat on the council of advisors, despite being a prince. A place here is earned, not won. So Loki quickly insinuates himself within the workings of the court, making many allies and a few enemies, and making himself indispensable to most of it’s members. He assists some member’s clerks on the pretense of learning more about their jobs, and uses the knowledge he has access to to gain favour with other courtiers. He uses his wide network of acquaintances to gain details of the private lives of the courtiers, some of them innocent, some not, and blackmails them subtly and expertly. Above all, he makes sure that there is no way that anyone can ever find a way to trace either blame or evidence back to himself. It is in the courts of Asgard that Loki truly learns how to lie. He acts as a willing, helpful, efficient spy, so that, when he begins to work his way up the rankings to his place at a seat on the council, the majority of it already owe him favours. After a year, they all owe him debts.

---

As Loki grows up, Frigga watches on, but she is not alarmed. She does not try to stop her son from learning how to fight well enough to defend himself against Thor and his friends. She knows that it is only fair, because Thor has beaten him many times in the past, and it was inevitable that one day he should learn to fight back. They are in conflict, yes, but they are making each other stronger.

Neither does she try to stop Loki from gaining control of the court that rules the kingdom. Frigga knows that power corrupts, but Loki was born to be a king, one way or another, and there is no way that it will not find him. If he is to be corrupted, all she will do is ensure that there is good in him as well.

Frigga knows that she cannot stand in the way of the tides of time and expect to hold back an ocean. She knows that she can’t stop Loki from being Loki. His name was part of him before she ever saw him. Frigga refuses to choose a favorite between her two sons.

---

Odin watches Loki take control of the courts, and he does not try to stop him learning. He does not encourage him, either. Thor is to be king one day, and he will need a good advisor. But still, it is Thor who is to be king.

---

Thor likes to go adventuring. He’s not a liar, not like Loki, but instead he’s got a knack for persuading his friends to go out journeying, to the dark forests where they’re not supposed to go, on the hunts that they’re really too young to join in with, to steal through the parts of the palace, the museums and archives of the city where rowdy, boisterous young children are not allowed to be. Perhaps it’s due to the fact that the adventures almost always prove entertaining, for the children at least. The thing about Thor is, he doesn’t always tell the truth, but he never lies, because he always believes exactly what he’s saying.

Thor says he’s going to be a great warrior king some day, he needs to start practicing his questing skills now. He says one day they’ll all go out to the other Realms and fight great threats, and win honour and glory for all of Asgard. He says he’s going to make all of his friends the most esteemed warriors anyone ever heard of, that they’re going to be known and respected across all the Nine Realms. There’s a slight hiccup with that plan when it become’s obvious that Sif’s parents would rather their daughter became a lady than a warrior, but she manages to help persuade them otherwise, and Thor backs her up wholeheartedly. He’s aware that women are supposed to be wives whilst men are warriors, but no one’s ever been able to satisfactorily explain why, so as far as he’s concerned, if Sif wants to be a warrior, she can be one. It’s not as if there where any reason against it; she’s as strong and brave and loyal as any of them. More so, probably, than Loki. Of course, Loki is a good friend, a good playmate, Thor’s brother - but there’s no denying the fact that he’s as likely to laugh at you as with you. He's strong, and he's brave too, in his way, but he’s not loyal, Loki. His jokes are hilarious and witty, but they’re almost always at the expense of someone else, and you can be sure he’s probably making the same jokes about you behind your back. In an argument, he always knows the thing to say to cut you deepest, and he won’t ever hesitate to say it. It probably doesn't even occur to him.

By the time they’re all almost fully grown, and it’s already fairly certain in everybody’s mind that Thor will be the better king. Loki’s a politician, of course, but he’s not really ruler material. Even after Thor stood up against their precious traditions for his friend, the people of Asgard still trust him more. Thor is still the honourable one, the noble one. He’d sacrifice himself for the greater good if he had to, he’d go to any length to protect his kingdom. He’s a great warrior, and he’s a good man. There is no evil bone in his body. He is worthy of the throne. Everyone says so, and everyone believes it. They are, of course, right. Thor is the only one who will ever lift Mjollnir in defence of Asgard. He will, one day, claim the throne. It is inevitable.

Thor and Loki are very different people. Some in the kingdom say that Thor is the daytime whilst Loki is the night, and maybe they’re on to something. Thor is honest, Loki lies. Thor is golden, Loki’s silver. Thor was born first, Loki second. Loki’s the one that’s good with people, but Thor has more friends.

But Loki will be king one day too.

They both have conflict, war, strength and pride sewn into their blood, they grew together as brothers, and perhaps they are more alike than people think.