Whoever invented Legos was a medieval torturer in disguise. Just ask any parent~ Loki
The familiar tones of the theme from Asgardian Quest interrupted Loki's reverie. He fished his phone out of his back pocket, where the number from Derek Magnusson flashed onscreen. He wondered what his company CEO wanted at six AM on a Sunday. Magnusson was in charge of Laufeyson Tech, Loki's video game design company. He had first started it three years ago, after adopting Belle, Hunter, and Nathan, as both a means to support himself and his family and an alter identity here on Midgard, because your average mortal could never handle the truth of his existence as an Asgardian god. His first video game, Asgardian Quest, which was one of the pioneers to use a VR helmet that not only enabled you to interact in the game as if you were there but also to speak with other gamers as you encountered them, was such a huge hit that it became an international sensation practically overnight and had made him a billionaire. So he need never worry about money here on Midgard, which was a good thing considering he had nine children to support.
"Laufeyson," he answered on the second ringtone.
"Mr. Laufeyson, sorry to disturb you on a Sunday, sir-"
"What is it, Derek?" Loki interrupted him.
"There's been a slight delay in the launch of Asgardian Quest 2."
"Delay? What do you mean?" The sequel to the megahit was due to be released in three months, just in time for summer vacation.
"We're having a bit of difficulty with the interface, sir. . ."
As Derek went on to detail the problem, Loki rose and went into the kitchen to brew another cup of coffee, clad only in his favorite pair of black jeans and a gold T-shirt, silent as a stalking cat in his bare feet.
He was so engrossed in his discussion, phone in one hand and coffee mug in the other, that he failed to notice the scattered Legos lying on the carpet next to the coffee table. Last night Nathan and Max had been building a space shuttle and hadn't finished it before their bedtime. By some phenomenon known only to the gods of the Lego universe, part of the space shuttle had become detached during the night and ended up on the floor, where the distracted Asgardian promptly stepped on them.
Pain shot up his foot like he'd just impaled himself upon a thousand shards of glass. He gave a most ungodly yelp and nearly spilled his coffee all over. The phone dropped onto the rug as he slammed the mug on the table and grabbed his injured foot, which still had the offending Legos stuck to it.
"Sweet mother of a masturbating donkey!" he snarled, spitting out colorful phrases in Old Norse, because he'd learned the hard way not to use swear words around his three and four year old they could repeat. Bloody buggering hellfire! Cradling his foot he sat down on the couch to remove the head of the smiling astronaut from his toe. "What are you smiling at you son of a diseased Jotun's ass? Surtur's hairy balls, that hurt!"
On the floor Derek was calling anxiously, "Mr. Laufeyson? Sir, did something happen?"
"No because I always hold phone conversations on the floor, you numbskull," Loki muttered. He reached for the phone. "Derek? Yes, I just stepped on a Lego. I'm fine. Just run the new algorithm I told you by the tech department and let Rossiter do his job. I'll call you later."
He placed the phone on the table, wincing as he removed more plastic from his foot, muttering several more uncomplimentary things about the inventor of Legos ancestry as he did so.
"Dad? Why are you wishing blood worms gnawed your enemy's penis off and roasted it over a slow fire built from his mother's entrails?" Belle queried innocently from the doorway.
Loki's head snapped up to meet the young Lorekeeper's curious gaze. "Forget you heard that." He rubbed his foot gently to alleviate the sting. Of course Belle would know exactly what he'd been saying. "I stepped on some Legos."
"Are you okay?" she asked sympathetically.
"Yes," he lied. "I'm banning Legos from this house."
Belle shook her head and snapped her fingers. A wet washcloth with an enchanted rose on it appeared in her hand. "Here. This'll make you feel better. It's soaked in arnica wash." She knelt beside the couch and gently wrapped the cool washcloth about his throbbing foot.
"Thanks, Dr. Belle," he said gratefully, as the arnica soothed the pain away. He scowled at the partially completed space ship. "I swear the idiot who invented these torture devices in disguise is laughing somewhere. They're just as deadly as medieval caltrops."
Belle giggled. "You're exaggerating, Dad. You're not bleeding."
"I could be bleeding internally," he refuted. "That's what bruising is and I'm sure I am after four of the cursed things broke when I stepped on them. Just wait till I get a hold of your brothers . . ."
"The arnica will help," she replied serenely, knowing as soon as he was free from pain his temper would die down. "That's why I wear slippers." She indicated her fuzzy cat ones peeping out from her rose embroidered nightgown.
"I was talking on the phone and I forgot," he sighed.
"To Uncle Thor?"
"No. He's still mad at me for sending Uncle Tony those makeover pictures," her father said with a smirk.
"He'll get over it. Even he has to admit it was hilarious," Belle chuckled.
"Priceless. And seriously, he's going senile if he thinks I wouldn't snap a few pictures of that after Tony did of me during the Cape Incident."
"What's Uncle Tony gonna do with them? Post them to Instagram?"
"Not if he wants to keep breathing."
"Dad!" she reproved.
"Hey, I have enough embarrassing stuff on social media about me I don't need Smiley Loki too! And your Uncle Thor would be even less forgiving. You know how these ancient warrior types are, little Lorekeeper."
"I know. Norns forbid his dignity is a little ruined," she rolled her eyes.
"Mine is already shot, but those pictures would just add more fuel to the fire," her father pointed out.
"I don't think so. I think your fangirls would love it."
"What fangirls? I don't have any-"
"You mean you really don't know?"
"About what? I'm not the most popular god in the Norse pantheon, sweetie, even though my kids love me. I'm the Master of Tricks and Mischief. Hardly my father's favorite son," he said, looking dejectedly down at his wrapped foot. "Mortals all think I'm out to get them. I'm the villain, not the hero."
"Not anymore," she disagreed. "Let me show you." She summoned her tablet and began to type rapidly. "Here. Look at this. And this. And this."
He scanned several articles and pages, his eyes growing wider and wider. "Loki's Ladies-we are Loki's Army?!"
"See? You have an army of women who all love you," Belle declared, grinning at his astonishment.
"I don't . . . How . . .?"
"Stories change, people change . . . you changed," his daughter answered quietly. "People don't think like they used to-that the magician is some coward and people who live by their wits weak and worthless. They rewrote the meaning of a hero, Dad. Remember how you told me that how people see you can change when you change how you see yourself? Well . . . you changed how you saw yourself . . . you're not just the troublemaking god anymore . . . you're our dad." Her slender hand closed over his. "Love binds deeper than blood. Any story can be altered, if you make different choices. When you chose to love us, you changed the ending."
"Did your magic tell you this?"
"No. My heart did."
He smiled back at her, his evergreen eyes filled with new hope. "Are you sure you're ten? When did you get so wise?"
"When you adopted me and taught me to love myself just the way I was-and that I wasn't a too smart magical freak nobody ever wanted." She rested her head on his knee, her dark hair falling over his lap.
His hand reached out and carded her hair, combing the thick silky strands with his fingers. "My wise little raven. I found a treasure beyond price that day my magic led me to you. Did you know all the best kings in the Nine Realms had a Lorekeeper as an advisor? To remember all the stories and sagas, the laws and judgments, and to help them be a better ruler?"
"Like Merlin and King Arthur."
"Yes. Like that."
"I can help you too, Dad."
"You already have, alskling. More than you know," he whispered. He kissed her forehead.
"So who were you talking to?"
"Derek," he replied. "They were having some issues with the new Asgardian Quest 2."
"But they can fix it, right?"
"Yes. I told them how. Don't worry, it'll be out by the launch date."
"Did you put a Valkyrie and a Runemistress option in this one?"
"I did. And a Jotun witch doctor too. You'll see when we get the prototype." Loki promised.
Belle squealed happily. "I can't wait to test it out!"
"That won't be for a few more weeks yet." He shifted slightly and removed the towel over his foot. The throbbing and redness was gone. "I feel much better now. Want to help me make breakfast today?"
"Okay. Let's have cheese and chive omelets and maple sausage with hashbrowns." Belle sat up, then sprang to her feet.
"Sounds good to me," Loki said, standing up and testing his foot gingerly.
"Don't forget your slippers."
"I won't," he assured her, summoning them from the bedroom and putting them on.
I'm going to have to invent a spell that makes me impervious to Legos, he thought as he followed Belle into the kitchen.
As Belle got out the eggs, sausage and other ingredients, she told her father, "There's a poetry contest that Miss Linden is asking the whole class to enter. But it's not just fifth grade but sixth too. And the best poem wins a trip to the Met and dinner at Jekyll and Hyde."
"Who's putting up the money for those prizes?" Loki whistled.
Belle shrugged. "Some of the school board. I don't know." She bit her lip. "I'd like to win it but . . . I don't know if I'm a good enough poet. I mean, I write in my journal because that's what a Lorekeeper does, but that's not the same." Lorekeepers were compelled to keep a chronicle of events in their life and the lives of those close to them. Loki had known this and gave Belle a beautiful green Italian leather journal engraved with her initials and runes for privacy. It had a silver raven clasp.
Loki turned from pulling the frying pan out of the cabinet and wrapped his arms about his mystical child. "Belle, my astor, you can write anything you set your mind to. Your Gift is with words, and what's a poem but words on a page? I'm sure once you try, you'll write something wonderful."
"Are you just saying that?"
"No. Remember-you can do anything if you believe. That's as true now as it was the first time I told you."
She still looked uncertain.
"Trust in yourself."
"I trust you," she murmured.
"Then trust me when I tell you you can write a poem as good as any kid in the whole school," he told her earnestly, his voice filled with unshakable conviction.
"Okay," she said, then ask, "When I finish it, would you read it over for any mistakes?"
"Of course. When is this contest?"
"It's not till two weeks from now. But the deadline to hand in our poems is next Thursday."
"You have plenty of time then."
She sighed and leaned against his chest. "But I don't even know what to write about."
"That's easy, little raven. You write what you know best."
She looked thoughtful as she drew away to begin scrambling the eggs in a large bowl.
Loki grated cheese and then set the hashbrowns in the pan to cook. Father and daughter cooked companionably, and for a few moments it was like it had been in the beginning, just the Master of Mischief and his Lorekeeper daughter.
Until the rest of the brood woke up and stampeded into the kitchen.
"Hey, what's for breakfast?" Vince shrilled.
"Yeah, I'm starving. Can we have pancakes?" Hunter asked.
"You're always starving," Belle said as she flipped an omelet.
"What's this? You forget how to say good morning?" their father queried as he turned the sausages sizzling in the pan.
"Good morning, Dad!" came the chorus of voices, as Samantha, Nathan, Lucy, Serena, Max and Aleta joined them.
"That's better. Lucy, it's your turn to set the table, I think," Loki prompted.
"I wanna help!" Aleta cried.
"You can get the napkins, spark," Samantha said, and she handed some to the small girl.
Nathan went to get the orange juice and chocolate milk and tea.
Once everyone was eating, Loki sat down at his place at the head of the table and said, "Nathan and Max, you two left your Legos out this morning and I almost broke my ankle when I stepped on them."
"Uh oh, you is in big trouble," Aleta cried.
"Sorry," the boys apologized.
"Don't do it again. Or else no Legos are allowed in this house. If you can't pick up your toys then you don't deserve to have them."
"We'll remember, right, Max?" Nathan said.
Max nodded. "I toldja we shoulda moved it into the dining room, Nate."
"We can do it after breakfast," his brother said affably. Nathan was among the most easy going of the Laufeyson children. He was also the only ginger haired child among the rest of the dark and blond haired siblings.
While the children cleaned up after breakfast, Loki called Derek back to see if the algorithm had worked and spent an hour discussing the new game and ironing out glitches.
Meanwhile, Belle retreated to her favorite sanctuary, the library, where she attempted to write her poem.
Half-an-hour later she was surrounded by crumpled up balls of paper and was no closer to writing a line of poetry then she had been this morning.
Frustrated, she muttered a few colorful phrases in Old Norse, then said in English, "I can't do this. I told Dad I couldn't." She stared down at her notebook, feeling like a failure.
"Can't do what?" Serena called as she entered the library, her platinum hair streaked with violet today. She wore a purple skirt and a lavender top, the color combination making her look like an evening star fallen from the heavens. "What are you writing, Belle?"
"I'm trying to write a poem. But I can't seem to get started."
"For the poetry contest?" Serena asked knowingly.
"Yes, but . . . it's not like writing in my journal. There I just record what went on. But this . . ."
Serena gave her a sympathetic look. "I suck at writing. I wish I could help though. Maybe Dad could . . ."
"He already tried. I don't know why he thinks I can do this."
"I do. It's cause you're the best writer in this family."
"Yeah right. I'm a joke," Belle laughed bitterly.
"No you aren't. I'm lucky I can write my name with my dyslexia," Serena reminded. "The only thing I'm good at is math." She studied her sister. "What did Dad say you should do?"
"Believe in myself. And write what I know. But what I know is . . . us. Our family."
"So write about us," Serena said simply.
"Who would want to read a poem about our family?"
"Me. And you know how I hate reading."
"Okay . . . thanks, number cruncher."
"Anytime, bookworm." She waved as she left the room, her sudoku book tucked under her arm.
Belle nibbled on the end of her pencil as she considered what to write. On the desk in front of her was a picture cube of Loki and her siblings. The picture had been taken last Christmas. They were all happy, but Belle could recall a time when that hadn't always been so. A time before Loki had come for them. Back when they were the misfits and outcasts no one wanted in their family.
Suddenly inspired, she began to write rapidly in neat cursive across the page, the words flowing from her brain into her pen and then onto the paper. She wrote feverishly for twenty minutes until her had ached and she had to stop to shake it out.
She read over what she had written, then added one last line.
"There! I think I'm done."
She picked up her notebook and went to show Loki.
She found him relaxing with a book on the couch. He was reading Centennial by James Michener, resting his tablet on his bent knees. She went and laid her notebook on the table beside him. "I'm finished. Read it whenever you want."
He looked up and set the tablet aside. "I can read it now."
"You don't have to," she said nervously, her hands twisting her blue shirt. "And you can tell me if it's horrible. It's only a rough draft."
"I'm sure your version of horrible and mine are totally different." He reached for her notebook.
Just then the doorbell rang.
"I'll get it," Belle said, and went to open the door. "Hi, Uncle Thor!" she greeted her uncle. "Are you here for Sunday dinner?"
"Hello, bright raven," he smiled at her, speaking in Old Norse, since he knew she enjoyed practicing languages. "Yes, I am. I brought some ham and carrots for the potluck."
"I'll put them in the kitchen," she told him in the same tongue, taking the bag from him. Potluck was the name of the soup they always made for Sunday dinner. It was made with whatever vegetables, meat, and pasta or rice they happened to have in the house. Loki started the pot of chicken broth boiling and then they just added whatever they felt like to it. Thor usually brought something for it, this time it was a ham bone with large chunks of meat and several carrots, which Belle scrubbed and chopped, throwing everything into the pot. The soup already contained celery, spinach, tomatoes, and onions.
Thor was soon mobbed by the rest of Loki's children, until he ended up in a playful wrestling match with all the children on top of him. Except for Nate who waited until the others had the massive god pinned before tickling his nose with a feather.
"Help, Loki!" Thor called.
Loki glanced up from reading Belle's poem. "Sorry. Busy."
"Loki! I'm being attacked by an army of ants," Thor cried, pretending to be overwhelmed.
"An ant has no quarrel with a boot, brother," Loki replied, then turned back to the notebook.
"Gotcha!" Aleta shrieked and jumped up and down on her uncle enthusiastically.
"And one of them jumps like a flea," he grunted.
"Aleta Fleata!" Vince teased.
"I'm not a flea! I'm a princess!" Aleta cried, indicating her helmet.
"Loki! Is a book more important than rescuing me?"
"Yes. This one is," he said with a sly grin.
"Do you surrender?" Max cried, bouncing on Thor's knees.
Thor pretended to make a valiant effort to rise, with children dangling all over him like monkeys from a banyan tree.
A pair of green eyes peered over the top of the notebook.
Nate went and tickled the back of Thor's knees with his feather.
"Ahh! A sneak attack!" the Thunder god cried. Then he sank to his knees.
The children cheered.
"Oh how the mighty have fallen!" Loki teased.
"You could have helped," Thor growled, scowling at Loki.
"Why?" the God of Mischief asked playfully. "It was more fun to watch my kids beat you up."
Thor heaved an aggrieved sigh. "All right scamps. You won. Now let me up."
The kids crawled off him, congratulating each other.
Thor rose and peered at his brother. "You're as much in love with ink and paper as the bright raven. What are you reading?"
"Belle's poem," he answered, his velvet voice rough with emotion. There was a curious sheen in the emerald eyes as he finished the poem.
"She gave you some verse to read?"
"No she wrote it," Loki corrected. "Here. Read this."
Thor took the notebook, and read the following poem.
The Orphan's Lament
Once there were nine orphans
Unwanted and alone,
No one to love them, no place to call home.
We were the children the world threw away,
the misfit, the cripple,
A magical freak, delinquent,
ghost sensor, trans gender, drug czar's daughter,
dyslexic, prostitute baby, Seer of futures too scary to know
spit on and cast out wherever we go.
we are the lost , starveling raggedy strays,
forgotten children who pray
for a home and a family that aren't taken away.
No birthdays, no holidays, no one to share
in joys and sorrows, nobody to care
for hearts that were broken in unending despair.
Until one day came someone who'd been there,
who was the misfit, always misunderstood,
his family always thinking he was up to no good.
He offered us sanctuary, what nobody ever had,
acceptance, love, family, a dad.
Our pasts were erased, we could all start anew,
with a name and a home, and love that was true.
We are no longer the forgotten mistakes
lost and unwanted, rejected by fate
now we have family who will always stay,
never hurt us or beat us, or send us away.
We may be an imperfect mischievous lot,
but we are Loki's beloved children, Laufeysons all,
forever and always, through trials great and small.
This is our story, a tale yet untold.
-Belle Laufeyson, age 10
Thor finished the poem, then dashed a hand across his eyes. "It's dusty in here, Loki. Don't you clean?"
His brother snorted. "Maybe I need to hire someone." He knew as well as Thor there was not a speck of dust anywhere.
"Belle wrote this? Did you assist her?"
"No. She wrote it herself and asked me to read it. It gets you, doesn't it?"
Thor nodded. "Like a fist squeezing my heart. She's a powerful skald, Loki."
"I know. She wrote it for a contest for school."
"She should win. Not just because she's my niece, but because this is worthy of the great skalds of the North."
"Damn straight," Loki agreed. "Any poem that can make you and me cry is amazing."
"Do you mean that, Dad?" Belle cried from the kitchen doorway.
"I do. And your uncle agrees with me."
"Verily, bright raven, your words strike like a hammer into the chest of any warrior," Thor told her.
Belle beamed. "Wow! I can't believe you like it that much. Do you think . . . it could win?"
"If it doesn't your teacher is a blind deaf idiot," Thor stated.
"I happen to agree. And not just because you're my daughter," Loki concurred. "It really is an excellent poem."
"I'll go type it up right now and print out a copy for the contest," she said, her smile lighting her whole face. She took the notebook and clutched it to her chest as if it were a rare magical tome.
The next day Belle walked to her classroom, her precious poem clutched in her hands. Her friend Sadie Marcus walked next to her. "So you finished your poem?" Sadie asked. "I haven't even started mine."
"My dad and Serena helped me figure out what to write."
"You're lucky. My dad's always too busy to bother helping me with my homework. And my brother's too little to even read." Sadie sighed.
"Maybe I can help you at recess?" Belle suggested.
Suddenly a large shadow fell over the two girls as a tall boy wearing designer jeans and an expensive varsity letter jacket stepped into their path, blocking their way. "Aww! Isn't that sweet! The two teachers pets are gonna help each other!"
Belle halted, her stomach plummeting to her knees. "Why do you care, Richter?"
"I don't," the blonde boy snorted. "Except it makes you even more of a reject than you already are. Then again, your name's Laufeyson, so it goes without saying you're a freak. Your whole family are the poster kids for rejects that nobody except your geek dad would dream of adopting."
"Go jump off the GW Bridge, Richter!" Sadie snapped. "Nobody cares what you think but you."
"Ooo, Laffy's geek friend thinks she can tell me what to do," hooted Richter. "Newsflash, geek girls-I run this school. When I say jump, you say how high. When I walk into the room, you kneel and kiss my foot."
"In your dreams, you puffed up pathetic loser!" Belle cried angrily. "Now move, we need to get to class."
She managed to keep her voice from shaking but only just. Richter was the nastiest boy in Riverside School, everyone knew it and was afraid of him, because he never managed to get caught doing anything wrong and he was a rich arrogant boy who played on the school football team, whose father was a Wall Street tycoon on the school board. He was good looking, but looks had never impressed Belle, and she would sooner have dated the Midgard Serpent.
"We need to get to class," Richter mocked in a falsetto. "Too bad, so sad. Your perfect attendance is gonna have a big fat late mark next to your name, Laffy Taffy. You and Geek Girl Supreme are gonna get detention unless you do what I say."
"Slavery ended a hundred and fifty years ago, Simon Legree!" Belle snapped. She smirked when Richter looked puzzled. Of course the blonde oaf had never read Uncle Tom's Cabin. "The only thing I have to do is pay taxes and die. And I'm not doing either today."
Sadie was trembling. "Belle . . . don't get him mad, please."
"Yeah, Laffy, do what the geek says," sneered Richter. "If you wanna go to class, you gotta pay up."
Belle rolled her eyes. "What do you want, Don Corleone? My lunch money? Doesn't your daddy feed you?"
Sadie nudged her. "Belle, please! Just give him whatever he wants. If I'm late again, Miss Linden will give me detention."
"See Laffy. Geek Girl is right." Richter eyed her nastily. "Geek can give me the answers to our math homework. And you can give me this!" he cried, and snatched her poem from her grasp.
"No!" Belle shouted. "Give it back, you brain-dead son of diseased Jotun!" In her anger she forgot to speak English instead spitting insults in Old Norse. She didn't dare use her magic in public, she was too afraid of someone seeing and being taken away to a crazy home, plus she didn't know any spells to take down a boy who was two inches taller and outweighed her by twenty pounds.
"What the hell kinda language is that?" Richter sneered. "You forget how to speak English?"
"Shut up and give it back!" Belle yelled desperately.
"Ooh, it's a poem for the contest . . . think I'll just keep this . . .or maybe I'll just rip it into pieces." He went to tear it, and Belle saw red.
"May ravens peck out your eyeballs, you coward and rats eat your entrails!" Then she kicked the bully hard-right in the crotch.
To her shock, Richter folded up like a wet paper, dropping the poem on the ground and howling in agony.
"Whoa!" Sadie gasped. "Who knew your foot could be so lethal?"
Belle moved to grab her poem. "Come on, before we're late."
They had just made it inside the classroom and Belle put the poem on Miss Linden's desk with the other submissions when the door opened and Mr. Anson, the hall monitor came in.
"You-Laufeyson-come with me!" he ordered. "You're going to see Principal Lightfoot for fighting without provocation."
Belle gulped. "But I didn't . . . Richter was the one who was bullying me and Sadie. . ."
"Tell it to the principal, Laufeyson," snapped Mr. Anson. He ushered Belle from the classroom, muttering, "Always knew these orphan street brats were no good!"
Belle felt her face go hot with shame and anger. Would her past always be held against her?