After they had all had breakfast, Loki shepherded them all into the van for the brief drive to Morningside Stables just down the road. When he had been picking out the campsite, he had liked the fact that the stables were close by so he could teach his kids how to ride before they went to Asgard, yet were far enough away that he didn't need to worry about his kids running off and getting into mischief around the stable.
None of the children had ever been near a horse except the police horses that they sometimes saw around Manhattan. So this would be brand new for all of them except Thor and Loki.
Morningside was a large sprawling place, with several pastures fenced in before they even reached the barn, and in the pastures grazed several beautiful horses. Haystacks were inside the pastures in neat piles. Loki drove through the gate and up to the large crimson barn. There was a large ranch house in front of the barn and a white and gray cat was sunning herself on the porch rocker.
The cat glanced at the van then yawned and closed her eyes. She was used to visitors and gently swished her tail side to side.
The doors opened as the kids got out and Loki walked to the small lift and pushed the button. The lift lowered the wheelchair as Nate smiled and Loki gently ruffled his son's hair.
"Daddy! Look! There's a kitty!" Aleta cried and Loki smiled.
We're here to ride horses and she finds the kitty, Loki thought and rolled his eyes.
"So, Dad, where are the horses?" Sam asked when a tall young man walked up next to her and smiled.
"Howdy," he said and Sam jumped. She noticed his sandy blonde hair and blue eyes and the deep dimples when he smiled.
"Whoa," she whispered as she scanned him with her eyes and Belle and Lucy giggled.
"Someone's in looooooooooooooove," Lucy whispered and Sam glared at her.
"Shut up!" she growled through her teeth. Loki walked over to the young man when he held out his right hand and smiled.
"Hello. I am Loki Laufeyson," Loki said.
"Oh, yeah, Mike told me we were getting guests. I'm Tom," Tom said and they shook hands.
"We've booked a trail ride for around 10:30," Loki said, consulting his phone. It was 9 AM. "I figured we would get here early since my son Nate is a special needs child." He indicated Nate.
"Howdy, son," Tom smiled at Nate. "I'm Tom."
"Nate," Nate greeted and held out his hand.
Tom knelt to shake it and Sam's heart did flip-flops.
Serena giggled. Sam shot her a Look.
"So how many are you again? Ten?"
"Eleven," Loki corrected. "My nine kids and me and my brother."
Tom whistled. "Wow! Your missus didn't come?"
Loki shook his head. "No, because there is none. My kids are adopted."
Tom looked impressed. "That's cool. Where you all from?"
"Greenwich Village," Loki replied.
"That's a bit of a drive," laughed Tom.
"Yeah, you could say that." Loki smiled.
Thor got out and was helping the others out of the car. "Guys, stay here. No wandering." He snagged Aleta's pink Belle hoodie. "That means you, spark."
"Aww! Uncle Thor I want to pet the kitty."
"That's Sassy,"Tom grinned. "She likes kids. Had a litter of kittens about two months ago."
"Dad, can we see the kittens?" Lucy called.
"Yes, after we ride," Loki answered.
"Any of you ride?" Tom queried.
"The kids, no. They're from Manhattan. But my brother and I have. We had horses growing up."
"That's okay. I'll make sure we give everyone gentle mounts. We have a special saddle for Nate here."
"Hey, mister," Vince queried. "You know how to rope a calf?"
Tom grinned. "I've done some rodeos."
Loki rolled his eyes. "Vince, we're not roping calves. This isn't Wyoming. He watches a lot of Westerns. John Wayne."
"I love the Duke myself. Matter of fact, that's one of our trail horses. Think he'd want that one?"
"Sure. Vince loves animals."
"Then let's go to the stables," Tom said. Nodding, Loki followed Tom as they headed for the stables and Thor noticed how Sam was looking at Tom.
"Are you alright, Niece?" he asked.
"Yeah, Uncle Thor. I'm fine," Sam said.
"She likes Tom," Belle said and Sam shot her an angry look.
"I do not!"
"Do not let your sister's quips anger you. If you fancy the boy..."
"I don't fancy him. I barely know him," Sam said as a blush moved cross her cheeks.
"Then get to know him," Thor encouraged and she sighed, rolling her eyes.
"Dad would never allow it," Sam said with a sigh.
"Oh, I think your father would if the right young man or woman comes along."
Sam glanced at Tom then she smiled and walked a little faster.
Max and Aleta were walking with Loki as Max looked at the horses in the paddocks and smiled up at Loki.
"Daddy, are Leta and I going to ride one of those big horses?" Max asked.
"No, you two are going to ride the ponies," Loki said and Max frowned.
"I want to ride a big horse."
"I said no."
Max crossed his arms over his chest and he sniffed. Loki gave him a blank look. He knew Max was angry as he shook his head and sighed.
Aleta tugged Loki's sleeve. "Daddy, do they have a gold pony like the one I saw in the circus?"
"You mean a palomino?" Tom asked. "Gold with a white mane and tail?"
Aleta nodded. "Yup! Do you have one of them?"
Tom grinned. "Well, it just so happens we do. Her name is Gold Dust, but we call her Dusty. She likes to wear flowers in her mane. So I braid it with small ones."
"Cool! I wanna ride her, Daddy!" Aleta cheered.
"Would she be a good mount for a beginner?" Loki asked Tom.
"Yes, sir. She's gentle as a lamb." Tom assured him.
Aleta clapped while jumping up and down and a big grin spread across her face.
"Which pony do you want to ride?" Loki asked, but Max just frowned.
"We have a gentle chestnut pony. His name is Maplewood," Tom said. "He likes to be fed carrots and apple slices."
"Ok," Max sighed, but still didn't look happy.
"Which horse is mine?" Nate asked, looking at the horses.
"Ah, that would Miss Belle. She is a gentle gray mare and she was specially trained for riders with disabilities," Tom said as he pointed to the gray mare nibbling on the grass and Nate smiled.
Nate steered the wheelchair toward the fence when he looked at Miss Belle and she moved toward the fence. She slid her head over the top of the fence so he could reach her and Nate patted her nose.
"Hey, Belle. I'm Nate," he said and she nodded her head.
Loki smiled to see how nicely the mare behaved towards his son. He looked into the next paddock and saw a red mare with a gold mane and tail standing there watching him alertly. She had a curious expression on her dished face.
Loki held out a hand for her to sniff. "Who are you, pretty girl?"
"That's Lady Minx. She has nice paces but she's a bit of a handful for a beginner. She likes to play tricks and she's a bit of a rebel."
"Sounds like you, Brother," Thor said with a laugh.
"I would like to try her out." Loki said, scratching the sorrel on the nose.
"Alright," Tom said then turned to look at Sam. She felt her legs turning into mush as she looked into his blue eyes and shyly smiled. "What about you, Miss? See anything you like?"
"You," Belle whispered and Sam nudged her.
"What do you suggest?" Sam asked and Loki noticed how she was looking at Tom.
"By the Nine, is Sam interested in him?" Loki thought and Thor chuckled.
"Looks like your oldest is smitten," Thor whispered with a grin.
"I'm sure it's nothing," Loki said and folded his arms over his chest.
"We have a black mustang. He's a little wild, but he doesn't mind beginners," Tom said as he pointed to the mustang and Sam grinned.
"What's his name?" Sam asked.
"His name is Midnight Runner."
"What do you think, Dad?" Sam said and Loki blinked.
"About what?" Loki asked.
"About that horse?" Sam asked, pointing with her hands to the mustang.
"He looks very nice," Loki said with a nod.
"Then I'll ride that one," Sam said and Tom nodded.
Belle saw a pretty bay mare with four black stockings. "What about that one?"
"That's Jane, short for Jane Eyre. She came to us an orphan," Tom explained. "She has nice manners though."
"I'll ride her," Belle said, and went to feed Jane a carrot.
Tom chose Gypsy, a paint filly, for Lucy, she was black with white splotches. She had one blue eye and one brown.
Hunter liked a dark gray gelding called Smoke, who was a quarter horse.
Noticing Serena was shy, Tom picked the Connemara Irish Lass, who was sweet and enjoyed eating peppermint candies.
Thor pointed to a large cream gelding standing in the field pawing the ground. "What about that one? He looks big enough to carry me."
"That's Viking," Tom told him. "He's really strong but he has a mind of his own sometimes. I only let experienced riders on him."
"I had a horse similar to him once," Thor said. "He will do."
"All right. Let me call some of my stabehands and we'll get them all tacked and ready for you." Tom said. He walked towards the barn.
A few minutes later, the horses were saddled. Loki sat easily on the well worn saddle on Lady Minx' back and she shook her head side to side. Two stable hands held onto the reigns to the ponies while Aleta lightly patted Dusty's neck and smiled. Maplewood nibbled on the grass as Max wiggled on the saddle and looked at his older brothers and sisters sitting on the horses.
The stable hand adjusted the harness Nate wore to stay in the saddle as he smiled at Nate and Nate patted Miss Belle's neck.
"Is the harness too tight, Cowboy?" Bradley asked.
"No, Sir. It's fine," Nate said with a nod.
Tom had helped Sam into Midnight Runner's saddle as she shyly smiled and he smiled back. She found herself getting lost in his blue eyes then shook her head and tried to stay calm.
"Ready to ride?" he asked and Sam nodded.
Belle held onto the reins as Jane swung her tail back and forth and Gypsy nibbled on the grass while the stable hand helped Lucy get settled in the saddle. Serena looked a little nervous, but her horse gave her a look to assure her everything was fine and she smiled. Hunter sat straight in the saddle while Smoke snorted and Hunter looked over at Vince. Vince was sitting in the saddle on top of a cinnamon gelding named Daredevil and Loki noticed the horse had the same look in its eye as did his son.
"No running wild, Vincent," Loki warned and Vince nodded. He could sense the wild energy in his horse and whispered they would have to wait before going off on a real run.
Thor eyed Viking while the horse snorted and pawed at the ground with its hoof. He had known wild and independent horses in his long life and there was never one he could not train. Nodding, he held onto the saddle as he placed his foot in the stirrup and Viking snorted while looking at him.
"Hold steady," Thor said. He started to pull himself up onto the saddle, but Viking moved away and Thor hopped on one foot to keep from falling.
"Having trouble, Brother?" Loki teased and Thor glared at him.
"No! I'm fine!" Thor said. He tried again to get onto the saddle, but Viking kept moving and he sighed. He finally got on Viking's back and he took the reins in his hands and smiled. "See!"
Suddenly, Viking reared up as Thor yelped and the horse kicked the air. Tom and the stable hands tried to keep the horse from bolting as Thor held onto the reigns and Viking snorted. The horse tried to buck Thor off its back, but the Thunder God held on and Loki and the children cheered him on. Thor felt the horse tiring when Viking settled down and Thor patted the horse's neck.
"Good boy," Thor said.
"Whoa! I have never seen anyone do that!" Tom said.
"Like I said. I had a horse similar to this one," Thor said with a grin and Loki laughed, rolling his eyes.
"Show off," Loki whispered and patted Lady Minx' neck. She looked at him with a strange stare and he arched his eyebrows up. "Don't you dare."
Minx switched her tail and whinnied playfully. Bradley turned to go back in the barn and Minx's head snaked out and she took his hat right off his head! She held it in her mouth and bobbed her head looking immensely pleased with herself.
The kids all laughed, including Thor and Loki.
Bradley turned around and saw Minx with his hat. "Up to your old tricks again, huh?" He sighed and took the hat back. Minx nudged him and he petted her. "Gotta watch her. She likes to steal hats."
Nodding, Loki patted Minx, then he looked over at Thor and the children and sat up straighter in the saddle.
"Alright. Let's get going," Loki said and lightly tapped Minx' side with his right heel. Minx started moving as they headed for the gate which led to the trail and Thor nudged Viking with his heel. The horse took a look back at the Thunder God then turned around and headed the other way.
"Uncle Thor, where are you going?" Hunter asked.
"I have no idea," Thor said as he tried to get the horse under control, but Viking headed back to the stable. Thor pulled on the reins, but Viking kept going until they entered the stable and the horse went into his stall. "Right."
Thor dismounted and stared at the cream-colored gelding. Viking started nibbling on the hay. He looked around then he found the comb and brush used to brush Viking after his rides. Thor started grooming the horse.
"You are a stubborn one, aren't you?" Thor said in a soft voice, but didn't stop grooming him. "I understand how that feels. I'm very stubborn myself. I sometimes feel like my way is the best way and no one can talk me out of it. Gets me into a lot of trouble. My father would end up punishing me for whatever it is I had done and I felt terrible afterwards. I learned that a true warrior knows when to listen to his betters even when he knows his way is better and he will keep his pride in check or nothing gets done."
Viking looked like he understood what Thor was saying and lightly leaned his head down. Smiling, Thor patted the soft mane then started brushing it and Viking moved his tail side to side.
"Now, are you going to behave?" he asked and Viking nodded his head. Thor got back onto the saddle, he took the reins in his hands, and they left the stall.
Loki had been concerned and had gone back to the stables. He watched his brother and Viking appear out of the barn and Thor smiled. "All is well, Brother."
"Good," Loki agreed. "Let's get back to the kids." He clucked to Minx and tapped her sharply with his heels and the mare took off, galloping like a flame down the trail.
Thor caught up on Viking and the two rode side by side until they reached the others, who were following Tom down the trail.
"It's Dad and Uncle Thor!" Serena cheered, waving at them from Irish Lass. The Connemara whickered to her stablemates and switched her tail.
"We thought you got lost," Lucy called.
"It's a straight trail, Lucy," Thor laughed. He heeled Viking up beside Sam's Midnight Runner.
Loki urged Minx alongside his two youngest children. "How are you two doing? Are you having fun?"
Aleta nodded. "Daddy, Dusty likes to look at everything when she walks." She stroked the palomino's mane.
"Kind of like you, spark," her father laughed. "How about you, Max?"
"I'm okay," his son sighed. "But why can't I ride a big horse like yours?"
"Because, son, you would fall off her," Loki explained. "Maplewood is plenty big enough for you right now. You see how your legs almost don't reach the stirrups?" Loki indicated the stirrups on the saddle. "Well on Minx your legs wouldn't even be able to reach halfway down her sides. If you can't reach the stirrups, Max, you won't have a good seat, and no seat means you fall off when the horse does this."
He cued Minx with his inside foot, and Minx spun about.
"See? If you were sitting on her and she did that, you'd end up on the ground." He patted the sorrel's neck. "Good girl."
Max chewed his lower lip. "Okay."
"When you learn how to ride well enough and grow bigger you can have a small mare similar to Lady Minx," Loki promised.
"Minx is small?" Max stared at her.
"She's about 15 hands, which isn't that big. Viking, the horse your uncle is on, is close to 17, which is quite large," Loki explained.
"Can you ride a horse like Viking, Dad?" Max wanted to know.
"I can. I can ride any horse," Loki replied. "But I like the smaller mounts. They're quicker and more agile."
He watched his two youngest for a short while, then satisfied they were okay, moved up the trail to see his other children. He noticed Sam was still looking moony eyed at Tom, who was riding a fine white Arabian mare called Freya. Puppy love, he thought and chuckled.
He gazed at Belle, Serena, and Nate. They seemed to be doing fine, their horses well-mannered and not trying to run away or unseat them. He saw Hunter and Lucy riding next to each other.
He heard a whinny and then saw Vince on Daredevil take off into the trees.
Loki's eyes widened in alarm.
"Dad! Vince's horse is running away from him!" shouted Serena.
"I'll get him, Mr. Laufeyson!" Tom called, and turned Freya.
"No worries," Loki called back. He put his boots to Minx and the red horse bolted after his wayward son.
He suspected that Daredevil hadn't run off as much as Vince had urged him to. He shook his head angrily.
Ahead of him, Vince was laughing as his brown mount cantered perpendicular to the trail. He didn't sound frightened at all.
"Vincent Laufeyson!" his father said as Vince turned to see Loki and Minx coming closer and Loki gave him the Look.
"Sorry, Dad," Vince said. Loki took the reigns as they went back to the others and Tom rode Freya to them.
"Is everything alright?" Tom asked.
"Yes," Loki said then looked at Vince. "Apologize."
"Sorry, sir," Vince said and Tom smiled.
"Just glad you're alright," Tom said. They rode back to the others and Vince saw the angry look on Thor's face.
"Ok, let's hit the trail," Tom said as they lined up in pairs and headed for the trail. The sun shined through the trees while they headed down the trail and Loki noticed Sam had rode up to ride next to Tom. They were chatting and smiling as Loki arched an eyebrow and Thor smiled.
"You can't stop her from falling in love, Brother. It happens when it happens," Thor said.
"I know that," Loki snapped then frowned. "Sorry."
"It's fine. Puppy love is a fleeting thing."
"Oh, like you would know."
"Have you forgotten my first tutor?" Thor asked with a puzzled look. "I told Mother I was going to marry her."
"You were five!"
"It didn't matter. I was in love."
"Then it was a good thing she married one of Father's aides or you would have married a crone," Loki said and Thor laughed while nodded his head.
Sam liked talking with Tom. He was funny, smart and sweet. He also had a girlfriend. Sam felt a little hurt when he told her about Kristina, but she didn't let it show and enjoyed riding next to him.
"Must be hard being the oldest of nine," Tom suddenly said.
"Nah. It's not so bad. We take turns looking out for each other and Dad's cool."
"Yeah, he does seem pretty cool."
"Have you ever played his video game?"
"He's THAT Loki Laufeyson?!"
"Yep," Sam said and Tom softly laughed, shaking his head.
"Damn! I love that game. I even got the sequel."
"Cool," she said and they nudged the horses to go a little faster.
Daredevil and Miss Belle rode side by side as Nate looked down at Vince's legs and Vince noticed the look in his brother's eyes.
"What's wrong?" Vince asked.
"Oh, the usual," Nate sighed and Vince looked at the special saddle. He knew Nate sometimes felt left out of being able to do most of the things he took for granted and smiled.
"Well, you do look really cool in that saddle."
"I do not."
"Uh-hunh! You look like some bad ass warrior chief. They always have the coolest saddles!"
"Yeah, they do!" Nate said with a grin and Vince saw Nate wanted to make Miss Belle go a little faster.
"Uh, better not. Look how mad Dad got when I took off," Vince said and Nate nodded as they headed down the trail.
Hunter and Smoke rode behind the ponies when he noticed how much fun Aleta was having as she and Dusty looked around at everything on the trail, but Max just looked straight ahead. He knew Max was too little to ride a big horse on his own, but he also hated seeing his little brother when he was upset. Hunter rode Smoke closer to Maplewood when he looked at Max and reached down to tap the top of his head.
"Hey, Imp, want a ride?" Hunter asked and Max' eyes went wide.
"Daddy said I can't ride a big horse yet," Max said.
"You can't ride it by yourself, but it doesn't mean you can't ride with me."
"Is there enough room?"
"Sure!" he said then looked at Aleta. "You want a ride after Max?"
"Nope! I'm fine!" Aleta said with a smug look and Hunter laughed. The stable hand helped lift Max onto the saddle as Hunter slid one arm around his little brother and held the reins in the other hand. They rode down the trail toward Minx and Viking when Loki looked at Hunter then at Max and beamed. He gave his oldest son a nod as Max waved at him and Loki was glad to see the happy look on Max' face.
"Hey!" Serena shouted as Irish Lass bucked a bit and turned to look at Lucy. "Tell Gypsy to stop biting Irish's butt!"
"She isn't doing that," Lucy said, patting Gypsy's neck.
"I saw her. She did bite her butt," Belle said and Jane nodded.
"Sorry," the stable hand said. "She tends to do that."
"Well, it's rude," Serena said, sticking her chin out and Lucy and Belle giggled.
"Excuse us, Duchess Snowball," Lucy said and Serena glared at her.
"Girls!" was all Loki had to say to end the fight and the stable hand moved Gypsy back a bit so she couldn't reach Irish Lass' butt.
Suddenly a loud barking came from the woods to one side of the trail.
Minx whinnied and tossed her head as the barking grew louder. Loki patted her gently. "Easy, girl. It's just a dog."
The dog came closer and they saw it was an Australian blue heeler, a type of sheeodog. It wagged its tail and barked again.
Minx laid her ears back and neighed. Loki took the reins and held them firmly. The sorrel mare's tail swished.
Loki frowned and glared at the dog. "Go home!" he told it, pointing back towards where the dog had run from.
"Aww! Maybe he wants to play," Aleta objected.
"He's scaring the horses, spark," Thor explained. "Your father doesn't want any one hurt."
The dog barked as it went into play position and Tom rode up next to Minx.
"Archie! Git! You're scaring the horses!" Tom shouted and the dog whimpered. Archie slowly walked away as Loki looked at Tom and smiled.
"Thank you," Loki said.
"No problem. He lives just down that way," Tom said as he pointed down the trail. "He's harmless."
"Nevertheless, I have to think about Nate," Loki said and Tom looked over Nate and nodded.
"Yeah. He could have been hurt if Archie spooked Belle," Tom said with a nod. They headed down the trail as Loki looked back at Hunter and Max and Max smiled at him.
"Having fun, Imp?" Loki asked.
"Yeah!" Max said with a nod.
"I'm amazed Leta didn't cause a fuss."
"I asked her if she wanted a ride, but she seems happy just riding on Dusty," Hunter said.
Loki continued to visit with his other children, moving up and down the trail without difficulty. Minx curvetted playfully, but Loki moved easily with her, and she soon settled down. He stroked her neck. "Good girl."
The trail curved back to the paddock as the kids made some moans in protest and Loki assured them they could come back another time. Tom helped Sam off Midnight Runner as she smiled and he gave her a little nod. Loki saw the hurt in her eyes as he walked closer and placed his hand on her shoulder.
"Is everything all right?" Loki asked.
"Yeah," Sam said with a nod. "He's got a girlfriend."
"Oh," Loki said, but silently thanked the Norns and patted her shoulder.
"Dad, can we go help groom the horses?" Hunter asked.
"Okay," he agreed, thinking it was a good thing for him to learn.
Hunter and the kids ran into the stable as Thor walked to Loki and Loki glanced at him.
"It seems Sam has just found out Puppy Love doesn't last," Loki said and looked at Tom. "He has a girlfriend."
"Ah," Thor said with a nod.
"Don't do anything."
"I wasn't," Thor said with a hurt look. Loki softly laughed as they headed for the stable and went inside.
The children were brushing down their horses as Loki walked into Minx's stall and picked up the soft brush and started brushing Minx's mane. He smiled as she gently nudged him and he patted her back.
"Daddy, I need a little help!" Aleta called out as he placed the brush back on the peg, left the stall and closed the small door. He walked to the stall where Dusty was, but he couldn't see his daughter.
"Where are you?" Loki asked.
"I'm back here. She got me trapped against the wall and won't move."
Loki smiled as he took a carrot from the box and held it out to Dusty. Sniffing, Dusty moved toward him. She took the carrot and Aleta ran to Loki.
"Oh, spark, don't be angry. She didn't mean it," he said and Dusty nodded. Aleta patted her as she held her hand out for another carrot and Loki handed her one. She fed Dusty then Loki helped her brush the golden mare, showing her how to move the brush in slow circles, but didn't see Thor taking some photos with his phone.
Loki finished grooming the palomino, then tookAleta out of the stall and brushed the horse hair off her clothes.
"Daddy, can I see the kittens Tom said were here?"
"If you can find them. Why don't you look for them with your brothers and sisters?"
Aleta darted out of the stall as she went to find her brothers and sisters and saw Sam talking with Tom.
"Excuse me," Aleta said and they looked at her. "Mister Tom, where are the kittens?"
"You mean Sassy's kittens? They're out in the barn," Tom said.
"Can we go see them?"
"Let's go get the others," Sam said as she took Aleta's hand and they walked off.
"You like him, hunh?" Aleta asked as she looked back at Tom.
"Yeah, I do, but he's got someone," Sam said.
"He is cute," Aleta whispered and Sam laughed. They found the rest of the kids when they headed off toward the barn and went inside. Large piles of hay bales were against the walls and rose almost to the loft and Vince smiled at Hunter.
"You think we'll be able to climb those?" Vince asked.
"We could go ask Dad or Mister Tom," Nate said and they left the barn. Tom and Loki were chatting when Loki saw the boys and blinked.
"Is there a problem?" Loki asked.
"We were wondering if it's all right if we climb the hay bales in the barn," Vince said.
"Yeah, you can," Tom said then looked at Nate.
"I can pull myself up with my arms," Nate said with a grin and Tom smiled.
"Just don't let Max and Aleta climb up too high," Loki warned and the boys nodded as they went back to the barn.
"Mister Tom said we can climb them, but Max and Aleta can't go too high," Vince said,
"I want to see the kitties," Aleta said.
"Me, too," Max said.
They go into the barn and search for the kittens in the hayloft. But they can't seem to find them. Then Aleta sees a little black tail sticking out from the haystack.
"Look, Max! I see one!"
Max peers at the little black tail and smiles. "I see it." They run to pet the kitten, who in lying in a hole in the haystack.
The kitten looked at the two little humans running toward it as he jumped out of the hole in the haystack and headed for the safety of the box where its brothers and sister were.
"Where did it go?" Max asked.
"I think it went this way," Aleta said.
"Careful, you two," Sam said. "You don't want to scare them,"
"We won't," Aleta said and they went to find the kitten.
Hunter and Vince helped Nate out of the wheelchair as they started climbing the haystack while the girls watched and Belle was ready with some magic in case Nate slipped. She knew her daddy wouldn't like her using magic without him, but he wouldn't get angry if she was protecting her brother.
Hunter and Vince helped Nate to the top of the haystack as Nate smiled and they looked down at the girls.
"Are you going to climb up or are you chicken?!" Hunter challenged and Sam glared at them. The boys started making clucking noises as they bent their arms to make wings and the girls looked at each other. Nodding, they headed up the haystack until they got to the top of it. Serena pulled some hay out of her hair. They could see the whole barn from up there as Hunter stood up and held his arms out. "I am the king of the world!"
"No, you're not," Sam said as they laughed and Belle saw Aleta and Max still searching for the kittens.
"I wonder where the kittens are," Belle said as she started climbing down and the girls followed her. Hunter and Vince started climbing down while Nate watched then realized he couldn't get down.
"Uh, I think we have a problem," he said and they looked up at him. "I don't know how to get down."
"I'll go get Dad," Sam said and left the barn.
Sam made her way over to where Loki was chatting with Tom about Asgardian Quest 2. explaining how he used the Norse myths and some other myths for the background of the game plot.
"Dad, we have a bit of a problem."
Loki turned. "What problem?"
"Need help?" Tom queried.
"I can climb up and carry him part way down but if you could stand below us and take him from me that would be great." Loki told him.
"No problem, Mr. Laufeyson."
"Where's Uncle Thor?" Sam asked.
"Bathroom," answered her father. "Okay, let's get Nate down."
Nate crossed his arms over his chest as he looked down at his brothers and sisters and rolled his eyes. He watched his father, Sam and Tom walk in the barn. Loki walked to the haystack and looked up at him.
"Hello," Loki said with a look like he wanted to laugh and Nate waved. Loki looked at the haystack as the urge to just use magic to get Nate down nibbled at the back of his mind but he sighed then started climbing. "Where are Aleta and Max?"
"They're over there," Nate said from his perch and Loki glanced over his shoulder. Nodding, he climbed until he reached the top and sat next to Nate. He put his arm around his son when he scooted closer and Nate leaned back against him.
"Are you ready to get down?" Loki asked and Nate nodded.
"Sorry, Dad," Nate said.
"Did you have fun climbing up?"
"Then you have nothing to be sorry for," Loki said as he started to climb down and held his arm out. Nate slid down the hay then he grabbed onto his dad's arm and they headed down the haystack. Tom held his arms out to catch Nate when they nearly reached the bottom and Sam brought over the wheelchair. Tom helped get Nate into the wheelchair as Loki dusted the hay off while Thor walked in the barn and looked at them.
"What happened?" Thor asked.
"Nate got stuck on the top of the haystack and Dad had to go get him," Hunter said.
"Why didn't he use...?" Thor asked when Belle nudged him in the ribs and shook his head.
"Are you ok, Cowboy?" Tom asked.
"Yeah. Just feel like a baby," Nate said and Tom smiled.
"Hey, you are not the first person to get stuck up there."
"Did you ever get stuck?"
"Oh yeah. When I first started here, these guys dared me to climb it then left the barn. It took me a LONG time before I got down."
"Scout's honor," Tom said with a wink and Nate smiled.
"Daddy! Look at the kitties!"
Loki walked over to his youngest children then he knelt down and looked into the hay pile. The kittens were awake as one of them looked at Loki then at its litter mates.
The orange and white kitten climbed out of the hay and scampered onto Loki's boot. It meowed at him then proceeded to climb up his leg.
"Hey!" Loki cried in astonishment. He knelt to pet the kitten and then the others came out and ran over to Loki.
Before he could blink he had kittens climbing all over him.
"Look, Daddy! They like you!" Aleta said.
"Yes, Spark, I see that, but I am not a cat climbing toy." Loki said, laughing.
A kitten climbed on his head and sat there.
"I am the king of the mountain," the kitten meowed.
"Be prepared to be dethroned," Loki said in cat speak and gently reached up to remove the kitten.
"No!" the kitten mewed and dug in its claws.
"Ow! By the Norns!"
A gray striped kitten sitting on his shoulder meowed, "I'm telling Mama you scratched this cat-man, Skykit!"
"You're such a tattletail, Misty-kit!" hissed the brown marble kitten called Skykit.
The orange and white kitten lay on Loki's arm purring. "Hello! I'm Whisper-kit!"
Loki petted the small feline. 'Hello," he replied softly in cat speak. "I'm Loki."
Whisper-kit purred loudly. "You are nice. Not like some other men who stomp and shout so loud our ears hurt. And you can speak felinese."
Loki grinned. "Yes, I can. Who are your siblings?"
" The gray tabby female is Misty-kit. The marble brown male is Skykit. And the black and white male is Trickster-kit."
Loki started snickering. "You seriously have a kitten name Trickster?"
Whisper-kit nodded. "Yes, my mama called him that because he is clever and likes to play tricks on cats and humans."
"You forgot the runt," Skykit said as he glanced back at the little all black one.
"Who is this?" Loki asked and the little kitten gave him a shy look.
"I'm Tomkit," Tomkit said in a soft voice.
"Hello, Tomkit. Why do they call you the runt?"
"Because I was born last and I'm tiny."
"Well, that's no reason for them to call you that. I was born a runt, too."
"You were?!" Tomkit asked with wide eyes.
"Yes, but look at me now!" Loki said and Tomkit purred.
"Can we take one of them home, Daddy?" Max asked.
Loki sighed. "Max, we already have a kitten. You don't want Mischief to think we're replacing her, do you?"
"No," Max said with a shake of his head. Loki placed the kittens back in the hay pile when Tomkit moved closer to Skykit and swatted his tail with his claws.
"Hey!" Skykit said as he growled at the small kitten and his ears went back.
"That's for calling me a runt!" Tomkit said.
"Now. Now. No fighting," Loki said as he reached down and stroked Tomkit's head.
"He's always picking on me and won't let me feed," Tomkit growled then looked at Whisper-kit and Misty-kit. "Neither will they."
"Is this true?" Loki asked, giving the kittens a Look the kids knew very well.
"Yes," the kittens said and he looked at Trickster-kit.
"I don't care one way or the other," Trickster-kit said with a smug tone that reminded Loki of how he used to talk.
"Well, that is no way for siblings to act. Take a look at my kits," Loki said as he pointed to the kids. "Neither of them are the same, but they treat each other with respect and take care of each other. Would any of you like it if he treated you like that or called you a runt?"
"No," the kittens said and shook their heads.
Trickster-kit scooted over to Tomkit as he settled down and placed his chin on Tomkit's side. Closing his eyes, Trickster-kit sighed then curled his tail up and Tomkit looked at him.
"If they do it again, tell me and I'll lead them into those smelly piles behind the barn," Trickster-kit whispered and Tomkit purred, closed his eyes and they went to sleep.
"Aw...," Aleta and Max said as they watched the sleeping kittens and Loki looked at the others.
"Do you promise to be nice to your little brother from now on or do I have to tell your mother?" Loki asked and the kittens gave him a scared look.
"No! Don't tell Mama!" Whisper-kit said.
"We'll be good!" Misty-kit said.
"We promise!" Skykit said.
"Good," Loki said with a smile and led the children to Thor and Tom.
"Is everything alright, brother?" Thor asked.
"Yes. Just had to handle a family crisis," Loki said.
"What sort of crisis?" Tom asked.
"It appears the kittens were picking on the smaller one."
"Oh. You mean the runt. Yeah, they do seem to pick on him."
"Being a runt myself, I know what that's like," Loki said and Thor made a little cough.
"And I have apologized for that," Thor said and Loki nudged him.
"Would you like to stay for lunch?" asked Tom. "We always have a big spread, even for this crowd."
Loki coughed. "Um . . . are you sure?" He didn't know of any mortal household, except his own, which cooked enough for Thor's appetite.
"Sure! Come on up to the house and I'll tell Maisy, our cook, we have company."
"Thor, what do you think?" Loki asked pointedly.
"I think that sounds good," the Thunder God said, catching on to what Loki was hinting at.
The cook made racks of barbecued ribs, steaks, hamburgers, hot dogs, and pulled chicken. There were baked beans, corn, spinach, cornbread, and coleslaw. For dessert there were cookies, a chocolate cake, and coffee for the adults and milk for the children.
Everyone ate until they were stuffed, except Thor who ate a modest (for him) amount so he wouldn't tip off the ranch owners that there was something odd going on with a man who could eat three of them under the table.
"That was delicious," Loki said and Thor and the children nodded.
"Thanks," Missy said.
"Well, we better get going."
"Hope you'll come back soon," Tom said.
Loki and Thor helped the kids get into the van as Tom and Missy waved and the van headed down the path.
"That was fun, Dad," Hunter said.
"Yeah," Vince said.
"Can we do it again, Daddy?" Aleta asked.
"Well, I was thinking about going horseback riding when we go to Asgard," Loki said and the kids cheered.
Though it wasn't a long drive, the younger children fell asleep on the car ride back to the campgrounds.
Loki carried Aleta into the girls' tent and put her in her sleeping bag for a nap while Thor did the same with Max in the boys' tent.
The older children went about cleaning up the camp when the bushes moved and Hunter and Sam frowned.
"What was that?" Sam asked.
"I don't know," Hunter said as the bushes moved some more and they backed up. "Dad! Uncle Thor!"
Loki came out of the tent at a run. "What's the matter?"
Suddenly the bushes parted as a large bear appeared and lumbered toward them. Loki waved his hands as a large green shield appeared and Thor held out his hand.
Mjolnir sailed into his hand as lightning cracked around his hand and the bear looked at them with a confused look.
"Thor, wait," Loki said, and then addressed the bear in Ursus, the bear tongue. "Do you need help? Have the poachers returned to the forest?"
"No," the Bear King growled and stood up on its hind legs. "I am the Bear King. Rula informed me you healed her when the poachers shot her."
Loki was shocked with how accurate he was about what the Bear King looked like and he nodded.
"How is she?" Loki asked.
"She and the cubs are well."
"Hello, Friend Loki," Rula said as she, Benha and Little Nura walked out of the bushes and he smiled.
The Bear King went onto all fours as it walked to Loki and Thor lowered Mjolnir.
"I wish to thank you. Many humans would have just left her to die or would have killed the cubs as well," the Bear King said.
Loki smiled. "I am not like other men. I believe that all animals deserve to live free. And if you hunt you do so for food only and never a mother with young or bearing them." He hesitated then asked, "Is she your mate?"
"No, she is my daughter," the Bear King said then sighed. "Her mother was killed by poachers."
"I see," Loki said as Nura nudged him and he softly scratched the cub's ear.
"Again. Thank you for saving her."
"You are welcome."
"Mister Loki, where are Aleta and Max?" Nura asked.
"They are sleeping," Loki said.
"Oh," she said with a small moan when Aleta and Max ran out of the tent and headed for Loki.
"Daddy, Sam woke us up!" Aleta said.
"I didn't want you to miss seeing Rula and the cubs," Sam said.
"Oh!" Max said and Benha walked to him and Max gave him a hug.
"Who is that?" Aleta asked.
"This is the Bear King. He's Rula's daddy," Loki said and the Bear King walked to the toddlers. They carefully patted him as the Bear King smiled and looked at Loki.
"Are all of these your cubs?" the Bear King asked.
"I actually have nine cubs. Well, nine adopted ones and three others that are my natural ones.
Impressed, the Bear King nodded and tilted its head to one side.
"Well, we must be going," the Bear King said and the cubs walked to Rula. They watched the bears head for the bush when the Bear King turned and looked at Loki. "Know this. You and your family are always welcome in the forest and are under my protection."
"Thank you," Loki said and the bears disappeared into the forest.
Thor stared at his brother in astonishment. "A friend of the Bear King. I am impressed. Father would be proud. That one does not give his friendship lightly, not even to shifter mages."
Loki looked slightly embarrassed, but a glow of satisfaction and pride suffused him. Then he went to gather some food for dinner.
The first twinkling motes of stars were in the sky by the time dinner was served. Loki glanced up at them, recalling Astra's injunction, and he was sure the brightest one overhead winked at him and a voice like the chiming of bells spoke in his ear. "Well done, Loki. I'm proud of you, my son."
The kids were slightly upset when Loki informed them it was time to go and the van headed down the road.
"So, did everyone have a good time?" Loki asked.
"Yes!" chorused Max and Aleta.
"Yeah," the other kids said and Loki smiled.
"I had a good time as well, brother," Thor said.
"Good to hear."
A short time later, the van moved up the driveway. Loki parked the van and everyone got out. Thor pushed the button to lower the small lift and Nate steered the wheelchair toward the door.
"Hold on! Come back here and help with the luggage," Loki said.
Grumbling, Thor and the kids came back to the van and carried the luggage toward the door.
The door opened as Mandy appeared in the doorway and smiled.
"Welcome home," Mandy said.
Loki went and hugged the elderly woman. "Hi! We had a great time, but it's good to be home again. That drive is a killer."
"Well, come on in. I started dinner."
"How were Odin and Mischief?"
"They were little angels."
"Really?!" Loki said as they entered the house and Thor, Hunter and Sam went to clean out the van.
The other children took the luggage upstairs as Loki saw Mischief sitting on top of his favorite chair.
"Papa! You're home!" Mischief said in cat speak and Loki held his arms out. She jumped into his arms then he scratched her ears and she purred. "I missed you!"
"I missed you, too, Kit," he said and she snuggled against his chest.
A sharp bark startled her as Loki placed her on the chair and Odin came running into the room. Loki knelt down as Odin ran to him then came to a stop.
"Papa! You're home!" Odin said. Loki held his arms out as Odin jumped into his arms and Loki stood up.
"My, they sure missed their daddy," Mandy said with a smile.
"Yes, I guess they did," Loki said, placing Odin on the floor.
"Why don't you sit down and rest while I go check on dinner," she said then headed for the kitchen and Loki sat down.
"Daddy! Max isn't helping us unpack!" Aleta shouted.
"I am, too!" Max shouted.
Sighing, Loki got up as he looked at Odin and Mischief then headed for the stairs. The shepherd and the kitten hopped onto the chair, snuggled against each other, for their family was home where they belonged at last.
A/N: So in case anyone missed it the character Tom in the chapter is based on Tom Hiddleston when he played Hank Williams. So you lucky girls got TWO doses of Tom and Loki! Hope you all liked this chapter and thank to Carol for her help.