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About the Author
Mackenzi Lee holds a BA in history and an MFA in writing for children and young adults from Simmons College. She is the New York Times best-selling author of the historical fantasy novels This Monstrous Thing; The Gentleman's Guide to Vice and Virtue, which won a 2018 Stonewall Honor Award and the New England Book Award; and its sequel, The Lady's Guide to Petticoats and Piracy. She is also the author of the nonfiction books Bygone Badass Broads, a collection of short biographies of forgotten women from history, and The History of the World In 50 Dogs, which is the same but dogs. When not writing, she works as an independent bookseller, drinks too much Diet Coke, and romps with her Saint Bernard, Queenie.
Read an Excerpt
The Royal Feast of Gullveig, like all Asgardian feast days, was enjoyable for those who were fond of listening to overly long speeches, exchanging inane niceties, and getting their feet stepped on, because the Great Hall was always too crowded and no one knew how to walk in heels.
Loki was convinced everyone loathed the feasts but no one dared say so for fear of appearing small-minded. Being quite confident of the size of his mind — large — and his ability to walk in heels, he was comfortable saying it.
"I hate feast days."
In the royal receiving line beside him, Thor didn't drop the politician's smile he had been practicing for state occasions like this. It had only faltered when Loki had suggested showing that much teeth made it very obvious there was something stuck in them, and he had fumbled with his tongue for several minutes — lips bulging in a grotesque way that made several approaching courtiers change course — before realizing there was nothing there.
"The feasts are important days," Thor said. "They instill competence in Asgard's leaders among our court."
"Confidence," Loki corrected.
The smile didn't slip, but Thor's eyebrows crept together. "What?"
"I memorized the same quote," Loki replied. "It's confidence."
"What did I say?"
"You — Never mind." Loki fixed his own overly large smile, raising his voice so Thor could hear him over the musicians playing a lively folk song. "You did it perfectly."
Thor adjusted the circlet resting on his forehead. Beads of sweat were beginning to gather around it, and it was slipping over his brows. Loki had been offered a circlet as well — his mother had selected a silver braid inlaid with small gemstones for him. But while Loki loved few things as much as a bit of sparkle, he had opted instead for a more sophisticated, understated look that the circlet would have ruined entirely. He didn't have to enjoy feast days, but he could look good for them. The boots made him feel like doing a strut down the middle of the hall — black, over the knee, and with heels as long and thin as the knives he kept up his sleeves. His coat had a high collar and green ribbing on the shoulders, and he wore loose trousers of the same color. Amora had told him green made his eyes look like jewels, but he had been careful not to wear it too often. Best not to let Amora think he was taking her advice too seriously. She may always be right, but she didn't have to know that.
Loki glanced down the line of dignitaries, past Thor and Frigga in her flowing silver robes, hands tucked beneath the sleeves as she smiled and nodded to the Asgardian woman fumbling a compliment about how lovely the queen's hair looked with its streaks of gray. On her other side were the ambassadors from Varinheim and Ringsfjord, talking with their heads bent toward Queen Jolena, who kept asking loudly if they could speak up. Past them, Karnilla, the Queen of Norns and Odin's royal sorceress, stood like a soldier, the plaits of her dark hair wound together and wrapped around a gold headpiece with a purple stone set upon her brow. Her face was blank — in the time she'd been at court, Loki had never seen her wear any expression beyond a dutiful grimace of acknowledgment. One of her long-fingered hands rested on Amora's shoulder, like she was certain her apprentice would slip away if a hold wasn't kept on her.
It wasn't outside the realm of possibility.
Amora was looking far more obviously bored than Loki felt she should. Far more bored than he was sure he could get away with without a lecture from his father. She may get one from Karnilla too, but Amora seemed to care so much less about what her teacher thought than Loki did about Odin's opinions. He wished he could afford not to care, not to feel like everything he did right or wrong was ticked off in a corresponding column and kept on file for the day Odin would name either him or Thor as the heir to the Asgardian crown. It would be so much easier if there were only one of him — Amora was the only student Karnilla had ever taken on and the only magic wielder in Asgard powerful enough to take up the mantle of royal sorceress and Queen of the Norns. Amora's power made her desired; Loki's power made him feel the need to keep it hidden.
No one wanted a sorcerer for a king. The kings of Asgard were warriors. They wore their golden hair long and their armor polished and their scars from battle casually on display like ostentatious accessories. Oh, this old thing? Merely a token from a rogue Sakaaran who was foolish enough to test his strength against mine.
Amora managed to wriggle away from Karnilla's side long enough to snatch a goblet off the tray of a passing kitchen servant, and Loki watched as she reached one finger to the surface and levitated a small drop from it. It hung in midair, a few inches from her palm, until Karnilla reached over without looking and clamped a hand over Amora's, squashing the spell. Amora rolled her eyes, then, perhaps sensing the inappropriate duration of Loki's gaze, glanced around. She caught his eye, and offered her crooked finger of a smile. Loki felt his ears go red, and he almost looked away, like that would negate the fact that she'd caught him staring. Instead he offered her an exasperated eye-widening, to which she responded by pantomiming hanging herself.
He snorted. Thor frowned at him, then followed his gaze, but Amora had straightened herself out again, smiling alongside Karnilla at the courtier who had come to speak to them. She seemed to be putting a great deal of effort into making her smile look as forced as possible — as much as Thor had been putting into making his look sincere — but she was smiling, so no one could accuse her of a contrary disposition.
Thor's frown went deeper, burying his circlet farther into his brow, and he pushed it up before turning forward with a huff that sounded like an imitation of their father.
When Loki caught Amora's eye again, she made a subtle gesture down at the tiles and raised her eyebrows. Loki hesitated. Carrying out the small spells she taught him at a dinner or in their classroom was one thing, but doing it at a state function was quite another. It would be harmless — turning the tiles of the Great Hall pink had been his idea, after all. But he had suggested it half in jest, hoping he would impress her with the boldness of the idea and creative use of spell weaving without actually having to execute it.
But Amora had to see everything through to the end. Everything that could be tried had to be, no matter the consequences. And there were always consequences, whether a whack on the back of the head from a wearied tutor or a private summons to Karnilla's chambers.
Amora did it all anyway.
Loki felt the burn of jealousy at her fearlessness — the way she didn't seem to feel any shame when Odin or Karnilla scolded her. His own heart always twisted no matter how high he raised his chin in defiance. No matter how blameless he thought himself. As a boy, Loki had used his magic to extinguish all the lights in the palace simultaneously. He was baffled when Odin had not been delighted and proud as he expected, but rather so enraged Loki had feared his father might strike him. Instead, Loki was sent to his chambers to sit in isolation for what felt like hours, wriggling with a shame he didn't understand, before his mother finally came and explained that it would be best if he did not use the magic he could feel vibrating through his bones, but instead dedicated himself to becoming a warrior like his brother. It would be best, she had said, for his future. She had spoken gently — it was the only way his mother ever spoke — but the shame had never managed to detach itself from every spell he cast.
Though he had done very little spell-casting until Amora arrived in court. He had tried to make himself a warrior, tried to run faster and train harder, learn to take a blow without buckling. All the things Thor seemed to do without trying, the skills they had been told were most becoming of a future king of Asgard, while Loki's only skill seemed to be turning the mead in his brother's goblet into slugs once he began to drink, and then back into wine when he spat it out.
It wasn't the best strategy for dealing with emotions, but it was his strategy.
The slug trick was what first caught Amora's attention. When Thor had sputtered his mead across the table, Odin had berated him for his poor manners in front of their guests, the Norn Queen, Karnilla, and her apprentice, Amora, on their first night in the Asgardian palace. As Thor had insisted over and over that there were slugs, there had been slugs, he was certain there had been slugs, Loki's gaze had drifted across the table to Amora without knowing why, only to find she was already watching him. The corners of her mouth had turned up around her fork. But then she looked away, and he had gone back to staring at his stew. He had told himself the slugs were to get his brother back for knocking him flat in the sparring ring that morning in spite of promising not to — a promise that had been quickly forgotten once he realized Sif was watching. It wasn't because Amora was a magician — the first other magic wielder he'd ever met besides his mother, whose uses of magic were always small and controlled. Tea party magic, as Loki had begun to think of it. Frigga had always worked to keep her powers out of sight, and encouraged Loki to do the same. But Amora was allowed to wear her powers on her sleeve and flaunt them as part of her training for her future position in court. It wasn't because her long hair was the color of honey and she wore it wrapped around her head in an endless loop that looked like snakes winding together. It wasn't because of those slanted features or that crooked smile.
What did you expect? He chided himself as he poked at a chunk of meat, watching it bounce back to the thick, oily surface. For her to be thrilled about finding another magic wielder in Asgard? A magician who had never been taught to control his powers, which meant they usually escaped in inelegant, clumsy stunts he was struggling to teach himself?
The slugs had been good, though.
His gaze drifted again to Amora, but her dark eyes — black but for a few thin veins of emerald that forked through them like an acidic lightning storm — were on Karnilla. As she listened to Karnilla and Odin discuss the upcoming tutelage Amora would be given at court before the Feast of Gullveig and how it would prepare her for her future role as right hand to one of Odin's sons, Loki felt small and strange again, not worthy of notice by someone he had thought might resemble himself.
But, at the end of the meal, when he finished his wine, he'd found a small snail at the bottom, writhing lethargically in the dregs. He'd looked up, but Amora was already gone, leaving him with that single disgusting calling card.
"The slug trick is a good one," she told him later, when he found her in the palace library, curled into the bench of one of the circular windows that looked over the gardens. She had a stack of books at her feet that he was certain she had selected only for aesthetic effect. "But what if you waited to change them until just as he was swallowing? It's far more horrifying to swallow a mouthful of slugs than to spit one out all over the table, don't you think?"
Loki hadn't thought of that. He also wasn't certain he had enough control of his own magical powers to time a spell so perfectly.
When he didn't say anything, Amora's eyes flicked up from the page of the book she had open on her lap, like she knew how good aloofness looked on her. She had let her braids loose, and the tilt of her chin sent her hair cascading perfectly down her shoulders, like a carpet unfurled before the feet of a visiting king. "Who taught you how to do that?" she asked.
"No one," he replied. He had honed any skills he had alone, making his grasp of his own powers rough and rudimentary and frustratingly tenuous. He could feel the well inside him, how deep and strong it ran, but could find no way to tap it.
"I didn't know Odin's son was a sorcerer," she said.
"There's a reason for that." He wanted to sit beside her, but somehow that felt too presumptuous, a very obvious assumption that he was interesting enough for her to want around. Instead he went for a casual lean against one of the shelves, which he realized mid-tilt was much farther away than he had thought. "Asgardians don't want their princes to be magicians. It's not the sort of power they value."
Amora stared at him for a moment, then folded the corner of the page before shutting the book, a gesture that felt like such destruction in miniature that it made Loki want to crease the pages of every book in his father's library.
"Hasn't Odin hired someone to teach you?" she asked. "Or your mother? She's a sorceress."
"No," he said, certain he sank a few inches deeper into the carpet. "I mean, yes, she is. But my father doesn't want me to study magic."
"Because he's afraid of you."
Loki laughed before he could stop himself at the thought of Odin, built like a boulder and with a rough, smashing demeanor to match, being frightened of his own son, particularly the smaller, skinnier one. "He's not afraid of me. He just wants me to be the best contender for the throne that I can be, so he has me train with the soldiers."
Now it was Amora's turn to laugh. "That's like keeping a warship in shallow waters. What a waste." She stroked the spine of the book, appraising him. She seemed to be made of smoke the way her body spiraled and swooped with the shape of the windowsill. She had kicked off her shoes, and her bare toes curled against the stone. "You're not a soldier," she said. "You're a magician. And someone ought to teach you how to be one."
"Someone ought to," he replied.
She offered him a smile, one that felt like a dagger drawn slowly from its sheath, that dangerous hum of scraping metal in the moment of stillness that preluded a strike. Then she flipped open the book on her lap again, and his heart dropped, thinking he had been too opaque, too unreadable, too cold, all the things his brother wasn't, the things his tutors had told him not to be, the things the other trainees in the warrior camp had teased him for.
But then she slung her feet off the seat beside her and said, "Are you going to sit down?"
And he did.
That had been months ago. Months over which Loki and Amora had knit themselves into an inseparable duo that the servants whispered about and the courtiers disapproved of. Even now, in the Great Hall on a feast day, Loki felt the eyes glancing at him, trying to determine whether his partnership with Karnilla's headstrong apprentice had altered him in a way they could see.
Above him, the candles in the boat-shaped chandeliers that lined the Great Hall flickered, their light dancing along the golden leaf that blanketed the wainscoting. The shape of the ceilings had always reminded him of the inside of an instrument, bowed and curved in places designed to amplify sound and make every gathering feel bigger and more impressive. Loki peeked down at the tiles under his feet, black with streaks of gold shooting through them, carving out the elaborate intricate roots that joined to form Yggdrasil at the base of the grand stairway. When he met Amora's gaze again, she did an exaggerated eyelash flutter and pressed her hands together in pleading, and he knew he would set the hall on fire and then run naked through it if she asked.
"What are you plotting?" Thor muttered beside him. "Plotting?" Loki repeated, pinning on his best smile to scare an approaching courtier away from them. "I never plot."
Thor snorted. "Please."
"Please what? Please plot?" Thor ground his foot into Loki's, and Loki bit his tongue to stifle a squeak of pain. "Careful, I love these boots more than I love you."
Thor glanced down the row again, to where Amora had put on another exaggeratedly innocent face. Thor had not taken to her the way Loki had. He had joined them on a few escapades around the palace, but always with his feet dragging, checking over his shoulder to be certain they wouldn't be caught, and repeating "I don't think we should be doing this" so often that Amora had suggested they start charging him for every repetition. Eventually he had stopped coming along, which suited Loki fine. He didn't want to share Amora with his brother. He didn't want to share her with anyone. She was all his in a way no one had ever been. No one had ever wanted to be. And it was nice to see Thor left out of conversations for once.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Loki: Where Mischief Lies"
Copyright © 2019 MARVEL.
Excerpted by permission of Disney Book Group.
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