Dance of the Little Swan I.iii
Dance of the Harpy
Prelude || Overture
Summary: The Jötnar were thought to be long-since-gone within the mortal realm. Amidst all of her fakery, Mommy Fortuna holds Loki, trapped in birth from and far from what he once considered home, as well as another little treasure: a swan maiden.
(Yes, this is a crossover, but the Last Unicorn is fairly minimal plot-wise and it’s largely a Loki fic)
Relationships: F/M (Loki/Original Female Character, Molly Grue/Schmendrick)
Rating: M (Graphic Depictions of Violence, Sexual Content)
Loki’s skin had returned to its usual color after a few days.
The little girl attracted much attention, and Mommy Fortuna was making quite a profit—not that Ceana even knew anything about how the hag handled her money. The only thing she knew was that Mommy Fortuna looked something brushing against happier than usual and Ruhk had asked for a raise.
They’d been carted across the land for about a week since she and Loki had last spoken.
One night, Ceana had woken up to find his crimson eyes watching her far too intently.
She had not slept as well since.
The carts were rattling down a dirt path between two of the larger towns. Out of nowhere, there was a loud screech.
Ceana’s gaze bolted upward. In the cloudy evening sky, she saw a silhouette; the most terrifying silhouette she could possibly imagine. Of course, she’d heard of the harpy in tales, but never imagined she’d come across one in real life.
She was circling the caravan like a hawk, her eye beedy.
By work of the witch’s magic, the cloak, pinned at the tip of her cage, fell down in one movement. Ceana was left in darkness. The cage rattled more as the horses grew uneasy.
Anticipation was pressing against her being. Her heart was pounding, and she sat frozen, barely able to breathe as she waited for the attack. Harpies had keen senses of smell, didn’t they? Could she smell Ceana beneath the covering?
It did not matter, Ceana knew, because the Jötunn would most certainly find her to be a perfect meal.
The harpy cried out, and adrenaline spiked her system.
Ceana squirmed around the prison, desperately reaching out in an attempt to grab the covering and see what was going on. She was able to lift it up enough to see the front of the caravan was—
It had halted, her cart stopping not long after. She heard another cry, a loud crash, and the splintering of wood. Ceana rushed to the other side of her prison, looking to the back of the caravan.
The giant creature had landed atop Loki’s cart, her sheer mass breaking the roof of his prison. She spread her wings, knocking the cart over as she lifted off. Ceana covered her cage, curling up in a ball and wrapping her arms around her head.
Smaller prey would surely not be as enticing as the horses, who were far more substantial than she. If she had the luck to escape the harpy alive, perhaps she could escape Loki without losing a limb, as well. Ceana hoped her luck could hold out for that long, especially after being so poor for the period of time she had been imprisoned.
It felt like the horse was attempting to break free of his holds. Ceana’s cage fell from its base, knocking her to the ground. She could feel her body bruising as she slammed against the metal.
The world outside her dark little haven was muffled havoc. She could hear grunts and garbled yells, they were Ruhk’s, she realized, as well as Mommy Fortuna calling out spells. A grotesque squelch entered her ears as the witch’s voice was rather abruptly cut off.
Chills ran along her entire body. Ceana felt faint.
Ceana did not wish to. The world of sleep was quiet and warm, and she did not have to deal with the poking hands of those in the crowd. An icy palm touched her shoulder, and Ceana’s eyes flickered open. She lurched away from the freezing touch, banging her head against something hard.
“Stay still, lest you wish to die,” the voice was demanding, yet also surprisingly gentle.
After a few moments of awkward half-staring and much blinking, Ceana was able to get her eyes to focus. The clouds had cleared to reveal the sun. The blazing sunset framed him, the orange a sharp contrast to his blue skin.
Ceana was still inside her cage, and her cloak felt like it had been draped over her form. He has seen me, then.
She stared at him with wide eyes as he reached through the door of her cage, which looked to have been forced open since the lock was broken, and flinched when he touched her. He had not done so since the ship, and she expected his palm to be cold, but it felt… normal —if that was the correct phrase.
Ceana did something at least akin to relax when he next spoke. “You are hurt,” he said.
Ceana’s eyes followed his arm to where he was lifting her shin to inspect it. Only now did she notice the large scrape across her skin and realize how much it hurt. Her head panged and she carefully lifted her hand.
Her arm didn’t hurt outside the dull ache caused by a bruise, and she gingerly felt the pain on her head. Thankfully, it was just a bump; her mother had always called them goose-eggs. The memory made her smile softly—she missed her family.
Loki ripped off a large section of the cloak and Ceana yelped in surprise; he flinched at the volume of her voice. She immediately held the remaining cover closer against her.
“Must you scream when I am trying to help you?” He proceeded to grab her leg.
When Ceana attempted to kick him, he simply gripped her tighter. She struggled against him with all of her might—not that there was much. So, he grabbed her foot with his free hand, pinning her against the cold metal of the cage.
“Don’t eat me!” Ceana yelped and tried to scramble back. She had been hoping she would sound threatening, or at least defensive, but it came out as more of a plea.
He barked out a laugh. “Perhaps I won’t if you sit still.”
The ‘perhaps’ was all it took for her to be subdued. She hadn’t been eaten by the harpy, so perhaps her luck would hold out.
“Good.” He wrapped her lower leg in the scrap of cloth, tying it tightly enough that it wouldn’t come loose, but not so tightly that it was uncomfortable.
Then, he offered her his hand.
Ceana looked at it, half dumbfounded that she was still alive.
“Would you like me to leave you in the cage to starve?”
Ceana only had half her mind when she answered: “no.”
“No, Your Highness.”
She bit her lip. He had just helped her, as he said he would. “No, Your Highness.” She wrapped the cloak around her as best as she could before hesitantly taking his hand. Against his blue palm, her hands appeared even smaller and more delicate.
Loki hoisted her up, one hand holding hers while the other wrapped carefully around her waist. Ceana couldn’t tell whether it was to help support her and keep her body covered by the cloak, or to have an excuse to touch her. Perhaps it was both? She didn’t know much about mortal men, let alone Jötnar.
Once she was safely out of the cage, Loki released his grasp. Ceana noticed him avert his gaze and she took the chance to rearrange the cloth into a makeshift dress of sorts. She grabbed the covering of her cage, splayed out across the grass in a disheveled heap, and wrapped it around her shoulders as an extra layer.
Then, she heard a quiet sob.
It wasn’t coming from Loki, of course, but from the general direction he was standing in, relative to Ceana. She took a few steps towards the noise, limping slightly as she went.
She raised her hand dismissively. Ceana knew she’d probably pay for that later, but she felt a maternal urge rise from somewhere within—gods only knew where—and she needed to find what was causing that sound.
She heard Loki not-so-subtly mutter “ungrateful wretch,” but she ignored it.
Ceana attempted to hurry her pace, and her foot got caught in the cloak’s trailing hem. She tripped, tumbling to the ground most ungracefully. The grass swished as someone walked past her. Then, the sobbing grew louder.
By the time Ceana was able to gain her footing again, the Jötunn had wrangled a small being from a cart’s wreckage and was carrying the screaming thing over to her. She realized it was the little girl, who was currently trying desperately to free herself from the tight grasp of the Jötunn.
He shoved the child into her arms and Ceana attempted to comfort her. When the screeching thing wouldn’t relax in her arms, Ceana put her down on the ground. She only had a minimal amount of experience with human children—her younger sisters were in swan form until they fully matured.
“Hey, hey, hey.” She began to shush the child—Annie, she decided to call her—and gently put her hands on the little one’s shoulders. “I’m not going to hurt you.”
Ceana glanced behind her. Loki was rummaging through the dead body that once belonged to Ruhk, his hands getting covered in blood as he sifted through the carnage.
Ceana opted to turn Annie around so the already-traumatized child would not see, shifting, so she was still in front of her. Then, she reached out, wiping away the tears streaming from Annie’s big blue eyes. Her hair was strawberry blonde, and she looked as she had before Mommy Fortuna had cast the illusion.
Ceana assumed that the old hag had gotten what she deserved.
“I know I’m not your mamma, but I can take care of you until we find her.” Ceana did not even know if the poor girl had a mother.
Annie seemed to begin to realize that Ceana was not going to hurt her, and ran into her arms, burying her face into Ceana’s chest.
She smiled softly, running her fingers through Annie’s tangled hair and picking out wood chips. The fact the girl had managed to survive with a just a few scrapes and bruises was a miracle, and Ceana found herself thanking the gods.
She glanced at Loki, who had moved on to another one of Mommy Fortuna’s henchmen.
Now that her racing heart was beginning to start the process of slowing down, Ceana realized that she felt… free. She had not felt that way since Mommy Fortuna had taken her feather.
Her sisters never told her about their hearts feeling confined after they were married. If she ever saw them again, she would have to ask them.
The feeling of freedom did not last long, however. She could hear Loki looting the bodies as Annie’s sobs quieted and the little one fell asleep. Annie was not at all heavy, but it felt like a moose had settled its weight upon her chest, and Ceana had to catch her breath for a moment.
She turned to the Jötunn. He was smiling.
He held up a woven garment of twigs which Ceana had used to make an armband; a small tail feather had been attached before she turned for the first time. Now, the feather was broken, snapped in two and barely hanging together where it was still held in one piece.
Loki walked up to her. When she tried to take her feather, he snatched it away. “For now, little swan, you are mine.”
Her sisters had told her marriage was a wonderful thing. It was part of the legend—as long as the swan maiden put her feather out, a good, loving man would find it and become her husband. She would be bound it him, but he would be good to her. It was a fair trade, Ceana had thought. A male counterpart of her kind did not exist, so it was necessary for the maidens to find husbands.
But her feather had not brought her a good husband—it had not brought her a husband at all, and now, she was bound to a Jötunn who claimed he was the God of Lies. The weight over her heart told Ceana that Loki would not be good in any way.
“Come, swan, we must leave.” It was practically a purr. He knew the power he now held, dangling it over her head like a piece of bait.
Ceana pulled Annie against her, picking the child up and cradling her as she stood. Loki, thankfully, helped her up, but Ceana tore her arm from his grasp. The little child did not stir.
“We must find a brook to clean your wound. While you were addling about hugging that thing, I found the food supply and packed as much as I can carry.”
“Am I not going to carry it, Your Highness?” Ceana wasn’t exactly sure as to where the snark had come from, or why she was asking in the first place.
“You are weak, and it would slow us down. Do you recognize this area?”
She did not want to answer him. So, she didn’t. The legend dictated that she could not leave him, but she did not have to obey his every command, either.
“Speak, unless you want me to make you my next meal.” He bared his teeth.
Her heart skipped a beat, and Ceana held onto Annie a little tighter. “No, I don’t know where we are.”
“Address me with my given title.”
“No, Your Highness.”
“The entire sentence.”
“Are you serious?”
“Do not question me, swan—”
“Your Highness, you are aware that I have a name, correct?”
He scoffed. “Of course, Ǣsbiǫrndóttir. I merely figured you would not wish to grow too… personal.” He cupped her face with his hand, his thumb running over her lower lip and sending icy relief to it. She could feel how swollen it was near the corner, most likely from accidentally biting herself while tumbling around in the cage.
It felt oddly intimate to have a hand cupping her cheek, so Ceana turned away. He lowered his hand, eyes glowering, and began to walk towards the sun.
Ceana decided to make the best out of a bad situation. “Do you plan on traveling all night? It would be best to remain here until the morning.”
The Jötunn looked at her, pondered, then spoke. “Very well. Find a place to put the child, then set up a camp while I will go collect wood. We leave at dawn.” Then, he walked away.
It was a small fire, but the Jötunn, no surprise, stayed far away. Annie was still sound asleep, curled up amidst one of the covers. Loki had been kind enough to drag all of the bodies into one of the largest coverings, wrapping them up so they were out of sight. He said he would set them alight once they left.
Ceana was unlucky to have seen the remains of the witch. She now stared at the fire, trying to burn the image of the blood and various gore-ish organs out of her memory.
“What do you know of this place?”
Ceana looked up but said nothing.
“It was not a request, swan.”
Her lips pursed and she sighed in annoyance. “Not much, Your Highness.”
“I require the actual information, not a rough amount.”
Her eyebrow cocked, and Ceana blinked. “The way these people talk tells me that we are in Scotland. I would say we are somewhere in the highlands.”
“Is there anything else?”
“I know a few tales that are common across the land, if you would like to hear them.”
He seemed genuinely interested. Ceana did not believe him. “What creatures do you know of?”
She thought of every story she had heard while in the colder months, when she migrated south to stay with warmer weather. “I’ve heard of the Loch Ness Monster, Kelpies, and Selkies many times, as well as the Sídhe and spirits known as Fuathan. More uncommonly, I’ve heard of the three Siths, and only a couple of tales of the unicorn and the Sluagh.”
“Tell me of these creatures.”
“The Loch Ness Monster is a serpent-like monster. Not much is known about her other than her location. Kelpies are water spirits that appear as horses, luring their victims to ride them, then taking them off into the waters to drown them. Selkies are similar to those like myself, except they are seals, rather than swans, and the Sídhe are little humans the size of my smallest finger with wings, known for their work of mischief. I believe Fuathan are spirits in general, as I have not heard them be specified.”
“What of the three Siths? Are they something akin to the Nornir?”
Annie stirred and Ceana placed her hand lightly on the girl’s upper arm, soothing her back to sleep. She shook her head when Annie relaxed again. “The siths are three phantoms, unrelated other than the fact they all hail from the highlands. I do not know what their individual names are, but they are malevolent spirits.”
“What do you know of the Unicorn?”
Ceana blinked and followed Loki as he got up from the makeshift cloak he had made from one of the coverings—which Ceana, of course, was tasked with carrying when he grew too hot—and threw a plank of wood on the fire. He hissed when a wayward ember landed on his leg. He flicked it away and stalked back to where he had originally been, settling down on his cloak.
“Unicorns are rare creatures. They can only be seen by other magical creatures and pure-of-heart virgins. They hold rejuvenating magic unlike any other, and even the smallest amount of dust from a crushed horn can cure any illness or curse.”
“And the Sluagh?”
Chills ran down her spine. She had only heard one tale of the Sluagh, from an estranged man at the coast on her first migration being able to turn human. She and her sisters were resting on a beach when she turned into a maiden, walking around and growing more adjusted to her arms and un-webbed toes.
She’d run into the man, who didn’t seem to notice that she was completely uncovered, and he had gripped her by the shoulders desperately. “Beware the Sluagh,” he’d said, “vicious, vicious things, the restless dead coming from the west. You won’t make it out alive—not a pretty thing like you. No, the strongest warriors barely escape their hunger.”
Ceana had taken his shaking hands in hers. “Hunger?”
He’d leaned in so close their noses brushed against each other. “Flesh,” he’d whispered. “Warm, soft, human flesh.” He’d collapsed after that.
Ceana had promptly called her sisters and her mother, who had come with them. She’d pronounced him dead, and they’d flown off after that.
Ceana had not seen any Sluagh. Or perhaps she had and just hadn’t realized it; the man hadn’t exactly told her what they looked like.
“They are vicious flesh-eaters, Your Highness. Only the strongest of warriors barely escape them.”
“Flesh-eaters?” He barked out a laugh. Ceana briefly wondered as to why a supposed god’s laugh was so harsh. “I suppose every land has their legends.”
“You do not believe they are real?”
Loki sighed and lay down on his back. He absent-mindedly played with the broken feather, still attached to her armband. As if on impulse, he ripped the feather from the twigs and threw the woven article into Ceana’s lap. “You may keep that part; I have no use for it.”
“You did not answer my question, Your Highness.”
She barely noticed his crimson irises flicker in her direction. “I am a prince of the Nine Realms, girl, I answer to none.”
She licked her lips, only then realizing how thirsty she was. It will have to wait. She didn’t want to leave Annie alone with the creature who might still eat both of them. Power in numbers. She settled down, wrapping her cloak around her body like a cocoon and closing her eyes. She tried to ignore the innate and unmistakable sense that she was being watched.
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