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Cinnamon and Gunpowder

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Loki barked out orders to the maids and servants in his kitchen, not allowing a single plate to leave the room without his inspection and final flourish of sauce. He smiled to himself, he really was quite talented. He had traveled with his employer, Jonathan Laufey, a wealthy businessman and naval commander to his beach home, planning to cook meals in the spacious kitchen all summer long. But Loki had hardly been there a week and was serving one of his favorite dishes, a flavorful chicken and sausage jambalaya when the chaos began.

He had been in the kitchen, sprinkling powdered sugar atop fresh beignets when the loud bang came from the foyer. Unable to resist, he had stuck his head out of the kitchen door to peer into the dining room, just in time to notice the hole in the front door where the lock had previously been. A moment later the door was kicked in, and a great hulking beast of a man Loki would later know as Volstagg entered the room. He was quickly followed by a man with dark hair, who quietly and smoothly dropped Mr. Sturluson, the butler, to the ground with a blow over his head.

The man who entered next matched every definition and rendering of a swashbuckling pirate Loki had ever come across, from the ruffled shirt to the wide smile under his upturned mustache. He wasted no time striding across the room with a brandished sword to order Mrs. Laufey and her maid to the ground. Loki assumed this stereotype of a buccaneer was their leader.

Until his gaze was drawn by the sound of clopping boots over the screams of the servants towards the door. She was a pillar of menace, the woman who now entered the dining room. She was tall and wore a maroon long-coat, her raven colored hair hung loose over her shoulder and was adorned with a large stylish hat.

Loki was frozen at the site of her, terror rushing through his veins. Loki knew at once who he was seeing, the infamous pirate queen Lady Sif. There were multiple accounts of her death, credible witnesses had seen her perish by gunshot and drowning across the Caribbean. Yet here she was not 10 paces from him. The scoundrel sauntered to a chair, using it as a stepping stool to step upon the dining room table. She opened her coat and pulled two rose quartz-handled pistols from her hip.

Mr. Laufey sat frozen, staring up at this devilish woman. His voice was low, but Loki could hear the tremor. “What do you want, Lady?”

“Heard you were in the neighborhood, so figured I’d pay you a visit.”

Laufey looked down at his wife and children. “If it’s money you want, take it. Just please don’t hurt them.”

The pirate laughed, “Oh now you care about the welfare of others? How rich.” Lady Sif lifted his chin with the toe of her boot, leveling both pistols at him. “I’ll see you in hell, Laufey.”

She then fired, point blank, into Loki’s employer’s chest, sent his chair tumbling over. Loki saw the dreadful woman drop from the table and seat herself at an open chair, pulling Laufey’s plate towards her, before reason took over Loki’s mind and he turned to flee.

He’d barely made it three paces before he was struck over the head with his own frying pan. Dazed, he was dragged out to the dining area by the silent man. The swashbuckling blonde was pulling servants out of every nook and cranny, instructing everyone to remain on the floor around the table. 

The room was full of commotion, women and men alike sobbing and wailing and pleading with their captors. Until the pirate queen raised a pistol and fired it nonchalantly into the ceiling, bringing an immediate quiet to the room.

She stood slowly, sliding the now empty tray away while pushing back from the table and wiping her mouth with a linen napkin. Loki tried not to look at the blood splatter that had soaked into the cloth.

“I have no grudge against you lot, so cooperate and I will show mercy. Now tell me, who’s the chef of this house?”

Loki’s heart stopped dead at her question, and he remained frozen on the floor. Several maids and even one of the children all pointed their finger at him without hesitations. The unforgivable double-crossers.

The woman looked directly at him, the mad pleasure in her gaze made him flinch. “Alright, cookie. You’re coming with us.” She flicked the barrel of her gun from the direction of the behemoth towards Loki.  

Before he even had time to fully register her words, Loki’s wrists were bound with rope and he had been thrown over the shoulder of the bear-sized man. Despite his vocal lashings and physical attempts at escape, Loki had been brought aboard the ship and thrown into a dark room. Loki sat on the floor of his quarters, hardly bigger than the broom closet of his former home and tried not to wretch with seasickness and overwhelming dread at the current state of his affairs. Everything had gone so terribly, horribly wrong so quickly.

“Welcome aboard the Bifrost , cook. There’s no better way to travel than this ship.” Lady Sif had visited him later that night, not long after he felt the boat rock and sway as it cut across choppy waters, spiriting him away from land and his life. After a formal introduction as the captain of the pirate ship Bifrost , Sif had also identified herself as the sole keeper of Loki’s fate.

“If you’d like to stay above water and in my good graces, you must abide by my terms. The only thing I ask is that you are to prepare a meal for me each Sunday night. Something as delicious as was presented to that scourge Laufey. If the meal is to my satisfaction, you keep your life for another week. Do we have an accord?”

“Are you insane?” Loki asked in disbelief. She seemed to consider his words before shrugging.

“Likely. But today is already Friday so it might be best to spend your time pondering the forthcoming menu, yes?”

Despite his protests that there were not the supplies needed aboard a ship in the middle of a sea for such a task, she left the room with a smile and a wave. Later, the grim, silent man, whom the captain referred to as Hogun escorted him to the kitchen. The man was like Loki’s shadow, never more than a yard away and always with a suspicious look in his eye. The kitchen was small, and despite being provided with pilfered wares and food stuff from the summer home, the task before him still felt momentous.

 

He’d had to improvise, given his limited resources. Nearly all of Saturday was devoted to inventorying his supplies. There was sugar and flour, spices and salted meats. And rum of course.  With the help of his considerable charm, Loki was able to talk this Hogun fellow into lending him a line and hook for fishing. The task of actually catching something edible was less easy, and Loki tried not to mind the guffaws of the Lady’s crew as he slid and struggled to land a fish.

But successful he eventually was. And driven by the will to survive and spite over the Lady’s absurd challenge Loki managed to find inspiration in the small kitchen. She had looked in on him only once, standing in the doorway and twirling a dagger in her hand. Loki had felt like a mouse being watched by a hungry cat.

 

When the sun was setting over the sea, drawing Sunday and perhaps his time on Earth to a close, Loki loaded a board with his finished plates and covered them with overturned pots. With Hogun leading the way, Loki walked carefully above deck and towards the cabin. He was glad for his silent companion for once, for it seemed all of the captain’s considerable crew, save the stoic man who spent all his time in the crow’s nest with a telescope to his eye, had gathered outside the kitchen, sniffing the air like wild dogs. 

Hogun pushed through the crowd and crossed the ship, knocked and then opened the door to the captain’s chambers. The quarters were larger than Loki had expected and lavishly decorated. He was momentarily stunned to see the abundance of pillows, rugs, and furs spread out across the floor and the large bed. But what truly stopped him in his tracks was the enormous bookshelf lining a far wall.  Sif was seated in a chair near the bed, a book open on her lap upon their entrance.

She thanked and dismissed Hogun and cleared her throat, pulling Loki out of his hypnosis. “You can set it down over there.” She gestured to the small table to his left. It was set with two plates, a 3-pronged candle holder blazing softly in the middle. Loki silently followed her directions, trying to ignore the way his legs threatened to give way. This was it. He could be made to walk the plank at any moment now if she was not pleased with his offerings. He made to leave, turning towards the door, desperate to spend his final moments alone possibly writing a letter to his beloved mother.

“Where do you think you’re going?” Her voice was threatening, freezing his hand on her doorknob. “Sit down, Loki.”

“I will not,” he shook his head. Hadn’t she asked enough of him? Lady Sif approached, her boots making slow, deliberate clops, until she was standing quite close to him. He noticed that she smelled of lilac.

“A meal can be quite bland and unsavory without good company and stimulating conversation, don’t you agree?” Her voice was low, sending a shiver up his spine. That gave her a wide smile.      

“I’m pleased you regard my life-and-death scenario as an amusing game!” He shouted, suddenly furious.

“It is quite fun,” she said and then laughed. “Now take your seat, please.”

Loki obliged and sat at the table. Instead of sitting opposite, the captain chose to sit next to him, lifting the lids off the plates before them.

All day Sunday, he worked to bone and smoke the fish he’d caught over the small fire and simmered it in rum and spices, making a flavorful broth. He’d mashed potatoes with sprigs of thyme and for dessert he even managed rum-poached figs drizzled with honey. Carefully, Lady Sif dished a plate with a sample of each and then slid it across the swaying table to him, then filled another for herself.

She raised a fork in expectation, looking at him.

“This is for you,” he objected. “And I must confess I don’t have much of an appetite given your investigation.”

“Have you poisoned it, then?” She eyed him suspiciously.

Loki sighed and dug his fork into the meat, making a show of eating without keeling over. The captain grinned at his embellishment and followed suit. Her face melted into placidity at the first taste. She closed her eyes, savoring the bite and letting out a low moan. She continued on, indulging time into each meticulous bite, and Loki found her hungry reaction to his food almost...beautiful.

He had to admit too, after the first bite had reached his stomach that he was actually quite ravenous, not having more than sea biscuits and a small chunk of bacon since his capture.

“Oh, this is wonderful.” Sif managed between bites. “I must say this is my best idea yet.”

Loki nearly choked on his broth at her words. “ Your idea?”

She grinned. “Well yes. Taking you aboard. I’m all for equality and hard work with my crew but I do need to remind them who is in charge on this ship. So I sleep on silk sheets, drink wine, and get the largest shares of treasures. But this, a break from brine water and gruel to exult in a proper meal? That’s brilliant leadership. Now speaking of wine...”

She hopped up, opening a cabinet and pulling out a bottle. She splashed a large amount of red wine into her cup and filled his nearly to the brim as well.

“Now tell me Loki, how does a man as pretty as yourself end up hiding away in kitchens?”

Loki glared at her, expected a mocking, teasing look but Sif was leaned forward over her plate. She actually seemed interested.

“Spite, mainly,” he said with a shrug. For all he knew, she could throw him overboard any second so why not be honest. She let out an explosive laugh.

“Please,” she circled a finger, “Elaborate.”

“My family is actually quite well to do,” Loki confessed. “And they always expected my brother and me to follow in the family legacy of becoming an army general or a lawyer or some boring, moneyed nonsense. Once I found out,” Loki paused, thinking back to the most painful night in his life. “Once I discovered some unsavory family secrets, I decided I’d follow my passion instead.”

“And have you been vindicated in your choice?” Sif asked, eyeing him while licking a drizzle of honey from her fork. Loki paused to drink from his cup, the alcohol was making his skin feel warm.

“I’ve enjoyed my work very much,” he scraped his spoon around his empty plate, “Up until it lead to my capture and imminent death.” She laughed again, and for some reason Loki found himself smiling too. It was all very absurd.

“Fear not, chef,” she raised the wine bottle in salute, “consider your weekly rent paid. It was a very fine meal deserving of a queen and you have earned your keep aboard the Bifrost .”

Loki’s relief was immediate and all consuming. He’d done it! His life had been spared, at least temporarily. He allowed himself a small chuckle while Lady Sif refilled their glasses in toast.

“What about you?” he asked, feeling emboldened by drink and her favor of his food. “How did a b-, a-a, uh, woman end up a pirate?” He stumbled, stopping short of calling her beautiful. Although it wouldn’t have been a lie. Growing up and hearing tales of pirates, he’d always imagined buccaneers as dirty, smelly people with missing teeth and skin marred by scabies. But Sif had spoiled that image; her face was hardened from sun and sea, yes, but also youthful and striking.  

“I once was a legitimate privateer,” she sat back in her seat and eyed him. “I fought to bring peace to the seas and the entire Caribbean. I worked for many commanders, some more noble than others. But it was your friend Laufey that turned my tides.

“See Mr. Laufey, instead of helping the locals of these islands as a commander should, he’s killing them. Buying and stealing land out from under the poor and then leaving their earth barren or full of his beloved, profitable sugarcane. When I tried to bring his crimes to light, he instead named me a traitor, a pirate. It was his word against mine, so I decided to make an honest man out of him.” She took a long pull from her cup, and Loki did the same. “See, we’re not so different you and me. Both driven by spite and vengeance..” She winked at him.

Loki’s head swam with this new information. She killed and sailed in search of... atonement?

“So you’re a vigilante?”  

“Oh I do like the sound of that,” she laughed. “Pirate, vigilante, war bringer, whatever suits you best, aye.”

Loki tipped back his cup, drinking until it was empty. Was it possible for pirates to have morals? He hadn’t even known it was possible for pirates to be fetching until recently, what else had he mistaken in his life. At this moment though, he couldn’t focus on much more besides his happiness at knowing he would live another week. The captain had spared him. Loki looked over and found her leaned forward again, dragging her finger across his empty plate to catch the last traces of honey from the edge. She looked at him, her finger in her mouth. Loki swallowed hard.

“Now, I know this isn’t part of the bargain, but I would ask one more thing of you.” She jumped up and walked to her library, pulling a small book from her shelf handing it to him. “Most of my crew is illiterate but you’ve proven to be quite clever. If you’d be so kind...”

Loki turned the book over and was surprised to find it was a collection of poetry. She sat back down, her face eager as she emptied the last of the wine bottle between their cups. Usually he did not drink more than one serving of any alcohol, as he prefered to keep in control of himself but he had no protests tonight. His happiness seemed reflected in the pirate queen’s smile. If he was honest, which apparently he was being tonight, she really was quite lovely. Her wine stained lips were red against unexpectedly white teeth, and her skin had an attractive pale flush. The scent of lilacs hit his nose again when she leaned over, putting a hand on his arm.

He blinked rapidly and then turned to the book in his hand. He cleared his throat and opened it to a random page and read aloud in slow, confidential voice:

“She walks in beauty, like the night

Of cloudless climes and starry skies;

And all that’s best of dark and bright

Meet in her aspect and her eyes;

Thus mellowed to that tender light

Which heaven to gaudy day denies.

 

"One shade the more, one ray the less,

Had half impaired the nameless grace

Which waves in every raven tress,

Or softly lightens o’er her face;

Where thoughts serenely sweet express,

How pure, how dear their dwelling-place.

 

"And on that cheek, and o’er that brow,

So soft, so calm, yet eloquent,

The smiles that win, the tints that glow,

But tell of days in goodness spent,

A mind at peace with all below,

A heart whose love is innocent!”

Loki softly closed the book in his lap and looked up into the open, burning gaze of Lady Sif. She seemed so near, leaned close to hear every enunciated sound. The sweet, heady words, her allure, made him feel dizzy. Perhaps it was the wine in his veins mixed with the thrill of his life extended, unable to look away from her red lips Loki swayed with the rhythm of the ship and brushed his mouth against hers. She tasted like honey and cinnamon of his dessert and pushed her lips firmer against his. His heart raced and then suddenly stopped at the feel of cold metal under his chin. The click of the pistol’s hammer cocking into place broke through his haze. The pirate withdrew her lips infinitesimally away, but pushed the barrel of her gun deeper into his flesh.

“Brazen scoundrel,” she smiled, her warm breath ghosting across his lips. “Perhaps you’re more at home here than one would think..” 

Loki opened his mouth to protest, to apologize, put she lifted her gun-free hand up to cover his lips. “Save that silver tongue for our next mealtime.”

“I look forward to it,” Loki smiled, and found himself being honest once again.