Odin sends for Loki the morning after the trade delegation from Alfheim departs.
Loki knows perfectly well why he wishes to speak to her. The courtier who accompanied the delegation was not even remotely subtle. Whenever she was in the room, he talked of little besides his master’s desperate wish to know the Asgardian princess better. He expounded upon the beauty of the royal palace, and meadows and gardens which surrounded it, at considerable length.
By the end of their conversation, Loki was half-tempted to burn the whole palace down, just to make sure that she never has to endure another ill-considered ode to the glory of Alfheim. Still, the courtier’s objective was quite clear.
For the least ten years or more, the matter of who Loki will take as a husband has been a staple in the palace gossip mill. Loki has put it off as long as she can, and her mother has helped, but it cannot be delayed forever. She is too valuable a commodity as the only daughter of Odin, as well as the most powerful sorceress in Asgard.
Her delight in mischief-making has not deterred as many suitors as she hoped; apparently there are plenty of men who are perfectly willing to be turned into an insect and crushed beneath her boot if it means they get to spend one night in her bridal bed. Poor fools.
When Odin calls her forth she bows before his throne and listens politely as he tells her what she already knows, that the time has come for her to select one of her many suitors and become a wife.
Loki ventures a few arguments in favor of being permitted to retain her maidenhood — maidenhood which was actually lost quite some time ago, but Odin doesn’t need to know that — but her attempts at persuasion get her nowhere. She expected as much, really. She reached her majority many years ago, and only her father’s indulgence has prevented her from being forced to accept a suit long ago.
“Permit me the honor of choosing my own spouse,” she says, at last.
The All-Father does not even attempt to hide his suspicion, and Loki is rather pleased to see it. So many men underestimate her, but at least her father never has. He always views her capitulation to his wishes with appropriate skepticism.
He is suspicious, then, but he cannot deny her this. To force her to marry some oaf of his own choosing would be to court disaster. Loki would find a way to make the entire royal family regret the match. The All-Father knows this.
“Very well,” he says heavily. “You may choose who you wish to marry, so long as you make your choice by the next feast-day.”
“And you will not gainsay my choice?” Loki asks sweetly.
Odin’s one eye falls upon her heavily. Loki can see his mind working, sifting through the possibilities, looking for the ways in which she might twist his words.
It is a lovely thing, Loki thinks, to have a father who understands his daughter so well.
“You must choose one of the warriors of Asgard,” he says eventually. “An honorable warrior, one in good standing in this court.” He pauses. “One who is not promised to another.”
Well. That limits things a bit, but Loki knows that the All-Father is all too aware of the possibility that she might bring forward a dwarf or a mortal, or even a monstrous creature like a Jotun, for the sheer pleasure of confounding his wishes.
Clearly he has also considered the possibility of her embarrassing some poor, previously-betrothed man by asking for his hand. She had, as a matter of fact, been thinking of doing exactly that. The wrangling over which betrothal would take precedence would buy her a few more months of freedom, at the very least.
Still. There is plenty of room to work within the conditions he has set.
“As you say, father.”
Odin scrutinizes her face, no doubt trying to work out what she has planned, but Loki gives him her best smile, the one she uses when she wishes to give the impression that she is nothing more than another brainless court maiden, thinking of nothing beyond which shoes might best match her dress. It always aggravates Odin terribly.
“So be it. You will announce your choice during the feast, then.”
Oh, that is careless of him, permitting her to announce her choice before one and all, without vetting it first himself. But perhaps he thinks he has laid enough conditions as to ensure a choice he will approve of.
She curtsies, and Odin allows her to leave without further discussion on the matter.
Now then, Loki thinks. Let the games begin.
Word of Odin’s decree spreads quickly, of course, and Loki finds that she must sequester herself in her quarters if she hopes to get a moment’s peace. Gifts from would-be suitors pile up outside her door and a constant stream of minstrels serenade her from outside her balcony. It’s terribly irritating. Loki turns one of them into a songbird so that she might have something slightly more pleasant to listen to, and that stems the outpouring of ardor somewhat.
The distraction is wholly unwelcome. She is busy making a list.
There are thousands of warriors in Asgard’s armies, but many are already wedded or betrothed, or simply too stupid to even consider. Loki has trimmed the list down to twenty and is weighing her options — perhaps she can transform one of them into a serpent or a stallion? Odin never said her husband had to be in the shape of a man — when Thor makes his appearance.
“My sister!” He clasps her to his chest, and Loki tolerates it for a few moments before wiggling free. “I have heard the news. Have you chosen the lucky man?”
“Not yet.” She slips from his arms and pours another glass of wine, which her brother accepts with aplomb.
“No man can possibly be worthy of you,” he declares grandly. “But I am sure than any of my brothers-in-arms would make you a fine husband. I shall see to it.” He lifts his chin and Loki offers him a faint smile.
It’s almost sweet, really, the way Thor thinks she needs to be protected. A little insulting as well. Loki may not be able to match Thor in battle, but then she doesn’t need to. Thor is fond of praising Loki’s “great skill in the womanly arts”, but those “womanly arts” ensure that she will never need to be skilled in close combat, for no enemy will ever get that close.
Still. Thor means well, and he — along with their mother — complained so loudly when Odin considered matching Loki with a foreign prince that Odin was forced to agree to let Loki remain in Asgard, all without Loki having to lift a finger in her own defense. It did much to redeem him in her eyes.
Loki finds herself compelled to withdraw this feeling of goodwill toward her brother, however, when he peers at her list and begins to offer his input.
“Tyr,” Thor proclaims, leaning over her shoulder, “is a valiant warrior.”
“Tyr,” Loki agrees, “has little interest in anything besides being a warrior.”
It is, frankly, the least insulting remark she can manage regarding the man.
Thor looks puzzled, but of course he cannot understand why any woman — or any man, for that matter — would wish for the company of anyone but a warrior. Loki dares to hope that Thor will let the subject drop, but instead her brother finishes his wine and contemplates the empty glass.
Contemplation is not a look he wears well, Loki thinks, as she props her chin on her hands. On the rare occasion that Thor indulges in what he considers to be deep thought, he always looks vaguely constipated. Loki watches him, to see if he will injure himself in this attempt at profundity.
“Balder,” he begins, but Loki cuts him off.
Balder, for the love of the gods. That milksop as her husband!
“Balder is an honorable man!” Thor protests indignantly. Loki slants a dark smile in his direction.
“Yes,” she agrees sweetly, and Thor cringes a little.
They would have to scrape what was left of Balder off the walls when she was done with him. Poor fool still insists on trusting her, even when it should be obvious she’s playing a trick on him. There’s no sport in it at all, and Loki would like a bit of sport in her marriage.
Then again, Balder might just prove too meek to manage the business of consummation, which would serve to annul the marriage and put an end to the matter. Perhaps Odin would accept that?
No, Loki thinks. Most likely not.
Thor scratches his beard.
“The Warriors Three...”
Loki does not bother to answer that inane suggestion with anything more than a heavy sigh. Thor looks at her with consternation.
“I did not mean Volstagg, of course. You know he is already wedded.”
“What a loss for me.” Loki inspects her nails and considers her hands. She has a ring which conceals a tiny poisoned barb. If worse comes to worst, perhaps her husband might meet with a tragic accident. “You would have me marry Fandral, then?”
Thor frowns and opens his mouth.
“If you tell me he is a valiant and honorable warrior,” Loki hisses. She does not need to finish the threat. Thor sags back against the couch.
“You are very difficult to please, sister.”
Loki preens a little.
“Of course I am. Now, if all you intend to do is suggest another of your idiotic friends as my bridegroom, I would have you leave. I am busy.” She runs a painted nail over the list of names she has compiled.
Her brother sighs. He rises and kisses her cheek. She allows it, but only because she knows it pains him to see her married against her will. If he thought it would do any good, no doubt he would intercede with their father. But while a man might delay marriage for a good many years, a woman must marry and begin bearing children as soon as she is ripe. Such is the custom, and Loki has put off this duty as long as she can.
Thor departs, and Loki returns to her list. She reads through it again and then crumples it up, incinerating it in a ball of green fire.
She had hoped she might find one warrior who wasn’t utterly tedious, someone who wouldn’t expect his wife to kneel before him. Loki is confident in her ability to school her wayward husband, should he attempt to force her to submit, but how much more pleasant it would be to have a spouse who wouldn’t even attempt it!
And Thor would have her marry one of his oafish friends. Someone like Fandral, who might not expect his wife to submit to him, but would undoubtedly expect her to tolerate a string of mistresses. Disposing of a string of her husband’s lovers would be simple enough, but it would also be terribly tiresome and would leave her with little free time.
There’s Hogun, but Loki distrusts a man who never smiles, just as she distrusts a man who smiles too much. He seems to have a little more intelligence than most of Thor’s merry band, but he’s also duller than ditch-water, and has the look of a man who would spend a mere five minutes in the marital bed and consider his job done. Unacceptable.
Loki traces the lip of her glass with a fingernail, then taps the edge and watches it fill with a pale yellow wine.
Thor, she thinks, does not appreciate how fortunate he is. As crown prince, he will not be expected to settle down until he takes the throne, and even then he should have no trouble choosing a wife. So long as she is both pretty and enthusiastic in the bedchamber, Thor will undoubtedly be satisfied.
All the more reason that Loki must remain in Asgard, to ensure that someone is handling things properly after their father decides to turn over the throne. If she had been born a man, Loki thinks she might have made a bid for the throne herself. Thor is...not entirely ill-suited for the job, but he has little enough grasp of politics. But, as Fate in her infinite wisdom created Loki a woman, and as women cannot inherit the throne, Thor will need someone to manage him and his fool of a bride.
Preferably someone unencumbered by an idiot husband who thinks he will be the one the king turns to for assistance.
Loki sighs and drains the glass.
It is a pity, she thinks, that Thor does not have a higher class of friends. No one, least of all Odin, would raise an objection if she chose to marry one of them. Thor himself would be delighted. But she cannot possibly marry that preening peacock Fandral, or the aptly-named Hogun the Grim. And the only other Thor considers a close friend will likely be his own bride.
Loki puts her wineglass down slowly. She could kick herself for not thinking of it sooner. She’s been thinking like a man, disregarding women altogether.
The All-Father said she must marry. But he never said she must take a husband.
Loki thinks it will take a great deal of conniving, and perhaps a judicious bit of blackmail to garner the Lady Sif’s agreement, but when she lays out her plan, Sif agrees with almost alarming alacrity. It isn’t until later that Loki realizes that Sif’s parents have likely been pressuring her to take a husband herself.
Sif understands Loki’s dilemma. Of course she does. She doesn’t think any more highly of the prospect of an Asgardian husband than Loki does. Less, perhaps. A husband would expect her to set aside her spear forever in favor of bearing him a passel of children.
But with the aid of a little magic, as Loki explains to her future wife, it will be a simple matter for Loki to bear their child. Neither the All-Father nor Sif’s parents can possibly object to the match when there is every promise of an heir.
Perhaps this freedom from childbearing is what persuades Sif to agree so readily. Perhaps it is simply the knowledge that Loki does not care if her wife goes to war, or wears breeches, or drinks in the taverns with the rest of the soldiers. Perhaps it is the prospect of thoroughly scandalizing all of the people who never thought much of either of them.
For whatever reason, Sif agrees. She has no great fondness for Loki, it must be granted, and Loki has certainly never considered her a friend. But needs must, and Sif is a far more agreeable choice than the rest of Asgard’s warriors. She is comely, reasonably intelligent, and — most importantly — not a man. When they marry, they will be equals, with none of this ridiculous business of a husband mastering his wife.
Sif seals their betrothal with a kiss across Loki’s fingers. Loki smiles. She thinks this arrangement will work out very will.
When she rises and makes the announcement, on the next feast-day, Thor’s expression is priceless.
It’s nearly as good as the look on Odin’s face.