You’re a princess, you know how to handle yourself in polite company.
In practice you spent nearly all your time with your Cavalry and barely any with your court officials. The formative years of your youth and adulthood were spent in drills and battles with soldiers, cavalry no less, some of the coarsest and cockiest around. You had to command their respect, Princess or no, fighters like that don’t obey because of who your mother is or the crown you wore. And to earn their respect and loyalty you had to think, talk, walk, and act like them. You remember the first time you cursed in front of your mother, forgetting to switch that part of your brain off and turn the princess back on.
You cleaned the Royal stables for a month. And picked up a lot more curses along the way.
You’re not nervous about this first excursion into Asgard’s court life but you aren’t exactly at your most confident either.
“Hello!” She walks like a servant better suited to be a singer, meant for some kind of stage and not the scullery. Since Se’risa’s meant for the classroom, you still need a proper lady’s maid.
She is the only one who accepted the offer.
She has the longest blackest hair you’ve ever seen, bone straight, the ends just brushing her hips. She’s brown like you but a bit darker, akin to the color of amber pearls.
“Your first day in the snake pit of the Asgardian court and they send you me? Who did you piss off?”
“No one sent you to me. You’re the only one who came.”
She winces, looking like she smelled something sour. She has an expressive face accentuated by wide eyes expertly rimmed in kohl and a smile that stretches from jeweled earlobe to earlobe. “Then your situation is worse than I thought. I’m Niti. And you’re the princess I’ve come to save from herself!”
“My lady doesn’t need saving!” Se’risa interjects. From her face, she doesn’t like Niti. You’re actually pretty sure Se’risa doesn’t like anyone in this palace who isn’t you, and given some of the stories she’s told you, it’s understandable.
“Well no, hopefully she won’t. But I’ll still do my best to make sure she doesn’t make a total ass of herself.”
She doesn’t quite speak like a soldier and she definitely doesn’t talk like a servant, but still she puts you at ease. These Asgardian servants seem like timid creatures, you’re afraid they’ll break apart if you ask for anything more arduous than a glass of water. Niti looks and acts like the kind of servant who would tell you to get your own damn water and to only bother them for the good stuff-- like wine.
A knock at your chamber door reveals a page. “Princess. I’m here to escort Mistress Se’risa to her lessons for the day.”
“Wait!” Se’risa jumps from her chair, taking one last look at herself in the mirror smoothing her dress and straightening the bow on her twin tails. She hurries to your vanity, pulls open the drawer and sees a collection of beautiful jewelry, bracelets, one for every day of the week. She studies them seriously, considering her choice with gravity better served for choosing the next king of Asgard.
“This one.” She pulls out a bracelet of starbursts with tiny pink and white stones in the middle of every star. You hold out your arm and smile as she clasps it around your wrist. You’re happy, this little moment makes you happy. This bracelet, its giver, this girl, it all mixes together in your heart and make you the happiest you’ve been in a good while..
“Be good.” Se’risa tells you and takes the hand of the page who leads her away.
“Cute kid. She yours?” Niti asks.
“In so many ways.”
Niti nods. “She’ll be alright. Master Mimir doesn’t care about rank or birth. So long as you want to learn he’ll be good to you and teach you everything you wanna know. She looks like the type. She’ll do just fine. You on the other hand…”
Niti gives you a serious look, head to toe appraising every inch of you. “What in the Nine are you wearing?”
Your riding clothes. Again.
You open your mouth to answer but Niti shuts you up. “Nope! Off! Now.”
She heads to your wardrobe, arms feathering through the dresses. “This is a problem.”
“Yes, none of those dresses are mine.”
“That’s not what I’m talking about. Nearly all of these are out of season.”
“Sea.son. It’s Winter’s End and you don’t nearly have enough blues and pinks to match the colors.”
Niti pulls out something pink and gauzy, it looks like curtains, smells like it should have remained in whatever musty chest it was pulled from.
“Not.” You protest.
“But it’s pink! You have to wear pink! Do you want to look out of season? Frigga will consider it a personal insult!”
“No she won’t!”
Niti relents with a shrug of her shoulders. “Okay so she’s not that petty. But! She is the one who dictates these rules, it's a mark of respect that you follow them.”
You relent a bit, shifting uncomfortably, taking stock of your boots and pants and shirt. They’re comfortable. Not exactly stylish but you feel like you in this. And after everything that’s happened it's good feeling like you again. Still Frigga has been exceedingly kind, perhaps your biggest support outside of Loki --now there’s a heady thought--Prince Loki supportive! . You can’t ever repay her but you can come close.
“But does it have to be pink?”
Niti flips through the wardrobe and pulls out something even more hideous but this time in dusty pale blue. She holds it up running her hand up and down the length of the dress like a hawker at market.
You two fight for at least an hour. You agree to wear a dress, and Niti agrees that it won’t be corpse blue or salmon pink. You both settle on something cream colored, bare shouldered, but Niti lets you (and you bristle because you nearly have to beg her ) wear your fur mantle.
“Only because it matches damnit!”
With clothing out of the way, Niti starts in on etiquette. “You’re a princess de facto --name only, so you’re pretty high up on the ladder but not the highest. Princes and Princesses de jure --by law, marriage, or birth--rank higher than you so the proper respect must be shown. It’s actually pretty easy for you, not too many princesses or princes around so aside from the royal family--just about everyone here has to defer to you.”
That makes you uneasy. There was no nobility in the army, only rank, and even then camaraderie blurred those lines until they were almost buffed out. You and your mother were easy going with your courtiers, they called you by name and preferred handshakes and hugs to curtseys and bows. Only those out of favor were required to pay proper deference. Such things were censure not signs of respect, like you’d been kicked out of the family and had to earn your way back in.
“Dukes and Duchesses get Grace’d. Nod your head and say ‘Your Grace’. And you have to do it first before they can even address you. If you don’t, expect long awkward silences that make them think you’re insulting them. Oh! Before that, since you're a Princess--you get Highness’d. Not Royal Highness, just ‘Highness’ you got me?”
You don’t, you’re still listening but it’s more passive absorption and not active learning, you’re missing home again. Where rules were simpler and you didn’t need a parchment of notes just to talk to people. Your kingdom, your people, were family. They knew your name and you knew theirs. You wonder if Fa’Rey and Fa’Dan do the same, or do they require their subjects to bow now?
“Princess! Hey! You still with me? Hey! If you’re gonna zone out take me with you, yeah?”
“I’m sorry Niti, I…”
She waves away your apology. “I get it, It’s easier where you come from isn’t it?”
“Yeah. Down in the dungeon with the rest of the help, when word came down you were in the market for a maid, we all laughed. Most folks think we’re just the docile helpers, the zippers of dresses and the fetchers of tea.”
Niti flips her hair and examines her nails for chips, proud to be a zipper and a fetcher. “We are, but most of us aspire to be something far higher, and to do that, you gotta pick the right lord or lady. Someone on the up-and-up, somebody that’ll climb high and take you with ‘em. We fight for position--literally some of us actually fight, I’ve seen it--and when we get who and what we want, we fight some more. Your honor is our honor, so if a bitch is in the washing room talking shit about our lady or the friend of a friend’s lady. You fight. Because that’s how rumors get started and reputations get damaged, how masters fall and take servants with them. So we laughed when we heard about you. You’re nothing.”
You wince and Niti stutters. “Ahh...sorry. I didn’t mean to put it so bluntly my mouth gets me in trouble a lot.”
She grins wide, lighting up her face, eyes glazing over for a hot second as she remembers just how fun that trouble with her mouth was. “Just about everyone has sympathy for what happened to you. It’s rotten. Really. But nobody wants to help you because you’re a broken cliff, high up but with nowhere to really go. But I don’t think so. I mean I did but some of the things they were saying were really cruel so I changed my mind on you Princess.”
“At least you’re honest.”
Niti claps her hands together and laughs. “Yup! See! You get it! No matter what, I’ll always be honest. Painfully and brutally, and gut wrenchingly…”
“I get it.”
“Honesty helps you, and helping you helps me so help me help you so I can help me.”
You laugh, Niti’s honesty is endearing. You never cared about how you look, you really weren’t going to care, but understanding that Niti is just as much on the hook as you are, you’re willing to try now.
“So how do I help you?”
“By being the best damn Princess you can be.”
“Wait!” Niti’s dressed you, applied the makeup and stuffed a dictionary’s worth of styles and addresses and names in your head. You thought you were ready to go, finally, but she stops you.
“The bracelet. Take it off.”
You examine the gold sunburst links with the pink stones and shake your head. “No. Why?”
“Doesn’t match.” She beings to root around in your vanity for something more appropriate.
“I don’t care. Se’risa picked it. It stays.”
“Aww come on!” Niti pouts, “All my work.” She sniffs, mocking tears.
“Sorry.” You shrug. “Can’t do it.”
Niti is convinced she can sell ice to a frost giant, she persists. “You gotta have something in here that matches.”
“I have no idea.”
“What do you mean you have no idea, this stuff’s yours isn't it?”
“Ahh…” You really don’t know the etiquette involved with being... involved (sorta--kinda--it’s definitely something but there’s definitely no name for it) with the Prince. If Niti’s going to be your maid, she probably should know but...
“It's not? You've got a treasure trove here and none of it's yours?”
“So what…? Oh. Oh! “
“What? What’s wrong now?”
Niti runs her fingers through her hair, face solidifying into a seriousness you haven't seen in her yet or thought her capable of.
“Man, I was hoping that was just a rumor.”
You stare blankly, waiting for her catch you up.
“You and the Prince.”
You turn your face down, scrunching your nose a little bit as your face and ears heat up to unbearable temperatures.
“I'll be honest, that's the other half of the reason why most girls didn't wanna bother. Your connection with the prince is…”
“Is what?” You’re mildly annoyed, possibly offended. You’re waiting for more information so you can decide.
“Disheartening? That's probably not the best word. The best word is ‘a big bloody red flag’ but I thought that'd be too mean.”
“If you don’t start making sense I swear…”
“The prince, at least this one, has a bit of a reputation.”
“Bit and tack! Just tell me.”
“No, that's his reputation. He's a consummate lover, serial dumper. Left a trail hearts longer and wider than the rainbow bridge. Corpses too if you believe those rumors.”
“Oh.” You can’t manage to make any other sound. You feel like you’ve been given a magnificent horse only to be told it’ll die soon.
“Hey! Don't droop like that maybe you'll be different! Who knows right?”
Niti really could sell ice to frost giants but she can’t sell herself, or you for that matter, on that
“And if I'm not.” You want to be different. After last night you thought you might be but Aleene creeps into your memory, reminding you that everything here is tenuous, easily bestowed and just as easily taken. Even hearts.
“Listen. I'll level with you. Protect your neck. Err-- heart, feelings, whatever. Get tangled up with him and it's a good chance you won't escape with them intact. Get what you can outta him because he's going to do the same. That way it won't sting so much.”
You start a feeble protest. Yes he was a bastard when you first met him, and even now he’s still very prickly and rude and cold. But when you’re with him, it’s different. He’s not the same with you as he is with everyone else. He’s gentle, sweet the same way candied lemon is sweet--bitter sour at first but over time yielding to a sweetness you taste only if you try. So which one is real? The one only you see or the one literally everyone else does? Are you the only blind one, or the only one with true sight?
“Look, I'm not saying don't. I'm saying be careful. You seem like a good princess. I want you to be a good princess, Hel, I need you to be so you can--wherever you go--get me the Hel outta here. Honesty remember? And Good Princesses know better than to fall in love with Loki Odinson. They call him Liesmith for a reason yeah?”
You have two choices. You can believe her or you can ignore her. Unfortunately for you, the absolutes do nothing for you. He's worth your trust. You know that. You believe that. But your heart snags on your doubt and your desire, tearing it in two.
“Thank you Niti. I’ll keep that in mind.”
“That’s all I ask. Oh. Lemmie ask one more thing.”
You make gesture of surrender.
Niti holds up a bracelet, simple gold with creamy white pearls. “Please?”
You shake your head.