The weaponsmith sighs, discards the pike, places it in a pile with the rest of your rejected choices. You want your halberd, but your desires can’t make one magically appear. You have to make due with whatever the smithies of Asgard can produce for you which isn’t very much to your:
Picky, Loki whispers.
Exacting, you reply.
You settle on an old fashioned spear. Long haft, coming to just under your shoulder, with a triangular shaped blade, broad and flat, sharp point ending just above the top of your head. It lacks the comforting red hair tassle where the blade meets the haft, but it does have a capped metal end. Round and blunt, good for crushing skulls on a back swing, or catching that second or third enemy that gets too close.
The weapon fits in your hand comfortably, good balance, like a pen coming to rest between the fingers of a writer out of practice. It’s a natural fit but cold, the grip of your halberd was always warm, always waiting for you to grip it again. Danda first put death in your hands, but even before that, you watched him wield it.
Danda was quick, versatile too. Swords, spears, axes, all were deadly in his hands. He gave you a stick first, taught you how to twirl it. First in your hands, then around your body. He added a colorful ribbon to the stick next, told you to watch how the color flutters, charged you to make pretty shapes as you moved it.
When you were older, the stick turned into a staff and lost its decoration, lost its beauty.
“This you use to hurt people who wish to hurt you and the people you love. Do not give them the chance,” he said, before he struck you so hard you ran crying to manmae.
She had no sympathy for you. “Never deal a hit you aren’t willing to take, katkat. You will learn then, to never be cruel.”
You took many more blows like it, and learned the value of mercy.
Sif and her friends are waiting for you and Prince Loki, all armed, all willing to help you back into fighting shape for the next seven days.
“A friend of Loki is a friend of mine!” Fandral pledges, with Hogun sounding his agreement.
“I’m not even your friend, fool.” Loki responds.
Sif unsheathes her sword and taps her shield. “Let me be your first test Princess. I was glad to have your folk on our side for the battle with the barbarians, but I wish to see how well you fare in a fight against Asgard steel.”
You hold up a finger, asking for a moment to yourself. “It has been a while, allow me to get re-acclimated.”
You spin the spear hand over hand, imagining the pretty shapes and colors the ribbon used to make. Your danda taught you how to move beautifully, knowing that it would make you a beautiful killer. Moving doesn’t hurt, doesn’t tax the muscles of your arms too much, good.
You move hand over hand again, criss crossing your body, swinging your blade from left to right to left again. You imagine hearing him.
“That’s my little princess!” It fills you with pride and him with the comfort that with a spear in your hands, his little princess will never fall.
You feel skin stretch, muscles you haven’t used in a while wake to life, no pain, not yet, no discomfort.
Now you move your feet, coordinating the spear movements with footwork. Can you walk and swing? Yes.
Can you spin and swing? You’ll be fighting on foot, considerably harder than combat from the back of a horse. There you don’t require fancy footwork, just Cephalus’s heavy hooves. You won’t have that luxury for this fight, so you need to remember how to move.
Your father taught you to dance like this. Moves no one had ever seen in a ballroom before but he called it ‘dancing’ all the same.
“So you won’t forget, little princess.”
And you don’t, it’s easy as breathing to pick back up, but.
“Shit!” You twist too far and a scar stretches, pulling a pierced muscle that hasn’t fully knit together yet. The pain feels like the press of a nail of a lover too amorous for his own good (and yours). It’s not debilitating, you can keep moving.
“Never stop moving little princess.”
Loki has only seen your people fight from horseback, the deadly charge of the best mounted combatants in the realm. But like this, with your spear spinning in wide arcs around your body, your face scrunched in concentration, eyes closed, body tuned as though listening to some far off unheard instruction, he understands that superior horseflesh was never the source of your power, only part.
You are the rest, the font of it.
You are weakened, yes, but he understands now that you were never, ever weak.
The threat you made the night you met him, he now believes you really could have carried out. Before he would even have the chance to summon a spell to protect him, you would have cut his tongue from his mouth.
His respect for you is implicit, from the moment he met you, because he never disrespects anyone (which is not the same as contempt, nearly everyone gets his contempt ). Disrespect is a form of underestimation--possibly the weightiest sin in his Church of Self. But now his respect for you, your power, deepens.
You stop, planting the butt of the spear in the dirt. It’s a mild warm up, your heart’s barely above its resting cadence but you’re impatient. “Come!” You shout, and Sif lunges.
Danda is proud, your time as an idle Princess dulled none of your sense of combat. Sif stabs and you dodge, dancing out of her way. She’s quick, inside your guard space rendering your spear all but useless unless you want her sword to make two weapons from your one.
She’s quiet too, the loudest sound from her is a heavy exhale, and you’re not sure if that’s good or bad or normal or something else. You spin outside her range and your spear becomes your defense again. You thrust at her but her shield blocks the blow.
Thor whistles. “Brother, wow, your Princess is something.”
Loki ignores him, spending every bit of himself to watch you, looking for the weakness an enemy would see.
He hasn’t found yours yet, but you’ve found Sif’s. Holes and pockets in her guard that your spear tears open, giving her little or no time to block or deflect. You’re faster than she expects, you force her into a reactionary position instead of an offensive one. The spear blade sings too close to her ears and those heavy yet measured breaths escalate into labored grunts.
You make a mistake, ( you dance like your mother!) drop your guard too low. Your spear thuds into the dirt and Sif immediately breaches your guard space, the inches between your blade and your body where your weapon is useless. Battle is ebb and flow, where time is measured not in the tick of seconds but in the twitch of muscles. Sif comes for you, screaming, so you move without thought, reflex taking over your sentience. You know this, you remember how to (dance) fight, you never forgot. You twist your entire body, both feet lifting off the ground as you spin away from your attacker restoring the comfortable distance you need to continue fighting.
Then you scream.
Pain blazes inside you, a spark touched to oil soaked kindling, it rolls in heavy waves from your midsection up to your head. You drop, hard on one knee, spear useless beside you in the dirt, arm over your stomach because it feels like your belly has been sliced open and all your innards are about to spill.
You regain control of your voice, you only scream once. You clamp your teeth on your cheek and hold your breath to mute the next scream turning it to a whimper that could be mistaken for a sigh.
Hogun and Volstagg have arms around you, lifting you back to your feet.
“Princess! Are you alright? What happened! Sif didn’t cut you did she? The weapons are blunt.”
“I’m fine. I’m fine. Just, a little too much too quickly. Just put me down, I need to sit for a moment.”
Loki’s will overrides his powerful instinct to run and shield you, bundle you up and carry you away, far . It makes him nauseous to tell every twitch in his body to stop the moment he hears you scream. He stands, his knees are a little weaker but he stands, watching and observing. Playing the last few seconds of battle over and over in his head wondering where you went wrong.
His brother hands you a skin of water. “That was impressive Princess! Good show!”
You thank him as best you can with a half closed mouth, teeth still grinding a hole in your cheek to keep your moans under control. You hurt, the fires are all over but the greatest heat concentrates in your scars. They still hold, the skin is stretched but unbroken, you thankfully aren’t bleeding.
Too much too soon, your body remembers danda’s lessons but your body is also incapable of performing much for very long. If Astrid is anything like Sif, you won’t last long.
If she’s better, you won’t last at all.
“My lady,” Sif kneels in front of you. “I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean--”
“Do you apologize to your battlefield opponents?” Your teeth chatter and you pray no one notices.
Sif shakes her head.
“Then don’t apologize to me. Thank you Lady Sif for reminding me of my limits.”
“Brother?” Thor whispers. “Can your magic fix her?”
You won’t heal in a week, he thinks, this pain won’t disappear in time for your fight. “Magic repaired the damage yes, but magic can’t restore the strength. Only time can.”
“Loki,” Thor lowers his voice further as his friends heap compliments on the ladies for their fight. “She doesn’t have that kind of time.”
“You think I don’t know that! You think--” Loki breathes, slips control back onto the rage in heart fed by abject fear. Death can’t have you, he meant that, he’s jealous, he means to keep you. The forever is implicit but not yet voiced, he keeps that little wish silent in his brain while his heart beats it.
Death cannot have you.
You press your hand around your belly, feeding the fire while you keep your face in a light smile that tightens and tightens the harder you press. You make yourself hurt, as much as you can while keeping very still and very quiet. The warriors talk above your head, talk around you, occasionally to you discussing strategy and fights from the past.
You just squeeze and try your hardest to keep breathing when the pain is hot enough to seize your chest. Harder! You make yourself press harder until your arm trembles and tears bead at the corner of your eyes. If you can stand this, then when you fight a little bit of hurt won’t be enough to stop you. You’ll be able to fight through it. ( “Keep moving little princess. Never stop.”) You are your only limit, and if you’re going to keep your promises, you have to push past that limit.
“Come Princess!” Your friends’ chattering quiets, Loki is here before you with your spear in his hands, his face an ugly storm. “Enough of this."
His worry is just as obvious as his anger. You shake your head, standing, reaching for your spear.
“Return my weapon to me. I must continue. I can’t have you coddle me.”
Loki snarls and returns your weapon as a hard crack across the jaw. “You will find, little princess, I am not very good at coddling.”