Sif doesn’t pull her punches anymore, she fights you fairly, like she would an enemy and not a friend. You’re grateful for it, especially as she shouts out the gaps in your defenses and encourages you to “Hit harder Princess! I know you can!”
You’re better today, he notes. If you’re in pain, you don’t look like it and you certainly don’t fight like it. But he doesn’t stay long, trusting that you won’t need his particular brand of assistance. Today he searches for your opponent, finding the Lady Astrid in another practice ring, sword in hand, squaring off against a tall, heavily armed woman.
“My lady! What did I tell you about how your hold your sword!”
Astrid looks at her hand, stares at it like she’s puzzled by the number of fingers she has before adjusting her grip. “Like this Lady Tarth?”
He hears a whimper coming from outside the ring. An older woman dabbing her eyes with a handkerchief, comforted by another lady stroking her hair while a man stands grimacing as he watches the Lady Astrid practice.
“Can I not just fight for her Mama? I have some skill with a sword.”
“No.” The comforting woman sighs. “Only challenger and challenged can step into the ring. The rules are clear, it’s death for anyone else to enter or assist. Your sister is so noble to stand up for you but…”
“Can’t you do something about this Lady Ylva?” The crying woman sobs. “She’s my only daughter.”
“There there. I’ll do my very best to help you in any way I can.” Ylva wears her strongest smile as she reassures Astrid’s mother and brother. “Astrid is a sweet woman and so’s the Princess. I hate that it came to this. Such ugliness between two people I hold as dear friends. The Princess is a fair woman and the fight isn’t to the death. Just to a yield. I’m sure I can convince her to be lenient.”
He keeps quiet, observing Astrid try and fail to fight. He came to gather secrets, but found this woman has none. Her attacks are obvious, communicated well in advance of any movement made or blow struck.
“Prince Loki.” The Lady Ylva approaches, her smile is muted and wary. “Have you changed sides?”
“So you came to spy?”
“Not much to see.”
“I see,” She dips in a curtsey. “I hope you will allow me to apologize for my behavior at the feast. I consider the Princess a friend I had no idea you and she were--”
Ylva lets the words die away, preferring not to fill in the end of that sentence.
“It’s nothing.” Loki waves away the polite silence. “You know now.”
“I do.” Her smile returns. “And I’m happy for you two. And since you’re here, maybe you can help with this unfortunate situation.” She gestures to Astrid and to Astrid’s mother and her reedy looking son. He faintly recalls a lieutenant doling out punishments for dereliction of duty but…
”As you can see, Lady Astrid is no warrior like the Princess. However the duel, inevitable as it is, can be satisfied with a mere yield not just a death. I spoke with Astrid about this, but you see her, she’s determined to champion her brother’s honor no matter the potential cost. So I propose this: If we can convince the Princess to put on a show--leave a bruise or two-- make Astrid yield--then no one need die and everyone’s honor is satisfied. Faces are saved. Could you do that? Can you speak to her my Lord? I’d be in your debt.”
The mother wails when Astrid hits the dirt, wails harder when the Lady Tarth sighs and shouts. “Again!”
He remembers your story about you and Fa’Rey and how the arrogance of youth nearly killed you. That same arrogance has designs on Astrid’s life, but he wonders why that matters? Why he’s contemplating mercy for the girl that called you a traitor and demanded your head?
He makes a face as Astrid falls into the dirt again, driven there more from the weight of her sword than the force of the blow she took. Her instructor shakes her head.
In all this, he’s forgotten there’s another side to this story. Other people who want to hold onto their beloved ones as much as he does. He’s selfish. Hadn’t considered the Death that might come for you has a face, and might be just as afraid of the Princess shaped Death on the other side of the ring. He only cares about the four walls of his heart and the Princess shaped space theirin. He hasn’t the inclination to widen it.
You would care. You care too much, it’s what got you into this mess in the first place, caring too much about him and his honor. You’d care. So Loki expands his space--makes room to care--because you would.
“I will speak with her.”
Ylva breaks with decorum to hug him, squeezing harder and longer than he’d like. “Oh thank you! Thank you so much! Please, give my love to the Princess.” Ylva asks as he dislodges her from him, quietly suffering her attentions.
“Of course.” But he dismisses that request out of hand. He still is very selfish, the only love he intends to give you is his own.
You test your weapon against Sif and your movements against Hogun’s spirited footwork. You surprise him when you ask him to teach you. He thinks it's a trap, that Loki will appear from the shadows somewhere and
“Skewer me alive for daring to lay a hand on you!”
“Are we talking about the same Loki?”
“I pray to the stars there’s only one.”
“You and us all! One is enough!”
One is indeed more than enough you think. One is special and precious and all yours.
Loki does appear from the shadows, newly returned from his excursions to the enemy camp as it were. As predicted, he doesn’t skewer poor Hogun when he finds the two of you tangled in a grapple, his shirt removed and you down to your breast wrappings. But he does spare Hogun the chilliest stare, making the threat of a skewering implicit with his eyes.
You end your day with the warriors after that, leaving with more confidence than bruises.
“Princess. A word.”
He waits to tell you until you’re neck deep in his bath, hair undone into its tightly wound curls that loosen in the water. He repeats Ylva’s plea and tries not to sound too sour about asking you to spare the girl that so brazenly threatened to kill you.
“We were worried for nothing. The girl is useless.”
“You mean you were worried.”
“Hardly.” Deny, deny, deny. He thinks. “Astrid can barely hold a sword. Her mother is apoplectic. You don’t need to kill her, and she certainly can’t kill you.”
“So I make her give up?”
“Something like that.”
“What brought this about? I figured you’d be the biggest champion of her…” You can’t bring yourself to say it. “Why do you care?”
“Because you obviously do.”
Tonight he takes his time with you. Ages the pleasure in your body with teasing kisses and tender fingers before he extracts it, makes it pour from you like the choicest of wines.
There is a moment. A single moment right before you shatter, right when your body cracks against his that you can’t help but wish for nothing more than this. To be trapped here, in this moment, forever. Or if that cannot be, to come back to this moment again and again in perpetuity for as long as the stars allow you to live.
This is what you want.
And it’s a traitorous thought, because it makes you thankful you are here right now. So you must in turn be thankful for every moment that came before, that led you here, starting with the death of your mother.
“Come back to me, Princess. Come back, come back. Come. Come.” He calls you. His magic calls to you, traps you. Keeps you here, writhing under your Prince.
You cry out and he sounds his own shout shortly after. His magic erases everything before and everything after leaving
Just a single.
Throughout the week you make other such perfect moments. Not necessarily replicas of this one but other moments you wish you could live in forever.
Like when Loki laughs when you and Thor battle to a stalemate.
And when Se’risa braids beads into your hair and you wear them for a day, tinkling when you walk, losing most of them when you fight.
And when Fandral and Volstagg challenge you together. And lose.
And when Niti presents you with your leather armor, stitched and whole again, embellished with green and gold inlays.
And when Loki, on the morning of the eighth day, presents you with your dagger.
“Keep it,” You tell him, your smile keeping a secret you’ll divulge very soon. “I’ll be back for it in a moment.”
You step into the ring.