You lift Se’risa into your arms, severely underestimating the girl’s weight. They shake and buckle, but you hold her as she wraps arms around your neck.
“You've grown so much! The day you found me I could lift you so easily.”
Tears glitter in Se’risa’s eyes, shimmering as they reflect the early morning sun. Niti, Ylva, and the Queen with her retinue have come to see the you off. Loki and Sif funnel you whatever information they can about the campaign but the mounted troops march separate from foot soldiers, Loki and Thor both commanding in the vanguard while Odin leads his Honor Guard with the rest of the army.
Horse troops are faster, lighter armored, they are the wings that fly ahead of the main forces, or the hands that squeeze the enemy between their fingers. After you cross Asgard’s gates, you won't see Loki again until after battle.
“You'll miss your birthday. I had presents for you. Better than Loki’s.”
He scoffs behind you from his horse, a bay mare horribly unimpressed by Cephalus’s constant snorting and posturing.
You tweak Se’risa’s nose. “You know any present from either of you I’d love equally right?’
“I knew you'd say such drivel.”
“Besides,” You ignore that snide remark. “My birthday really isn't that important.”
“It is!” Frigga and Se’risa insist together.
“Save your presents then for when I return. And don't ask. I will.”
“Stars protect you,” Ylva says while petitioning those same stars for the exact opposite. You nod to your friend and to Niti beside her. And to the Queen. But when you hug her you whisper, “If something should…”
“Don't.” She stops you, lips to your ear. “It never gets easier to watch my family go off to war, but one gets used to the feeling. They've spoiled me with their constant victories. Even this last one where you lost your mother. I send the bereft and orphaned money and empty platitudes of grief, and I've stopped thinking of the lives my husband and sons lose when they go off to fight. You remind me of those lives and you make me fearful again. Come back Princess. For all our sakes.”
She places a gentle hand on your face and over your heart, you feel an incredible warmth, so overwhelming that for a moment your senses jumble, overloaded with love. You feel you mother's laughter, you hear her smiles, you see the gentle kisses she used to place on your forehead. For a moment you think you see her and it is the greatest and most heartbreaking gift you could be given.
“Manmae?” You ask of the apparition, reaching for her face to touch.
From his horse, Loki observes the tender moment between his mother and you. His heart stirs, alarmed when the visage of his mother shifts into a woman who could be nothing but your sire. She eyes him, serious and dreadful as he remembered her. The meaning of her gaze embeds itself in his heart, implicit, understood and obeyed.
As your mother gazes, you taste her joy, her pride, then she disappears. Another mother, not yours stands before you, your hand on her face. You feel tears on your fingers, but Frigga’s eyes are dry.
“Was that my...Frigga?” You forget propriety, ready to beg, but the Queen chooses to let you believe whatever you wish, leaving your question unanswered.
“The charm will protect you. But you're not invincible so don't go testing it unnecessarily. But when you need it, at your most dire hour, it will come. Both my children have such wards and I hope,” She makes her voice louder, sinister even as she shouts so said children can hear and heed. “They won't have need of it nor you. Now go. And be quick in your returning.”
“Thank you.” Pathetic, but it's all you offer, tongue still thick and clumsy after seeing your mother again. But the warmth still flares in your chest, lingering like a sunburst or the still smoldering embers of a roaring fire. That was your mother. And she was happy. Proud. Of you.
You can’t name what you feel. How such revelations make you feel. But everything, war be damned, is suddenly perfect. The Valkyries are in their Valhalla and all is right in your world.
A war horn blares and the soldiers march. Loved ones scream and wave goodbye.
“Horsegirl, mount up, we have to--”
Your spear swings for him, the blade arcing for his head. He is astounded by the gentleness of its touch, how you make the hooked blade catch in his cape without tearing fabric. How you pull, your power enough to move him, make him slide low enough in the saddle so that his lips meet yours.
You kiss him and you make all of Asgard witness.
“I love you.” You tell him before you release him and with his reins he rights himself, your lipstick on his mouth and red hot heat coloring his ears and across the bridge of his nose--a perfect compliment to the red on his lips. You don’t give your prince a chance to answer or protest, not that he could. You stun him to silence, as if by magic. You leap onto Cephalus’s back and tear across the field, leaving him behind, staring with a bemused little smirk as his heart trails behind in the dust of your wake.