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Power and Magic

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The princes come with their exalted Father arriving amidst a hail of pomp and pageantry all parties would rather forgo.

 

This is war, where men die, their blood purchasing land and peace until it is time for more men and more blood to balance the ledger.

 

But your mother adheres to the old rules of hearth and hospitality. The Lords of Asgard must be given their due despite the grim business precipitating their arrival.

 

She summons you, making a sour face at your choice of dress.

 

“Katkat,” She calls you, her voice slipping into the comforts of your land’s mother tongue. Its closest approximation in the common language places the word on the paternal side of “beloved”. Inflect the vowel sounds - 'kotkot'- and you take it from paternal to romantic.

 

But there's nothing paternal or affectionate in her face or voice, both thunderous as the grey clouds that herald the arrival of the Lords Odin, Thor, and Loki.

 

“Katkat, why are you dressed thus? Did you forget our royal company?”

 

“I did not, manmae.” Mama you call her, you call her, your voice also lacking the warmth such an informal address implies. “I have dressed appropriate to our situation.”

 

You wear your leathers. Black and austere, lacking the intricate grooved patterns your people are known across the realm for. Your pastures breed the horses Odin Allfather’s soldiers ride to war upon. Your tanners cure and cut the leather that braid their whips and saddles. Your furs fill Frigga Allmother’s wardrobe and the treasure chests of many a noble lady. The labors of your people, while not extraordinarily luxurious, grant a small measure of wealth and with it with it autonomy that your family has held stewardship over for ageless generations of which you are the sole heir.

 

“You are dressed to receive battle wounds not princes!”

 

You bristle, feeling the fight rise with the hairs at the back of your neck. Manmae wanted a doll but was blessed with you instead. She tried to make you into 'proper princess, but you abandoned dresses and pastels around the time you abandoned the safety of a nursemaid, a nursemaid who never--you recall with a fond grin--managed to abandon you.

 

“Are we not at war, Mother? Silk will not turn a blade!” You hiss, your address finally matching your tone. The flecks of green in her brown eyes shimmer like fat in a skillet just before it smokes. Her mouth opens to retort when that nursemaid, Hava, arrives, the perfect shield deflect mother and daughter's anger.

 

“My ladies! The vanguard arrives at the palace gates where where Our Esteemed Lords await you both. Come. We mustn't keep them waiting. Cookie is in the middle of a mince pie he swears will touch off Ragnarok if it's not served precisely 30 minutes from the oven! I’ve seen that everything is in place for the welcome ceremony. All we need are you two.”

 

Hava’s smile replaces her curtsy and you feel the fight drain from you. Mother and daughter both mouth a silent ‘thank you’ to Hava for her rescue, each convinced she saved the other from an unwinnable fight.

 

She mouths separate acknowledgments back, keeping peace for just a little while longer.

 

**

 

You met Odin Allfather and his sons precisely once before, during a ball of little importance that imparted no significant memory. What you know of them you know through tale and rumor.

 

Odin is just and wise.

 

His son Thor is brutish and arrogant.

 

His son Loki is cunning and severe.

 

They look every bit like the rumors that precede them while looking just as tired and impatient with their receiving ceremony as you are. 

 

Loki jabs his brother in the ribs directing Thor’s attention to the Sage announcing the Rites of War. Something sparks in Loki’s hand and the ancient ancient wooden scroll the Sage reads from, an arrangement of flattened sticks lashed together by thin straps of leather, fly apart in his hands, scattering to the ground with a comical clacking noise that startles awake some of the older, more senile Sages.

 

The brothers share a quiet laugh that Odin either misses or ignores. But you witness it all, though, start to finish.

 

“Children,” you mutter, turning away in disgust.

 

Thor starts a bit, turning his head down, faking, at least, his contrition at being caught in a cruel jest while Loki fixes a glare upon you that had it teeth, would strip flesh from bone.

 

You challenge that stare, forgetting the Sage as he haphazardly rambles the bits of the Rites he can remember as acolytes scurry about his feet to reclaim the scattered pieces of the scroll.

 

This is your home! These are your people you will give to the Allfather to aid in his war. People who may not come back whole, or may not come back at all.  You will pay the the proper respects and will have your own due back!

 

The servants usher you to the feast before you find out who blinks first.

 


 

 

You keep quiet at the table, your Uncle, Commander Fa’dan, filling up the empty spaces of the hall with his booming, laugh-laced voice. Thor takes to him immediately, the men trading boasts of who will achieve greater glory in the field.

 

“Something wrong mi’isah?” Cousin the woman at your side calls you, rolling her eyes at her father's boisterousness. Your mother and her brother, both bereft of their spouses, raised you two together, cousins akin to sisters. When you became Captain of the Royal Cavalry, she became Captain of the Palace Guard. And when you inherit your crown, she will inherit her father's sword and his title as Commander.

 

“Did you and Auntie quarrel?” She needles.

 

You lie to her with a firm shake of your head, deflecting her trademark nosiness. “No, it's just those infernal princes.”

 

“Infernal indeed! Look at them, mi’isah! Either one I'd like to ride all the way down the Rainbow Bridge.”

 

You snort, you can't help yourself. Fa’rey, just like her father, was always good for a much needed laugh. Your spirits lift a bit, forgetting about the princes’ earlier rudeness as you try to find some merit that warrants your cousin's desires.

 

You find none.

 

Exactly none.

 

Loki is silent, bordering on the edge of sinister with his pallid face and cold stare. The ice chips in his eyes glow emerald green instead of glacier blue but contain no less frost. He gave only the most cursory of greetings, a slight nod of his head and a terse ‘My Lady’ that made you shiver inexplicably with dread.

 

Thor was no more appealing. Too warm, too loud, and too big, like a giant dog with no leash and lacking any notion of restraint.

 

“Princess!” He boomed his greeting and where Loki ventured into rudeness, Thor barreled into over familiarity. “I look forward to the coming battle and the chance to see your Royal Cavalry in action!”

 

He bends to kiss your hand and you suffer it, skin crawling even though he only kisses the air just above your knuckles.

 

“I do not.” You reply. “I relish no event that leads to good horses or good fighters dying.”

 

“Valhalla welcomes the brave, man and beast alike. One could not ask for a greater reward.”

 

“I count the embrace of family higher than one from a Valkyrie.” Your answer makes his face drop and he speaks to more to you.  

 

Finding nothing remotely pleasing about the princes, you turn to your cousin. “You can have them Fa’rey.”

 

“Really? Not even the quiet one? At least he seems like your type.”

 

You shake your head, thinking death more pleasurable company.

 


 

After the feast, Odin and your Mother adjourn to the Queen's study to review strategy for the coming battle. The princes join to offer council as do you and your Uncle.

 

Odin’s plans will be executed with victory in mind, the preservation of life secondary to all else. You hold your tongue, knowing an indignant outburst from you would have you removed from the room. Your mother needs a voice of reason, a reminder of the lives their kingdom stands to lose. Commander Fa’dan echoes Odin’s macabre sentiments, as does Thor. Loki offers no counterpoint, to you, a tacit approval of the plan.

 

You try to interject as politely as you can without critiquing Lord Odin’s strategy, flawed as it is.

 

“Mother.” You point to the field map. “My Royal Cavalry is underused. We can bolster your troops with a number of mine here, here, and here.” Your simmering anxiousness makes you press too hard upon the map wrinkling it. “My men can provide extra coverage, fill in these gaps. A well timed charge and we can turn their flanks or…”

 

Your mother cuts across you with a firm slice of her hand. “No.”

 

“Mother.” You protest, your voice remains even but only barely.

 

“Thank you, but no.”

 

“Manmae.” You don’t care a king is in the room, or care about the way Thor fidgets in his awkwardness, and you really don’t care about the smirk that curls on Loki’s face like paper in a flame.

 

“Your cavalry is not underused.” Your mother answers finally, a heavy sigh heaving from her. “It is absent completely. You will not attend this battle. You and Lieutenant Fa’rey will remain here to guard the homefront.”

 

“Run along little princess.” Loki Silvertongue croons. “Run along and the real warriors attend to war.”

 

You don’t remember much of your father, only his smile and the way he called you ‘little princess’--words you will not suffer to hear from anyone else. You also remember your mother remarking once ‘you have his temper’ and it flared now, taking away all your decorum in the blast.

 

“Keep your gilded tongue still before I geld it! I was not speaking to you! And if I ever deign to do so, you will know!”

 

Loki's own anger flares, a bucket of water dropped in a vat of boiling oil. “DARE you to speak to me, your prince, like that!” His wrath matches your own, he slams his fists upon the table upsetting the war pieces.

 

Your mother hisses, somehow managing to keep an even tone. “Leave us!”

 

You won’t cry, no one in this room deserves the pleasure of your tears. You will them away and summon your tenderest plea. “Mother! Please! Listen to me, our forces have never taken the field without the Royal Cavalry, we are your best troops.”

 

“I don’t need you to remind me of strategy. Now go!”

 

“Mother!”

 

“Captain!”

 

Her address triggers your ingrained training. You are a Princess, you are her daughter, and you are yet her soldier. You drop to one knee, fist over your heart just the way your father--the Captain before you--taught.

 

“Yes my Queen.”

 

“You are dismissed.”

 

You pause, one more retort on your tongue before your mother takes it from you. “Captain. You. Are. Dismissed.”

 

“Thank you, My Queen.”

 

You rise and stalk out, purposefully forgetting to bow as you leave the Royal presence.

 


 

 

You pace around the door for the hour it takes for the meeting to complete. Lord Odin regards you with an even stare, mild contempt hiding in his one good eye. But he says nothing, uncaring for your stiff and rigid courtesies.

 

“My Lord,” you bow and mutter.

 

Thor pretends you aren’t there, that he can’t see you as he breezes past, like stepping over a rut in the road to avoid falling into some embarrassing calamity.

 

Loki, though, is the only one to meet your eye as he leaves, that smirk still on his face, still dripping with poison.

 

“Little Princess.” He bows with an exaggerated flourish meant to mock rather than respect.

 

You could kill him, you don’t have your halberd handy, but there is a dagger in your belt. You could kill him. And if it didn’t mean the massacre of your house and the annexation of your kingdom you would. But the Prince is gone before you an seriously weigh the pros and cons of regicide.

 

When your uncle leaves the room, he gives you a hug before he departs. “I know mi’asha.” Niece he calls you once he lets you go. “I know. I’ll keep your mother safe if you keep my daughter safe.”

 

You try to answer him but stern words from your mother interrupt.

 

“Brother, give me a moment with my daughter please.”

 

“Of course.”

 

His daughter joins him at the end of the hall, sharing a hug. Your heart pinches, not the devastating lurch it used to give when you were younger and you saw father and daughter like that, the pain never goes away Hava tells you, it simply hurts less. In this moment you miss your father, you wish he were here to talk sense into your mother. Hava says she only ever listened to him. Not her mother the Queen, nor her father, the Captain of the Cavalry before your own, but to him, she listened.

 

Maybe he’d convince her to see reason now.

 

“You are fortunate Lord Odin has seen fit to overlook your threats to his son and your embarrassing display.” You prepare for a dress down but it doesn’t come. Her words seem like they should scold but they sound more tired than scathing. You try your plea again.

 

“Manmae. Literally never has our army stepped into the field without the Cavalry. And you know we’re capable. This wouldn’t be my first battle, nor my second, nor fifth.”

 

“I know katkat. I’d fight easier knowing you were there, but I need you here. I need you here.” She repeats, brown gaze piercing through your own and down into your heart. Your mother does not know fear. It slides off her like the wind in a horse’s wake.

 

Hava tells the stories of your mother during the Wars of Annexation, when kingdoms now long absorbed by Asgard’s empire fought bitterly for your land. Your mother, your father, their mothers and fathers and friends fought war after war for ages keeping your nation free. Your mother grew up in strife and fought tirelessly so you didn’t have to do the same, and you didn't. Your kingdom knows peace because of her.

 

And now, despite living through far darker times than these, you see uncertainty shade her eyes and her face, her warm brown skin ashen with fear.

 

“Manmae, is it that serious?” You ask, words shaken from you with a shiver.

 

“I dare not say yes and tempt you to subvert my wishes and join me on the field. And I dare not say no and underestimate the danger.”

 

Her hands cup your face, and now, now you cry.

 

“You are the finest Captain the Royal Cavalry has ever seen, which means a great deal because your father was once one too. But you are also my... our daughter. And my heir. And if I fall in battle, Prince Thor is right, I’d gladly heed the Valkyrie’s call. But the Nine as my witness, I would keep them from you. I need you katkat, make no mistake, but the people need you more. You and Lieutenant Fa’Rey, keep the people safe.”

 

You nod, unable to speak your promise, but your mother understands as she kisses your brow and bids you goodnight.

Chapter Text

You worry.

 

You worry harder when Hava tells you not to.

 

You worry hardest when she stops.

 

Your mother, uncle, the Asgard King and his princes departed a few weeks ago and you’ve heard nothing since. The scouts that relay messages from the battlefront back to Asgard accord your kingdom little importance even though your Queen is on the field fighting shoulder to shoulder with Lord Odin.

 

With your horse, Cephalus, third in line after Mother and Hava for the holder of your heart, you pace the main roads with your Cavalry day after day hoping to intercept some kind of message that might allude to your mother and uncle’s safety.

 

You hear nothing.

 

Fa’Rey withdraws from you, the unknown fate of her father making her snappish and mean. Where you would both comfort each other, you only spare her- and she you- cold greetings in the morning and colder greetings at night.

 

Neither of you sleep anymore.

 

You only wait.

 

For word that never comes.

 

Until it comes all at once.

 

You hear an awful bone shuddering boom and your dozing mind thinks it only the sound of a coming storm.

 

Another peal of thunder rolls. You dismiss it with a groan, shielding yourself from more by burying your head under a pillow.

 

Thunder crashes, it explodes, it shrieks, then finally it kicks in your door screaming, sounding no longer like thunder but like Hava’s panicked shout.

 

“Get up! Princess! Get up!”

 

Insomnia and fear dull your senses and your reflexes. “What? Hava? What?”

 

“Princess! Get up! You must flee! Now! War has come! GET UP CHILD!”

 

A bolt of panic seizes every muscle in your body, it stops your heart and brain for a single moment before reality crystallizes all around you.

 

“Manmae!”

 

You fly from the couch you tried to make into a bed for the night, dozing in your Captain’s Leathers. You stuff daggers into your belt and reach for your halberd.

 

“Manmae! Is she here?”

 

Hava doesn’t answer you, she’s stuffing a sack with your crown and your jewels and your furs. “Hava what in the Nine are you doing! Get your spear, summon my Cavalry! Have the stablers saddle Cephalus. If the enemy is here, we have to reinforce Manmae! Hava! Do you not hear me! Hava! your Princess speaks!”

 

You snatch her from your vanity forcing her face into yours where you see puffy red eyes and a tear streaked face. You let her go as reason flees you, running for the door down the marble tiled halls of your home that are somehow splattered with a palace’s worth of blood.

 

Servants lie dead, bodies piled in corners, Cookie among them, a cleaver brandished in his hand. Valets, footmen, washerwomen, pages, scribes, and scholars all dead most of them you know by face if not by name and family.

 

“Guards!” You scream to no answer. “Someone! Anyone! Please!”

 

A scream slices across your own. You follow it hoping to find any living soul that can explain what is going on. You see a man, shadowed in darkness, hoisting a smaller body into the air while another body lies bleeding on the ground at his feet.

 

You spear the soldier assaulting the servant, dislodging him from his prey, a little girl--Se’risa. Her mother makes your favorite pastries. Her mother is also dead at your feet.

 

“‘Risa, ‘Risa.” You envelop the girl in a hug, forgetting the dead man still attached to your halberd. Her wailing won’t stop, unintelligible save for her mother’s name. You shake the girl, harder than you mean to, “‘Risa stop! Se’risa.”

 

Shouts echo from down the hall ahead of you while someone calls your name behind you. “Princess!”

 

More are coming, friend or foe you don’t know, but you will have to fight, and you can’t fight knowing Se’risa isn’t safe. “Make for the servant’s corridor. Run. Don’t stop. Go!”

 

Se’risa shakes her head, jangling loose some beads her mother braided into her hair just this morning. Some are stained with blood

 

“But Manmae!”

 

“The Princess. Where is the Princess?! Find her and kill her!”

 

“Princess!”

 

You give the girl one firm shake. “Se’risa listen to me! Listen to your princess alright, will you do that for me?”

 

She nods.

 

“You cannot save your mother. But she wants you to live. So run girl! And do not stop!”

 

“Find! The Princess!”

 

Se’risa gasps, moaning. “What about you?”

 

“What did I say?! GO!” When you put her down you almost throw her to propel her away from you as fast as possible. You pull your halberd out of the dead man’s chest, the sharp blade sliding easy from the leather jerkin that poorly protected this man’s heart.

 

His blood runs in the intricate grooves of his armor, staining the tan brown rust red. As it flows, the blood follows patterns familiar to you. A whirl here, a loop there, a sunburst, to a diamond, to a chevron pattern that denotes the man’s rank.

 

A Sergeant in the Commander’s Personal Guard.

 

You almost sever the hand that alights on your shoulder, Hava, her bag is full as is her face with emotions neither of you dare name.

 

“Princess, do you see now?”

 

You break away from her again as she screams for you. “N’ara!” My child she calls you, the one she could never have of her own body but raised as though you were. You hear her but do not heed, focusing instead on the voices that were calling for you earlier.

 

“I am here!” You shout, thumping the butt of your halberd on the marble making it splinter under the weight of your rage. “The Princess is here!”

 

“Princess!” A man calls for you and you recognize his voice.

 

“Uncle.”

 

When you see him at the end of the Great Foyer, he does not rush to you, he does not embrace you. He stands silent with his blade drawn.

 

“Where is my mother? Fa’dan? My mother?” Your voice cracks, you know the answer to your question. You know.

 

His guilt is manifest on his face but it does not replace the determination there too. His blade rises when he steps forward. “She called for you with her last words, mi’asha. She wanted to apologize for leaving you alone. And just before that, she made me swear to take care of you. I told her ‘aye sister, I will’. And she died.”

 

His voice splinters and fades, the guilt fractures on his face, slides away to make room for grief. But the determination is still there, stronger even. “I will honor my sister’s wish and take care of you. I will send you to her, so you will not be alone.”

 

His sword swings down in fatal arc for your head but the haft of your halberd blocks it. You push him away but do not follow through with an attack. “Fa’dan why?”

 

Your uncle is old but he’s strong. Only your mother could match him blow for blow, you know you can’t. If you fight him, you will die.

 

“I will not see us chewed up in Odin’s wars. I will not have you lead my daughter to her death! And you would. You’re like your mother and her mother before. Simpering, slavish dogs that heed Asgard’s beck and call!”

 

His attack is slow, easily counterable, there is no earnestness it in, no fight. Guilt makes him slow.

 

“Uncle please!”

 

“Mi’isha!”

 

Praise the reins!  Fa’Rey! You kick him away and he bears the blow, sliding back on his behind across the marble. You run to your cousin, casting your weapon to the side enveloping her in a grateful hug. “You’re safe! Come. Your father is mad. Help me stop him--”

 

Her blade catches on one of your ribs. You feel it nick the bone. In her father’s face you saw guilt, and grief. In hers there is determination only. The dagger slides free and now your blood wells in the sparse embellishments of your own armor. She stabs again, she twists, ribboning whatever organs and soft tissues the blade catches.

 

Again. And your lung punctures.

 

Again. And she perforates your stomach.

 

Again.

 

And again.


“N’ara!”

Chapter Text

You wake in grass and dirt, something cold and wet presses to your face, nudging you. A long nose, black and pebbled. A snout.

A horse.

You try to groan but all that sounds is a gurgle of blood. You try to move and you can’t. You feel nothing but sharp stabbing agony across all of your body and a heavy weight pressing down on your chest.

An arm, stiff and still.

Hava’s.

Grief tears you up worse than Fa’Rey’s blades and Fa’Dan’s betrayal. You expel all the air in your chest turning the gurgle in your throat into a choked scream. The horse whinnies softly, maybe it’s Cephalus, you can’t really tell. ‘Calm Mistress’ he tries to say to you in an animal language only the heroes of your fairytales know how to speak.

The horse whinies again, then neighs full blast. He kicks his rear legs, bringing his hooves close enough to smash the mud by your ear. You’ll be trampled if it keeps this up.

Good.

Death under a horse’s hooves is a blessing unlooked for.

“Don’t worry Father! I will wrangle this beast! A fine horse befit Odin Allfather’s stables!”

“Perhaps, you should check to see if its owner is nearby.”

“Nonsense Loki! The horse is obviously wild. What fool would let such a resplendent creature roam free?”

“Resplendent? You shouldn’t use words you know you can’t spell Thor.”

The horse feints a charge at his would be captor before looping around him and trotting back to the body in the grass.

‘Come closer you brute!’ The horse challenges, rearing and snorting, hoping to lure the man closer.

“Careful Thor that you don’t get bitten!”

“Easy boy! Easy!”

The horse screams, swinging his wide neck to avoid the rope Thor means to loop around it. The Prince falls forward, tricked, and lands in wet he thinks is mud, but is really your--.

“By the--! Loki! Come quick!”

The horse stops screaming and drops his head, nudging you again with his nose. He doesn’t fight when other men come to take him away.

‘You are saved Mistress. You are saved. Cephalus saved you.’

**

You don’t see the princes’ shocked faces as they uncover you from the protective shell Hava made around you with her body. You’ve passed out before you can hear Thor swear and Loki hiss at the barbarity of your wounds.

“Brother? This is…”

“The Little Princess.”

“She has been waylaid by a highwayman. We must return her to her Uncle. Poor man. Loosing his sister and now this. Such terrible blows inflicted one after the other.”

You don’t see the way Loki narrows his eyes, surveying the gruesome scene before him. He shakes his head, what has happened to you is not so simple.

“Use your eyes and brain, idiot. Look.”

You’re in a dream somewhere, with your mother and father, so you can’t see when Loki points to the sack at Hava’s feet. He crouches down and sifts through it pulling out your jeweled diadem.

“These are their crown jewels, and the seal of their house. If she were robbed these would be long gone. No. This was done in haste. Her greatest riches shoved into a bag. She was fleeing something--someone perhaps. Regardless of her reasons for bleeding in a ditch, she will die without Mother’s attentions. Her healing magic is stronger than mine and we must get her to the palace quickly.”

If you were awake, even though they are saving you from certain death, you would fight them. Scream and beg for them to leave you in the mud with Hava, to let you die, ignoble death it may be.

“Please. Leave me.”

But you are not awake and so you cannot beg them, and so they do not leave you. They bear you away, Cephalus straining against his captors to follow closely behind the litter that takes you away. ‘Sleep mistress. We are here. We will watch you for as long as we can. Sleep.’

You have no choice so you do, unable to beg them to at least bury Hava before they go.

**

“Oh Sweet Mercy. Loki, set her here.”

You’re still gone when they get you to Frigga Allmother, “What happened?”

“I don’t know, a coup perhaps? Father has sent scouts to her kingdom to investigate, it will be some time before we hear back.”

Frigga’s hands warm with gold light as she passes them over you. Her face changes, heart rending as your injuries are made known to her through her hands.

“Oh poor child, this is monstrous.”

“Will she live?”

“With constant attention yes.”

Loki’s own face wrinkles. “You do not have the strength for constant care Mother.”

“I do not, no. But together, we can manage.”

He scoffs rising from the sickbed--. “Get another to tend to the Horse Princess, I have better things to do.”

“How dare you!”

Her hands are still wreathed in gold when she slaps him, making the blow sting far harder than with any force she could have applied.

“As I hear it, her mother died in service to your father! Her mother who has been ever our loyal subject. We owe... it is our honor to care for her daughter in her hour of need.”

Censured Loki looks no different from any other form, still icy, no shred of compassion on his face, in his tone, or in his eyes. “I am not fit to care for her, my healing magic…”

“Will improve with practice and application. To wit.” Frigga nods to your still form, covered in filth and stab wounds. “I will have her bathed and bandaged, and I will keep watch during the daylight hours, since you can’t ever seem to rise before noon. The nights are yours. Have a servant call me if she changes, for better or worse. Do not let her fall, Loki. She can be saved. We will save her.”

“Yes Mother.”

**

He sneers at you when his mother isn’t around, considers you a punishment, ball and chain to which he is tethered. The first night he can barely stomach being near you, you’re wrapped head to foot in bandages saturated with blood.

“It’d be a kindness to just let you die.” He mutters to you. You can’t respond.

But you’d agree.

He considers it, staring at your mummified almost-corpse. He considers just letting you go and admitting the fault in his magic as the reason for your death. But he remembers the tired look on his mother’s face when they exchange places. Frigga spent her whole day locked in here giving up her powerful magic to save your pathetic life.

“Don’t let her fall, Loki.”

So how could he do any less?

It is difficult to summon the life magic forth, he’s far better suited to illusion cantrips than this. But when his fingertips tingle then shimmer green, he smirks, proud that he’s gotten this far. Loki places his hand over your chest--.

“N’ara!”

He flinches hard, drawing his hand back as though from an intense flame. He’s sick, repulsed by a lingering shield of magic cast over you and the true nature of your wounds.

He was right, it was a coup.

He tries again, the shield over you dissipates, it’s sentient almost and the magic can tell that he means you no harm. He feels a woman, her life-force weaves through the magic that protects you.

“N’ara.” He hears again. He can’t translate the language, he never wasted time on your country’s gutter tongue like he has on the languages of Alfheim and Midgard. But he somehow understands it, how much such a short word means.

That woman who they found you with. This is her. She put her life into this last spell to protect you, the sum of her existence, and now it slowly fades as the green in his hand intensifies, as his magic strengthens.

She’s helping him help you.

But he doesn’t want the assistance.

He pushes the woman and her magic away, rejecting the idea that he needs help with anything, least of all dealing with you. He doesn’t think about the pain he feels when he tears away the dead woman and how her grief literally makes his hands sting.

The infirmary room is already quiet, that silence deafens him when the woman disappears completely.

**

“Did anything happen?” His mother asks when she takes his place in the morning.

“No.” He lies, departing quickly, unable to bear you a second glance even though you’re still locked away in a deep coma.

It could be disgust.

Or guilt.

No matter the reason, he stops a scout on his way to his chambers, a soldier who campaigned with him and his family against the barbarians.

“The dead woman we found in the road. Do you remember her?”

“Yes My Lord Prince.”

“Go back there and ensure she is properly buried, full honors.”

“My lord?”

“Do it!”

Chapter Text

After that first day, it’s easier now that there are no ghosts haunting your body.

But it’s also boring.

Incredibly and exceedingly boring.

“You could make this easier on me and just die. Or at the very least you could start talking.”

Of course, you don’t answer him.

Loki groans and rolls his eyes.

The next night he wrangles Thor into accompanying him for the night.

“She looks like a ghost, brother. Eerie. I do not envy you.”

“When have you ever?”

Thor bellows a laugh. “You’re right about that!”

Loki does not ask for his company again.

**

He tries books, his constant and faithful companions, but it’s trying to keep both his hands on you while turning the page.

“Do you read little princess?”

“No, you don’t look like the type.”

“Since you don’t...rather you really can’t read how about I share some…” He puts one of his magicked hands down to turn over the book to read the title. “A Study in Poisons Distilled from the Plants of Midgard? No? Too dry? Perhaps. He always wrote a bit too clinical for me.”

Loki closes the book and leaves it on your chest like you're a sidetable or a night stand.

**

He makes a breakthrough two weeks later. Nothing with you of course, you're still in a coma, but he's figured how to channel his healing magicks into one hand, leaving his other free. It's a personal improvement, indicative of his strengthening magic.

You become his unwitting test subject as he develops these latent powers. He tries different spell amplifications, tapping different arcane ley lines. He consults with Frigga as often as he can, when she's not too exhausted from her days with you. Together the two spend weeks researching and discussing magical theory, often in your room as you slumber on tended by both mother and son.

Tonight he keeps one hand over your chest, ringed in green applying a steady stream of magic that slowly undoes the near fatal damage done. His other fishes idly through the sack of your treasures.

None of your jewels match the majesty of his own collection of treasures. Your onyx and pearls are no better than quarry stone compared to his diamonds and emeralds. Your diadem is ‘cute’ in a rustic kind of way. Braided leather inlaid with soft thin threads of gold. Fitting for a horse princess with no great wealth.

“Quaint.” He mutters.

The bottom of the bag contains the only item worthy of his attention--an ornate dagger, the blade made of black iron sharp enough to slice the bark from Ygdrassil paper thin and the handle wrapped in the richest leather scored with the intricate patterns your people are famous for.

“Now this is something.”

Yes it is. Your greatest treasure.

A gift from your father.

“Exquisite craftsmanship for a horse mistress. I didn’t know you centaur people created anything not made completely of animal carcasses. I half expected this thing to be made of bone.”

With a flick of his wrist the dagger flies from his hand and sinks into the far wall, the blade parting the marble like a hand through a flimsy curtain. “Sharp too. Now this I’ll keep, payment for my services thankless as they are.”

**

His demeanor improves now that his hands can be set to two different tasks. Most of his nights he spends reading, turning pages of with a flick of his hand, the benign magic floating the book and fluttering the pages.

On other nights, be toys with his (your!) dagger, making it fly about the room and cut up the furniture. Thor, after dropping in to tease his brother for being your nurse poorly disguising the visit it as a courtesy check in, only gets halfway to the mead house before his breeches fall.

“You should have seen it Princess,” he tells you, breathless with laughter, long past caring that you can't hear him or respond. “Hel I should have seen it, but I can live vicariously through tales of my brother’s embarrassed rage. Serves him right. The privilege for calling you a vegetable is mine only.”

He talks to you more readily now. Little observations about his day. Mostly cataloging the mischief he's caused and his plans for future troublemaking. You become the perfect confidant for the Prince of Lies and Illusions. You’ll never be able to repeat what you hear so you'll never betray his secrets. With you, he's able to share his contempt for Odin and Thor and most of Asgard in ways he could never confide to Mother Frigga.

“You’re a very good listener Little Princess. The best yet, in fact.” He teases, poking you in the cheek with a black nailed finger until your head turns in the pillow. “I’m almost sorry to see you wake.”

He regrets those words a week later, swallowing them whole and almost choking on them.

You have a violent infection and it is the closest to death you've been since they found you in the mud.

Frigga wears herself to exhaustion, tapping her magic dry assisting him. He has to take over completely, constant and uninterrupted care.

“My mother worked tirelessly to keep you alive so long. The least you could do, horse girl, is remain alive.”

It’s foolish, but he thinks you hear him. He feels you fight with him, from wherever you are in your coma, your body fights with the aid of Loki’s magic to keep the ravaging fever at bay.

The irony isn't lost on him, that only a month ago your life was an inconvenience at best. Now it's his sole priority.

“It’d be a shame to lose you. I value our conversations. You’re so chatty.” He teases, thinking he can see you smirk in your sleep.

Your fever breaks with morning’s light and his exhaustion at having expending so much energy is twinged with a bit of pride. Not because he saved your life, that he’s quick to distinguish. But because his magic and not Frigga’s was enough to do it.

He departs with a smirk on his face when his vigil is done.

“Well done, Little Princess. Well done. “

Chapter Text

You return to the living by degrees.

 

You don’t need constant magical vigilance anymore, the most dangerous times have passed.

 

“She is recovered.” Frigga announces one frosty winter evening. “I will have nurses tend to her from now on. You needn’t spend your magic on her anymore.”

 

“Pity.” He keeps your dagger on his belt, carries it with him all the time. Useful little thing. He considers returning it to you now that his position as your nursemaid is done. “I think not.” He voices aloud to his mother’s confusion.

 

“Loki?”

 

“I think I’ll stay. For a little while anyway. I wonder if she’ll ever wake.”

 

“None can say. But we’ve done the most we can for her.” Frigga eyes her son curiously, searching for the answer to an unvoiced question. “At least she won’t be your responsibility anymore.”

 

He answers in the way he flips his shiny and sharp new toy across his fingers.

 

“Nor yours. Are you terribly drained Mother?”

 

Frigga shakes her head, “It is no matter. At the very least I’m glad her life is saved.”

 

“And what a life that will be in quiet repose wasting away.”

 

“She does not deserve your scorn, Loki.”

 

“I know, that’s why I’m coupling it with my pity.”

 

“Leave her be.”

 

“I will, when she gets boring. But for now, I think I'll keep an eye on her until she wakes. She is, after all, the most intelligent and diverting company in the whole of this palace.”

 

Loki laughs at his joke, Frigga--per usual--does not. Her son is a bastard sometimes well known for his tricks, but his face is lacking the shadows that denote his true cruelty. Still…

 

“If you harm her for sake of your mischief...” Frigga warns, eyes hardening into a stare that would give Odin pause to say nothing of her youngest.

 

“Oh of course not, I’m not that much of a monster. Go. Rest.”

 

Frigga sighs kissing her son goodnight and leaves him. Your new nurse for the evening yawns as soon as Frigga Allmother departs.



“Are you tired girl?” Loki jabs an accusatory finger in the young woman’s face.

 

Her fear isn’t enough to startle her awake and she yawns again even as she lies with the slow shake of her head.

 

“So you think to secure an easy assignment, watching over the comatose horse princess from behind your eyelids?”

 

“N...n..o my Lord.”

 

“Get out! Leave! Now!” She’s fled in the breath between ‘leave’ and ‘now’ and you two are alone again.

 

Loki sinks into the comforting cushions of the armchair he’s pulled near your bed, it’s molded to his peculiar way of sitting, long legs stretched akimbo over the armrest.

 

“I have news for you, Princess, but you won't like it. We sent scouts to your kingdom to assess what's happened. Then we sent ambassadors, then Prince Thor himself. Seems like nothing is amiss. Your Uncle is the king now and his daughter is the new princess.”

 

He checks your face for signs of comprehension, it's smooth and peaceful, no evidence you’ve heard anything he’s said.

 

“The people seem happy enough. I don’t really know what qualifies as ‘happy’ in your country. Do the horses have hay? Are all the cows well milked? But there are no rebellions, no unrest. So it seems that whatever you count as contentment is being met.”

 

He fiddles with a scrap of parchment with a broken seal the color of unfired clay. “Your uncle sent along a letter. Would you like to hear it?”

 

You lay there, silent, still sleeping.

 

“I meant what I said little princess. You are the most diverting company in the palace, and it’s no coincidence that it’s because you know how to keep your mouth shut.”

 

He laughs at his joke. You, obviously, cannot.

 

“Thor returned and he brought this with him.” He waggles the parchment above your head, before reclining back to his seat.

 

I do not wish my niece harm, nor do I bear her ill will.

 

Loki scans the letter, reading aloud the good parts.

 

But the leadership of the land has spoken. My sister was a tyrant and her daughter has all the hallmarks of following in her footsteps. I wanted a bloodless changing of the guard, my niece and her supporters prevented that. I am sorry so many died and she herself was so ill used. I thank My Lord Odin for his hospitality and his benevolence in her recovery. Should she pass, return her to me so that I may send her to her mother with the honor that befits a princess of our land. If she recovers, also send her to me. Though she be no longer heir to the throne, I will ensure that she pass the remainder of her days in comfort.

 

Your Loyal Subject

 

“King Blah blah blah…” He crumples the letter. “You know Little princess, if we send you back, your sweet old Uncle will probably finish the job he started. Do you hear me, little princess? Can you comprehend at all what I’ve said? In the space of a month, everything you’ve known has been taken from you and you’ve been abandoned to rot in your shell, sleep away your entire life, while a trusted family member assumes what’s yours and casts you as the victim of your own misfortune. I’d feel sorry for you, but--

 

“Little princess?”

 

**

 

In your dreams, you swirl between nightmare and fantasy. You drown in blood, smother in mud. Sometimes Fa’rey stabs you in the heart and you fall instantly. Other times it is your uncle and it takes you a long time to die. Rarer times it is your mother who murders you and you dream of her the most. You hear her calling for you, calling your name, screaming for help on the battlefield and in your home. You’re there when her heart slides free of her brother’s sword. Other times his sword becomes your halberd.

 

Everything, though, is not endless torment. A voice calls to you, calls you by name, calls you ‘Little Princess’. Papa. Your papa is calling.

 

‘Little princess,’ he says and your chest fills with the sound of it. You are an infant, a toddler, a child, a teenager, an adult and he’s ever smiling, face lit up with joy as his little princess is returned to him.

 

“Little Princess,” he calls again and you answer him.

 

“Papa.”

 

This ceiling isn’t familiar, the walls are too high and too white and too plain. The intricate designs your craftsfolk work into leather they work into the walls of the palace. But save fancy moulding these ceilings are stark and sad.

 

“Papa?” You call again, reaching for his hand.

 

“I am not your father girl.”

 

You recoil, withdrawing your hand, the voice biting like a striking snake. The jerky movement alights pain in every nerve of your body but your throat is no longer choked with blood so your scream sounds shrill and high.

 

“By the norns quiet! They’ll think I’m murdering you!”

 

It’s close, the voice, right near wherever you lay. Loki and Frigga’s work restores some function to you, though you are far from whole. You can turn your head at least, and you do, bringing you face to face with the second to last man in Creation you want to see.

 

Prince Loki.

Chapter Text

The first scream stole the breath from you, too much breath for you to scream again so you wheeze with a thin and reedy whine that sends Loki into a fit of laughter.

“You even sound like a horse!”

You puff air from your throat, trying to make a new sound with your mouth. “H--ha…”

“Oh? Laughing at your own expense?”

He’s off the chair and hovering over you, his face inches from yours. His hand alights on your forehead and your cheek. He’s checking for fever but his touch stings, you groan and strain to move away from him, repeating the sound “Ha-- ah.”

You squirm away from him as he assesses you with his magic, his hands on both sides of your face to keep you still. “Ha!”

“I don’t speak horse. In fact, according to legend you should. Common or hold your tongue girl, I’m only trying to help you.”

“Hava!” You bite out. “Where?”

“Who?”

“Hava!” Her name comes easier with every repetition, so you make it a mantra, a prayer. “Havahavahavahava!”

“Silence!”

His shout is laced with magic, it takes your voice. Your lips move, the air leaves your chest but your throat doesn’t vibrate with sound. Your good hand, the one you pulled away from Loki, clutches at your silent throat. Tears slip free from your eyes sliding into your nest of thick, kinky hair.

You are mute but your mouth keeps moving, making the shape of Hava’s name with your lips. You speak it like a spell, hoping that if you say it enough times you can summon her back.

His eyes and your eyes are locked and focused. He can't shut you up, he's already done that. But he can't pull his gaze away from the desperate agony in your eyes and he hears you without hearing you.

You change the shape of your mouth and add a new word. Suddenly your voice returns and you plea rends apart the quiet.

“Please! Hava! Please!”

He feels something stab at him, something that feels like lingering grief. The woman in the spell.

“Hava is the woman who was holding you in that ditch?”

You nod so hard you think your neck breaks. It certainly hurts enough for you to believe you have.

Loki takes an involuntary step back, convinced you'll die on the spot if he reveals the truth.

“Please…”

You gurgle on tears and pain instead of blood, it compels the answer from him.

“She’s dead. Long dead.” He chooses to keep to himself the part where he’s the one who banishes her spirit away, who breaks apart her spell that protected you.

Your eyes close squeezing a river of tears free. Your lips stop moving aside from their trembling.

You cry making very little sound as it hurts so much in the body and the heart.

“Cease your blubbering little princess. It won’t bring her back and you needn’t die of dehydration so soon after waking.”

You don't hear his cruel sympathy. You don't want to. It's unreasonable to believe he killed Hava but you settle on that verdict anyway. To do anything else would require you to acknowledge your guilt and your fault.

Unable to turn your face away from him, you keep your eyes closed but both know you aren't asleep.

“Horse girl?” He calls, but you remain still crying through closed eyes.

“Little princess?” He calls again, insistent. He wants to tell you something but you refuse to acknowledge him.

Loki throws his hands. “Fine!” He leaves your uncle’s letter on the chest at the foot of your sickbed before storming out. Outside, he finds the nurse he dismissed over an hour ago.

“You! Why are you still here, I told you to leave!”

She’s curled in a little sleepy ball by the door, almost crushed when Loki throws it open. She untangles herself from the floor and manages to fold herself into a polite bow. “I...I can’t go back m’lord. I’ll get in trouble. I’m supposed to…”

“I don’t care! Attend to the princess. Do whatever you’re supposed to do for her.” The Prince turns on his heel to stalk off to his wing of the palace, he’s a good five paces away before he turns and marches straight back to seize the nurse by the shoulders. “You will attend to her every need. Every. One. And if I find you’ve gone to sleep on her, I’ll ensure you never have a peaceful night’s rest again. Do you understand me?” He shakes her a bit to lend credence to his very real threat.

“Y-y-yes!”

**

It doesn’t feel like you slept. Your eyes were closed as you cried for Hava and when you opened them again sunlight was pouring through the tall window on the opposite end of the room. There was a pallid and sickly looking woman hovering over your bed, eyes dark ringed and bleary. It looks like she kept vigil over you all night, but she had to hold her eyes open with her fingers to do it.

“My lady…” she slurs. “Do you...need...any...thing?”

“No.”

Your voice still works, good. And you’ve restored another word to your spoken vocabulary.

“Okay.” She answers dumbly but you suspect her exhaustion has a hand in that. The nurse startles awake with a little squeak like a crushed mouse when the door opens, a woman with straw gold hair clad in flowing silver silks floating in.

Despite the kindness in her face, the woman holds herself like a statue, stony and aloof. A bit of that stone fractures when her pale silver eyes find yours and smile.

“You are awake child. I am glad to see this. Nurse, how long has she been awake?”

“She...uh...I don’t know, Lady Frigga.”

Your eyes widen, you know this name. You shift in your sheets, willing obedience into your limbs but finding them stubbornly ignoring your orders to move. You should not greet the Lady of Asgard on your back.

“Calm yourself child. No need to pay respects when you’re like this. But I take it, since you react this way to my name, you know who I am?”

You nod, your neck still feels like it’s broken and you groan with the movement. Frigga’s hands are on your neck instantly, a tingling sensation imparted to your skin at the touch. The pain subsides, slides off you. You sigh and sink a bit into the bed.

“Better?”

“Yes.” You croak. “Thank...you-- -y la-y.” The words flicker in and out, and it’s exhausting speaking the sentence whole.

“It is nothing child, I am merely glad you are awake and well.”

Frigga spends the next few moments passing her magic hands over your body, making note of your progress and how far you’ve yet to go.

“I suspect with you being asleep for so long, it will be a good while before your strength returns. Rest well and take your time. You could undo all your recovery with too much exertion too soon. And I know my son Loki would hate to see his work wasted.”

You bristle at the mention of his name and Frigga notices. “Oh Heavens, has he mistreated you? Tell me true?”

“I’ve done no such thing to the horse girl! In fact she should be grovelling at my feet for all my charitable efforts!”

Frigga sighs and casts a withering stare at her younger son before it softens into a smile. “I told you your magic would improve. Did I not?”

Never one to acknowledge an obvious ‘mother knows best’ moment, the emerald prince shrugged.

Loki comes into your view looking as vile as he did when he left you the night before. There’s guilt needling in your heart. You shouldn’t hate him, he saved your life. But your useless body and your hate are about all you have left to you that’s your own now. So you keep it, satisfied with how the sneer you make for him feels on your face.

A sneer that deepens when a new voice sounds. “Brother, mother, I heard the princess is awake. Is this true? Hogan will owe me coin if it is!”

“She is awake yes.”

Thor fills her vision, squeezing out Loki and his mother. “She looks ghastly.”

“The alternative to being an actual ghost.”

“Silence my idiot sons, have either of you any manners?”

Loki and Thor both laugh, the answer incredibly plain.

Frigga gently pushes some hair from your face, her fingers getting a bit tangled in the unkempt poofy mess of your hair. Her nail snags on a nap and you wince. “I’m sorry child, the nurses didn’t seem to know what to do with your hair.”

Most don’t, you remember, Hava knew though. So did your mother.

“Has anyone told her what’s happened?”

“Can she even remember? Princess,” Thor calls. “Do you who you are?”

“Of course she knows you oaf!”

“Loki please.”

“Yes.” You answer, straining on the word.

“Do you know where you are?” Frigga, with a glare, directs her oldest son away.

“As-ard.”

Thor and Frigga take turns asking you establishing questions. Your name. Your favorite food. It’s exhausting, you’re not simple. You start struggling with the questions, too impatient to answer them, anxious to make them understand that your mind works just fine when Loki--who has been silent observer up until now--asks the important one.

“Do you remember what happened to you?”

Your eyes widen, they light up, you nod vigorously despite the pain it causes you. The words bubble in your throat before they spill all over.

“My Uncle...attacked.”

You remember everything clear as the diamonds on Lady Frigga’s neck. How could you forget, you dream it every night and have since it happened. You tell them of the ambush. Of the dead servants and the murderous guards men. You tell them in broken and half formed sentences of your confrontation with your uncle and your cousin’s betrayal.

You move your hand to your ribs, you can feel the scar there even through the heavy cotton of the dressing gown you’re wearing.

“Here.”

Your hand moves higher up your chest. “Here.”

Down to your side above your hip, the scar feels exceptionally nasty, bumpy and rigid flesh under your fingers. “Here.”

You run your fingers over your ruined flesh, Fa’Rey’s blade there is the last thing you remember aside from a shout.

“N’ara!”

After that, nothing. You shake your head, now at the end of your recollection.

Loki steps in to fill in the missing gap of your memory. “Your woman got you out of the palace. Used a protection and a teleportation spell. Very powerful. The effort, combined with the injuries we found on her, is likely what killed her.”

Your chest expands with a gasp. You knew he didn’t kill her no matter how much you wanted to believe, but you had no idea that it was directly because of you that Hava died.

“Hava…” You whisper brokenly.

“Who was she child?” Frigga dabs your eyes with her sleeve. You turn your face from her, unworthy of the gesture. “Nursemaid. All my life.”

“She took care of you.” Frigga finishes and you nod.

Thor stands mutes, uncomfortable with the strained silence. Loki mimics him, but keeps his distance. It’s not a complete lie that Hava died expending her last to protect you. But perhaps, had he not been--Loki--the part of her she left behind may have lingered. To comfort you. Maybe make all this a little easier for you. He knows what it’s like to be alone, isolated, hurt, and hated. Now you will too.

“Do you know what’s happened to your mother?” Frigga asks stony face hardening for another hard truth to deliver.

“Dead.” You answer, but your face sparks again, you move, try to sit up. “How? Where?”

“Ah!” Thor jumps at the new opportunity. “Now this I can help with! Your mother died in a hail of glory, battle cry on her lips as she--!”

“Enough, Thor!” Loki’s scorn shreds Thor’s enthusiastic retelling. “I’m the Prince of Lies here and yet I can't stomach the tale you mean to tell.”

“I was trying to lift her spirits! To let her know that her mother died gloriously!”

“There’s nothing glorious about death! Ask any of the heroes in your tales, dig their bones, I would think they’d prefer life to death no matter how gloriously ended.”

Loki grabs the letter he left behind, crushing it in his hand before your face. “Your mother died in mud, crushed under her horse. Our lines were fractured. The enemy, those barbarous bastards, gave us more trouble than they were ever worth.”

You listen to him unflinching, your body is weak but it can handle the brutal truth he wields. You’re grateful for it.

“Loki, perhaps it is better if she’s--”

He cuts off his mother. “Do you want the truth? With all it’s ugliness?”

You nod, it hurts, it shakes more tears from your eyes but you keep nodding.

He waves a hand over your face and your eyes close. You imagine the scene as his words take hold. Then you dream. Then you live it.

It’s dark, the sky splits open with Thunder and Lightning, proof that the Thunder Prince of Asgard has taken the field. Rain falls but you don’t feel it. It passes through you.

“Sister!”

You discover you can move after you’ve already started to reach for a sword or your halberd or a dagger, anything to run your uncle through the neck. But you have no weapons, and he runs through you, still screaming.

“Sister! It’s a bloody rout. There’s no way we could have prepared for the surprise attack! Odin gives too much away in strategy. They could see us coming for miles! We walked right into their trap.

“That doesn’t matter!”

Your mother is covered in grime and blood you hope isn’t hers, but her face is clean of dirt or fear.

“We must win this battle or the whole of the low countries will be open to attack and pillage. Ours foremost among them! If we lose, Odin will retreat to Asgard to recover and call for reinforcements from farther across the realm. The only reason why he didn’t do that first was because he came to us!”

“And we foolishly answered!”

“We answered the way honor demands we must! So we must not lose. Rally the guard, defend this position, I can break them with a charge.”

“Sister, you left the Royal Cavalry at home!”

“For good reason! Still, we are who we are yes! As long as we can sit a horse we will not lose. A charge will break them.”

“And you with it you madwoman!”

You watch your mother’s face fall. “Aye.

“No! Manmae no!” You cry for her, scream, beg her to change her mind.

But you’re not there. And you have no power here. This is not a dream, this is a memory.

“Prince Loki.” Your mother looks beyond you to the pale man equally splattered in gore. His staff is red from the blade down to the grip, blood drips over his hands, staining his fingers. He looks exhausted and annoyed. It was Odin’s punishment for his display in that strategy meeting that he assist with the Horse Lord’s vanguard. “Tell your father what I mean to do. If he fills the hole I intend to make with his troops, we can win this day yet.”

He doesn’t acknowledge what he heard, instead he turns to you.

“Thor was not wrong. Your mother was very brave. I watched her lead her charge into the heart of the enemy formation. They cut down half of the riders with her first pass. Then half of that with the second. And...well you get the idea. But it worked. They were so worn out that when we arrived they couldn’t mount a defense fast enough. We slaughtered as many as we could find.”

The scene shifts, shimmering like the illusion of water on a hot horizon. The Asgard Lords are vicious as they hammer and sword and magic their enemies to death. Not all fall. Some flee. But Odin’s forces are exhausted almost to ruin and don’t have the numbers or strength to give chase. It is a victory in name only.

“Some soldiers find her later with your Uncle crouched over her dying body. I am not with her when she dies so I cannot share with you her last words.”

You already know them. You don’t think your uncle was lying to you about what she said.

“Goodbye katkat. Manmae is sorry she has to leave you alone. Hava will take care of you, not that you need. Not that you don’t.

The scene changes again and you see your mother’s body, born away a stretcher attended by your uncle.

“The Horse Queen is a fool!” You hear Loki hiss to his father once the body passes. “She should have allowed the princess to bring her Royal Cavalry. They would have been enough.”

“And.” Odin finally speaks. “It would be the Princess’s body on that bier.”

“Or not, if she’s as good as they say, they could have routed the beasts with little casualty.”

“Loki, what about this day suggests ‘little casualty’? Do not be so quick to second guess a mother’s judgement….Or her love.”

**

Your eyes open but they are surprisingly dry. The knowledge that you could have prevented your mother’s death and that you caused Hava’s own strips the soul from you leaving you blank and empty. Numb.

“Thank you Prince Loki. Prince Thor. Lady Frigga. I am tired now. May I rest?”

They leave one-by-one with Lady Frigga promising to check in on your in a few hours.

Loki remains.

Chapter Text

You don’t acknowledge him. You turn away hoping he gets the message. But he’s not the type to get messages he doesn’t want, implicit or explicit. You cannot be bothered, your grief is too raw.

 

You are of the Horse Masters. To ride is to be. Babies are put on ponies before they're put on their feet. A cavalry charge from your people, even without the devastating force of your elite Royal Cavalry, is a thing to fear and behold.

 

In that vision, seeing your mother like that, watching her fight from atop her horse, her Crescent Halberd--the legendary weapon made from the bark of the World Tree, blade forged from the heart of a fallen star-- gleaming with the flashes of lighting, your heart swells and breaks. You are proud as you watch the enemy pull her down from the saddle.

 

And you are broken.

 

She died the first time, when the news comes from Fa’Dan’s mouth. Witnessing this, she dies again.

 

You’re grateful the Prince Loki has shared with you the truth but--

 

“Go away.” You don't have the strength for anything right now but solitude.

 

“You would think you’d be a little more grateful to your savior.”

 

You nod quickly, you don't feel the shame but it's there. Your mother taught you better manners.  “I am.”

 

“Then why don’t I hear any gratitude?”

 

With that, Loki forces you to recall exactly who he is and the last time you and he were in the same room. How you fought. How he threatened your pride and you threatened his life. He’s not looking for acknowledgment. He’s looking for a gentler way to twist the knife.

 

“Thank. You.” You bite out, words filtered through a snarl. Loki clucks his tongue and waggles his finger in your face.

 

“It doesn’t count if it's not sincere.”

 

You bristle, had you your halberd and even the tiniest bit of strength you would have removed him from your room by force. But as you are barely able to hold your head up without getting dizzy, you must endure.

 

“Well.”

 

“Well what ?”

 

“I’m waiting.”

 

“For?”

 

“My ‘thank you’. A good one.”

 

“You’ll wait till Ragnarok.”

 

The prince barks. You were most amusing in a coma, now that you can answer his jests you are far far more interesting. A moving target is harder and more fun to hit than a comatose one.

 

“Is that so. Then let’s test who has the greater patience shall we?” He flops in the chair near your bed, legs stretched over the arm rests.

 

You groan, half-pained, all annoyed and turn from him, closing your eyes and wishing him away like a bad dream.

 

But you’re still weak, exhausted, and you fall asleep the moment you close your eyes.

 

And when you open them again, the sun is gone but Loki’s still there, dozing in the chair, book splayed open on his chest.

 

You stare, unable to fathom how or more specifically why this bastard is still here.

 

He's asleep. Slumber is supposed to soften the sharpest angles but the lines in his face still look wicked enough to cut glass. There is no innocence in his sleeping face, yet the cruelty is gone, washed out. Faded from closed eyes and a mouth that straightens from his perpetual snarl into something neutral if not the barest bit kind looking.

 

That near kind mouth begins to curl like rolled parchment. He grins at you, eyes still closed, and the temperature in the room drops.

 

“I’m still here little princess,” He taunts. “Still waiting.”

 

You are now determined to make him wait right into his grave.

 

**

 

He’ll grow bored with tormenting you. He has to, he’s the capricious prince and there’s nothing about you amusing enough to keep him around. So you bide, you continue to ignore him, hoping one day he just won't come. You've got too much damnable pride to complain to Frigga, he can't know that he annoys you enough to tattle to his Mommy.

 

So you deal. It isn't like his attentions are malicious, just irksome.

 

He's here. Not always. Sometimes a week will pass where he leaves you to your recovery unmolested. But he's...just here. In your room. Sitting. Waiting for some level of satisfaction he's not above annoying you to get. He usually comes at night, depriving you of rest you really weren't going to get much of anyway.

 

“If you're going to sit there at least toss me a book.”

 

He's sure you'll crack first, that he'll rile you up with the mere infliction of his presence so that you'll explode spectacularly like you did back in your War Room.

 

He wants to see it again, compare the two angers and determine if you're just bluster like his brother or if there is indeed any iron under all that fragile glass.

 

And it's going miserably.

 

You. Are.Impossible, imbued with the patience of an ascetic monk.

 

Worst yet, the sin of sins, you're boring . He's bored. And he would have ended this silly game had not his pride interfered. He's ready to wait till Ragnarok to prove a point. He just hopes it doesn't come to that.

 

“Are you sure you're up to the task of reading? We don't want to overtax your mind.”

 

“My mind was never injured, only my body.”

 

“Oh I know. My concerns still stand.”

 

Your glare makes him chuckle, same malicious heated gaze he remembers from his little prank with the Sages.

 

He's amassed a collection of books in your room, the largest outside his own quarters and the palace library.

 

You are boring. So to keep his sanity and his pride he has to change up his reading material.

 

He selects a book and tosses it to you from across the room.

 

You don't catch it. It wasn't a bad throw, it was a perfect throw in fact, sails right into your grasp or it would have if you could move your arms quick enough to catch it. It hits the floor and skitters away, just outside your reach.

 

You groan, knowing exactly what's going to come next.

 

Valhalla take you if it must.

 

Because you are NOT asking for help.

 

You twist in your sheets, painfully stretching your scars. You have to move slowly, delicately, lest they tear and bleed anew. You stop breathing so you can't moan, let him hear how agonizing all this movement is. You're given painkillers, they work but they make your mind slow, like everything is filtered through a thick syrup.

 

You'd rather keep a clear head even if that means keeping the pain.

 

You breathe once every half minute, little hissing puffs of air that do nothing to conceal your agony.

 

You stretch your arm, almost there. Almost.

 

But not quite.

 

You’ve tipped too far forward and now you're going to spill out of the bed into a jumble of useless limbs more skin than bones. You prepare yourself to hear his laughter, you hope it'll cover your shriek.

 

But you hear nothing except a rush of wind and the sound of a booted toe sliding a book across the floor and into your hands.

 

The air rushes again as you pick up the book. You right yourself, smoothing the sheets back over your legs.

 

Both of you remain absolutely silent, both of you unwilling to acknowledge what happened. He's gone back to reading, and you open your book discovering that it's an anthology of children's fairy tales from across the realm.

 

He hears your little indignant groan and you hear his soft snort of laughter.

 

That's all though.  No ‘thank yous’ or ‘your welcomes’. You don't trade words insulting his tastes or your reading levels.

 

There is just silence.

 

You read together and separately in amicable silence.

 

By the next night, you’ve finished your book and you ask for another.


This time it falls directly into your lap.

Chapter Text

You close your book, the fifth one from Loki in as many nights. He’s brought more now that he’s reading for two. Some are picture books, most are in fact, the strength in your arm improves as you throw them back at him, cursing him and asking him for a real one which he always provides.

 

But today you are tired of reading.

 

You make no small talk with your nurses who come to care for you. You’re silent as they take assessments, check your temperature, make sure the ewer of water by your bed is full and your linens are clean.

 

You stare beyond them. Ignoring the food they bring you. Watery porridge. Maybe this time it’ll have barely instead of oat. They feed you like a horse you realize. Either Loki’s making another joke or Lady Frigga doesn’t think you’re well enough for food with more substance.

 

You stare at the large window on the far side of your room. Snow is on the sill, melting slowly in the sun’s glare. You feel cold despite your blankets and the roaring fireplace.

 

You miss the sun, the open sky, wind. You miss your horse and the heft of your halberd in your hand. You missed running trails on Cephalus, and conducting drills with the Cavalry.

 

You miss your home. You want to go home.

 

Loki’s left your uncle’s letter by your nightstand. He is silent when he places it there, avoiding your eyes, putting just outside of easy reach. So you’ll have to stretch for it. So you’ll consider how much it’ll make you hurt to read it.

 

That’s why it sat, the broken seal of your house--a rearing horse--taunting you as you can just make out the neat script of your uncle. You weren’t ready to hurt yet.

 

You still aren’t.

 

But you’re so desperate for a touch of home, even if it stings.

 

You read the letter and a new emotion settles in your chest--a dragon come to roost in your heart.

 

Anger.

 

But the leadership of the land has spoken. My sister was a tyrant and her daughter has all the hallmarks of following in her footsteps. I wanted a bloodless changing of the guard, my niece and her supporters prevented that.

 

“You filthy LIAR!”

 

In your rage, you tear the sheets off your bed, rip and throw your pillows. You shatter your water pitcher against a wall and you are proud you can throw that far. You reach for something else unable to do anything but destroy what’s in your reach. You pick up a book, the pages flutter. You want to rip them out, rip them up. You could. You want to but you don’t. Because these were gifts.

 

So instead of tearing your books apart, your actions tear your body apart--exertion ripping open one of your scars.

 

And you bleed.

 

That’s how he finds you, you and your room a ruined mess.

 

“What is this! Horse girl what have you done? Here, let me see.”


He reaches for the wound across your belly. There’s magic in his hands to heal it but you seize his wrists before he can touch you. “Leave it.”

 

“Unhand me wretch before you bleed all over me and the carpets! My mother would have my head if she found out I let you exsanguinate in our guestrooms.”

 

He passes his hand over your scar, your injury sealing up. It re-stitches and it is a nasty purple and deep red, noticable even against your darker hued skin.

 

You watch him the entire time, the concentration on his face, the slight quirk of his lips that doesn’t quite tilt enough to be a smirk. He looks fascinated with the way his magic knits your skin--a child with a toy that hasn’t grown tiresome yet. Everything about him makes him seem like a jagged spear of ice. The severe cut of his cheekbones, the cool stare in cool green eyes. His lips are pale as is his skin, with hair that looks like the darkest, coldest parts of midnight. You’re surprised, then when his hand is warm on your flesh.

 

You shiver and he mistakes it for a wince.

 

“If you stop squirming it will hurt less.”

 

He makes his touch gentler as he curls his hand around the wound to finish repairing it. The magic feels good, warm. That it's coming from Loki makes it hard to fathom. Makes him hard to fathom. Why would he spare you anything at all?

 

“The nurses tell me you assisted your mother when I was first brought here. Why?”

 

“Mother’s orders.” He mutters.

 

You are soft. He thinks your skin is soft. So soft he can't stop the errant slide of his thumb across your newly knit scar.

 

“Speaking of mothers, I didn’t think yours a tyrant you know.” He pulls away from you completely and rises. “A fool maybe, but no tyrant.”

 

You don't let him get far, you seize his wrist and hold. “Will Lord Odin send me back? You know if he does I’m as good as dead.”

 

Your hand is a distraction. Your damnable softness is a distraction. He pulls away harshly. “Oh I know.”

 

You’re cold when he makes you let him go.  “That would please you wouldn’t it? Me going back or dying. Ragnarok would come for me first and you get to win your stupid bet.”

 

He doesn’t answer right away. He can’t. Neither the affirmative nor the negative answer feel right. He deflects.

 

“You think Lord Odin cares? Whether you live or die has nothing to do with him. The enemy is defeated and everything else is internal politics. Does it threaten Asgard or her stability? No?”

 

Loki makes a dismissive gesture with his hands. “Then he doesn’t care. And neither do I.”

 

“I will make him care.” You swear with iron conviction that brings a smirk to the prince’s lips.

 

“You?” Scorn saturates, drips, from his words. “You can barely walk. Hel you can barely throw a proper tantrum. You’d have better luck persuading the sun not to rise or for Heimdall to shut his eyes.”

 

He’s right. If Lord Odin cared about your life or your birthright he’d have an army at the gates of your capital by now. Loki confirms what you knew but chose to ignore, holding onto hope that it wouldn’t prove true. That you are alone, friendless, and weak.

 

“Shut up!”

 

This is better. He likes you better this way, angry and foolish. You're easier, he thinks, to comprehend when you're screaming at him. He can deal with anger and derision and sarcasm. Those emotions are more familiar to him, recognizable, manageable. He meets anger with sarcasm, derision with disregard and sarcasm with simply more sarcasm. He doesn’t know then, how to handle the utter confusion that took hold of him just moments before when he liked the feeling of your skin under his hands.

 

“Hard truth isn’t it princess? To know you’re never getting your kingdom back.”

 

“Shut up Loki Odinson or I swear--”

 

“Going to ‘geld my gilded tongue’?”

 

“And then some.” You growl.

 

This is easier too. To be angry. To focus your directionless rage onto the closest, easiest target. That way you don't have to think about how good his hands felt. Or remember how long it's been since someone's touched you like that.

 

Loki stands a few paces away from your bed. “Come on then. Here, I’ll help you.” He opens his hand and reveals a dagger. “Come take this from me and make good on your promise. Make me care little princess.”

 

“That’s mine!” Your father’s dagger! “Where did you find it!”

 

“That Hava woman thought enough to pack away the family silver when you fled. This was among those treasures.”

 

“Return it to me! Now! You snake!”

 

“Come take it, horse girl!”

“It is mine!”

 

“Then come take it! Why should anything be just handed back to you because you own it? How can you call anything ‘yours’ if you can’t defend it? Not this dagger, and certainly not your bloody kingdom!”

 

He goes too far! Too bloody far!

 

You lurch forward from your bed and onto your feet. You knees wobble but you remain upright, propelled forward by the dragonfire in your chest.

 

“I will bleed you dry Odinson!”

 

You move one step, then two. Loki observes you, the smirk curling higher on his lips. “You walk like a newborn foal. But that’s to be expected isn’t it?”

 

He laughs when you scream, reaching your arms for the dagger held extended towards you, taunting you. But you get within reach, one more step and you’ll have him and your father’s heirloom.

 

You take it.

 

But Loki takes a step back.

 

His sudden movement unbalances you and you fall forward, the foal crashing back to her knees.

 

He clucks his tongue. “Shame. You were so close.”

 

“You cheated Liesmith!”

 

“Life’s not fair little princess.”

 

“Don’t call me that!”

 

He tucks the dagger into the folds of his leather armor, chuckling at you as you crawl, dragging your near useless legs behind you. “I’ll continue to hang onto this for you. Consider it incentive to get the foal on her feet again.”

 

You stop struggling to stare at him. “You’re going to leave me like this?”

 

“Give me a reason not to.”

 

You scream, frustration making your skin hotter than a furnace even on the icy marble tile. But Loki looks at you, nonchalant, waiting for his reason.

 

You can’t will your legs to work, forcing this will see you bedridden for longer but...you try something different.

 

“Your mother will kill you if she finds out about this.”

 

Loki blinks, the smirk in his face flattens as he considers this, finding you not far from the mark. Frigga wouldn’t kill him outright, she might come close for something as egregious as this. But more than that, it’d disappoint her, which might as well kill him.

 

“Well, when you’re right,” He crouches before you and rips the tangled sheets away from you. He wraps one arm around your shoulders, the other he tucks under your knees. He then lifts and you come off the ground easy, lighter than air.

 

When you met him back home, you figured you could best him in a fight. He’s leaner than his brother, smaller in about every way. Weaker. You realize now, how wrong you were, whatever he lacked in size, he made up for in density. He’s all wire and lank but that wire and lank could crush you with a light squeeze.

 

“Oh,” is all the noise you can make when lifts you effortlessly from the floor. Holding you, like princess. He smells like leather and the oil polish that keeps it black and shiny. He smells like icy winter air and petrichor-- the smell of fresh rain striking stone.

 

“At least you’re not as heavy as a horse, despite the look.”

 

You’re not, he thinks. You’re bony, practically a skeleton. He knows you’re still weak but you could probably regain your strength faster if they fed you more than barley porridge. He’ll see to it that you are.

 

“I have a name.”

 

“I know. But I like mine.”

 

“I’m not a horse. And I want my dagger back!”

 

“Excuse me? My dagger?”

 

“You mean mine.

 

“Oh I meant what I said. It’s mine until you can take it--”

 

You shift in his arms, you have to keep one wrapped around his shoulder to steady you but the other is free to work. Since you’re so close, it doesn’t take much to reach for him, pressing your soft! hand to his chest and waist before finding your dagger in a breast pocket. You pull it free and close your hand around it like a vault lest he try to take it from you again.

 

“Clever.” Is all he can say, surprised he managed to find even that word.

 

You are no great beauty, he thinks with you so close. The Lady Sif or pretty much any of the court’s noblewomen could best you in looks. He thinks your face is statuesque, not for any feat of Divine Craft, but because you remind him of stone. You have a warrior’s mein, focused and sharp, but you don't possess Thor’s softheaded lust for battle.

 

Plain faced as you are, you have a cunning about you that amuses him. Leveraging your momentary weakness into a strength, you took your dagger from him unawares.

 

“Since I am at your mercy. Can I ask a favor?”

 

“Of course, whatever favor you neigh at me though, I’m not obliged to grant it. In our ledger you still owe me.“

 

You scoff and roll your eyes, you’re sure that whatever this ledger is, it will remain unbalanced. “Will you take me to the window?”

 

Loki complies with a heavy sigh, as though you asked for something far more laborious than a trip five steps to the left. The window has a cushioned sill, perfect for midday naps in the sunlight with a book, or sitting comfortably observing the martial practice fields below.

 

He drops you, rudely. It jars your bones a bit, but you're unhurt.

 

“Next time drop me from a little less height.”

 

“I'm a prince of Asgard not your beast of burden!”

 

It’s night, clear and cold, ice frosting just on the other side of the glass. But oh! The moons are full and the stars dust the sky like salt spilled on a black table cloth. You gasp softly, your palace is amidst great trees, the sky obscured by a canopy the Sages say are older than Ygdrassil and far more lovely. But you love the sky, night or day, sunshine or stormy so this...is the first true comfort you've had since waking.

 

“Thank you,” you breathe and it sounds like true gratitude.

 

Loki pauses, forced to admit he was wrong again about you. You are no great beauty only because you bury it deep, revealed only in the grooves and wrinkles of your smile.


“You're welcome.” He answers you, the sentiment genuine.

Chapter Text

You wake in your bed the next morning and it's moved, now instead of across the room from the window it’s right by it. You wake with bright sunshine in your face, greeted by clear open sky dotted ice white clouds. You wake with an empty hand, your father’s dagger gone--replaced with a folded note.

Tit for tat
Earn it back Horse Girl
Prince Loki

Even his script is pompous, embellishments stretching to fill the paper.

You crush the note with a sigh but a smile. You can play this game.

And if you are, you must regain your strength.

Today you try walking, hoping you can remain on your feet for longer than a few heartbeats. Your knees knock together and you can’t help the laughter.

“When you’re right.” You mumble to yourself, acknowledging Loki’s jest wasn’t too far off the mark. You do walk like a newborn foal. But like newborn foals, you steady quickly, at the end of an hour you’re panting, worn out nearly completely.

But you’re standing.

You think of Loki, planning how you'll take your dagger from him. You won’t be able to physically wrest it back from him, not yet. But you think you might be able to catch him off guard with how fast you’ve improved your strength today. He won’t be expecting it, you might be able to use that to your advantage.

You’re excited for nightfall, to test your theory and your better legs. When the nurses take their leave of you at dusk, you watch the door from your perch in the window sill, waiting.

And waiting.

And waiting.

You wait until your candles gutter out, until you can’t keep your eyes open anymore. You fall asleep against your window, back turned to the sky.

**

He will not inherit, but he is still a Prince, and being Prince means having responsibilities beyond entertaining the delusions of an exiled Princess. The dagger tempts him from its home in his pocket and he can’t resist brandishing it during his meeting with the palace comptroller. Thor gets the war meetings, gets to greet the dignitaries, and discuss policy.

Loki gets the budget meetings.

The Prince spins your dagger in his open hand, noting its exceptional balance and wicked sharpness.

‘This is very well made.’

The handle is wrapped in leather, the intricate designs the Horse Lords are known for are etched into the red-tan hide. He traces the pattern as the coin counter drones on and notices some patterns repeat in recognizable shapes.

Words.

For my Little Princess.
Love Papa

The words look like swirl patterns that extend around the length of the handle, a cursory look and one could only tell they were mere designs. Deeper inspection reveals the hidden message--known only between father and daughter. A puzzle pieces fits home in his mind.

No wonder she hates when I call her that, the moniker is special.

“Sentimental fool.” Loki’s dry chuckle makes the comptroller stutter, thinking the Prince is threatening him with the way he’s twirling that wicked looking blade.

“I..uh...My Lord...I will...don’t worry about the shortfall, I’m...sure it's nothing!”

He’s startled from his thoughts of you forcing him to acknowledge the man bungling his presentation.

“Fine! Carry on!” Loki rises and stretches, he’s been here blathering with these peons for far longer than intended.

It makes him late for the family dinner which Thor doesn’t let slide without comment.

“It seems the princess is taking up all of my brother’s coveted time.”

Loki bristles but says nothing, answering only his mother when she asks, “Is she well today?”

“I have not seen her.”

“Will you?”

“Of course he will!” Thor booms. “He cannot stay away. She is the most diverting company in the palace. Isn’t that what you said?”

“Her silence is far more intelligent the sum of all words you’ve ever uttered. So yes, I meant what I said!”

“You two fools can’t go an hour without fighting.” Odin sighs. “Loki, from what your mother tells me the princess will be well soon.”

“Yes. The filly will be kicking and neighing within the fortnight, I suspect.”

“Good, then we must consider returning her to her uncle. Have the healers assess when she will be ready to travel.”

“What?”

His father is not known for his sentimentality. Odin is efficient, effective. He is iron handed and iron willed. He has to be to keep Asgard protected from within and without. He’s also a cruel, petty, shortsighted, bastard but that's his own bias speaking. Objectively, Loki never thinks his father is abjectly cruel, not without good reason. At least he didn’t until now. “We’ll return her in a fortnight, sooner if she's well.”

You'll die. He thinks with icy clarity. Not right away. Maybe not even violently. You're royalty, maybe you'll get the kinder, gentler deaths that feel like silk scarves wrapped around necks or tastes like poison slipped into wine.

But if you go back, you will die. And Loki, no matter how much he doesn’t understand whatever he feels about you, he knows this:

You cannot die.

“No.”

His hands are under the table, in his pocket, squeezing your dagger.

“What did you say boy?”

Incurring Odin’s wrath means nothing to him. He presses his argument further. “You cannot just return her like a borrowed book.”

“Nor is she your toy!” Odin thunders, rage ignited like a storm making landfall. “She is the subject of a foreign sovereign nation, one who’s asked for her back. Asgard cannot keep her!”

“Brother?” Thor has to swallow a mouthful of mutton before he can continue. “Why does this matter so much? She’s a princess. She’s well. She has to go home. I daresay it’s what she wants.”

“Because her uncle will kill her you simpleton! You sending her back is the same as condemning her to die!”

Thor and Odin are so obviously son and father, the evidence clear in the same way their brows furrow in confusion.

“But the letter,” Thor starts. “When I was there, her uncle…”

“Is a liar and who better to know them than I?”

“Loki calm yourself. You overreach and overreact. We will send her back as soon as she is healthy. Heed your father boy!”

Loki rises from the dinner table, fury burning away his better senses. He screams at his family.

“Do either of you ever think for one moment beyond what’s put in front of your face?! That letter, that show he put on for Thor is all a fabrication to disarm you, make you think his actions the night of the coup were the will of the people. But if you had an ounce of cunning you’d realize--”

Loki huffs when his words receive no traction, his family simply stares at him. “Am I talking too fast? Do I need to slow down father? Fine. Listen.” Loki measures his voice, reins in his flashfire anger and cools it to a low simmer.

“The Uncle returns home. The queen is dead. By rights her daughter should assume the throne. But...he is of royal blood, circumstance of birth order denying him a throne. He could never forcibly usurp power because the army, though he commands it, is mostly loyal to his sister. That army is decimated now, its remains loyal to the brother and the others who aren’t, are now far outnumbered. The kingdom is guarded sparsely by the Royal Cavalry and Palace Guards--the former can be taken easily unawares by the latter commanded by his own daughter!”

“Son,” Frigga tries and fails to calm him. “How do you know all this? We’ve no reason to believe…”

“Because it’s what I would have done!”

“Brother please, calm yourself.”

“Send her back and you kill her. What did you say mother, that it is our honor to care for her in her hour of need. How about now?”

“SILENCE!” Odin has had enough, he’s tolerated his youngest son’s disrespect for long enough. “You’ve forgotten, my son, the basics of respect. You are confined to your chambers under magic ward until such time as you remember. Use that time to also reflect upon who rules Asgard and where final decisions ultimately lie.”

His face falls slack, stricken as though by one of his brother’s thunderbolts. You’re as good as dead and there’s nothing he can do.

“Guards!” Odin calls before a gentle hand from Frigga stops him.

“We don’t need the guards to escort our son unless you mean to lock him in the dungeon.”

“If he continues, I may. You coddle him Frigga.”

“Nevertheless, I will be his guard and I will take him to his rooms.”

“See to it then that he has wards placed on door so he can’t practice any mischief. He is not to see that girl either do you hear?”

“Of course.” Frigga’s smile is indulgent but Loki catches the slight roll of her eyes.

Frigga Allmother rises and waves away the guards that have heeded Odin’s call. “Come Loki. Or do you require the chains?”

He bows his head and follows, seething in his silence.

Chapter Text

Frigga keeps quiet for most of the journey from the dining hall to Loki’s wing of the palace, watching the knot in her son’s jaw bulge whenever he grinds his teeth. “Do you truly believe her life would be in danger if we return her?”

 

“Yes.”

 

“And the letter?”

 

“The convenient lies of the victor.”

 

Frigga didn’t know your mother well, Odin did. But of the scant memories she has of her, Frigga remembers your mother as a stolid warrior, honorable almost to a fault. Frigga sees the same in you while she can only guess why Loki’s formed such an attachment that’s he’s willing to cross Odin for your sake. She’s never been able to correctly assess his type. His lovers run the gamut across all races, genders, and temperaments, but of them all (the ones she’s aware of anyway) you stand out.

 

“You care for her.” It’s not a question, Frigga’s not asking him to confirm. Rather, it’s her own statement of fact as it appears to her eyes.

 

Eyes that crinkle a bit in mirth and mischief when her son outright lies to her.

 

“I do not, but her mother was brave and died bravely and died to keep her daughter safe. It’d be a regrettable waste of life on all accounts if that sacrifice came to naught.”

 

He’s proud of that one, makes him sound more noble than he is.

 

“So noted. I will speak with Odin.” Frigga opens the door to his rooms casting warding spells to suppress his magic. “You would be wise to stay out of his way for a while. His temper runs hot and it might make him act rashly. If you continue to rile him, or disobey him, he may send her back for spite.”

 

Odin’s capable, he thinks. He'd do it to teach Loki humility, to remind him and everyone else of his kingly power while hiding your blood underneath his excuses. You would die to make Loki humble himself.

 

And he cannot let that happen.

 

So he’ll ‘play nice’ and suffer his punishment like a good little boy.

 

For now.

 

“I understand.”

 

“Good. I will ensure the Princess is well tended, do you have a message you wish to tell her?”

 

Loki snorts. “No.”

 

“Very well.”

 

Frigga closes the door to Loki’s chambers, sealing him inside, noting with a small smirk another obvious lie.

 


 

 

It is difficult for you to bow in the presence of Lord Odin, but you manage. You were given no warning, caught unawares dozing by your window in nothing but a robe and nightdress. The entire royal family has come to see you apparently. Thor is present. As is Lady Frigga, Loki though, is absent.

 

“And how are you recovering girl?” You swallow your yelp as Odin barks at you--like the King tried--poorly--to sound gentle and failed.

 

“Slowly but surely my Lord.”

 

Odin grunts some kind of noise of approval.

 

“I’m here Princess, because your uncle is asking that I return you. I’m sure you’ve read his letter. What do you think of that?”

 

Your heart stops in your chest, it feels like the floor opened and you’re in freefall to your doom. Loki told you Odin wouldn’t care, that you meant nothing to him. You thought that meant he wouldn’t begrudge you staying here under his protection but it seems you thought incorrectly.

 

You’re scared. Fear freezes in your gut, and Odin’s one-eyed stare as he waits for your answer weighs you down, holds your head underwater and drowns you. If Loki were here, maybe he would say something, anything--you almost say his name, like a plea or a prayer or something , hoping for at least one familiar face that’ll keep you from falling.

 

But he’s not here. Either out of apathy or ignorance or--whatever it doesn’t matter. He’s not here. You’re alone. And possibly a word away from death.

 

“Then I would think, my Lord.” If he means to return you, then Lord Odin should know exactly what that means. “That you should save your horses the trouble and just take my head here. Or you can wait for the letter that says ‘Thank you for returning my niece, oh by the way she suffered an accident and is now dead.’ In case you want to keep your hands clean.”

 

‘Ahh,’ Frigga understands now as you lock your steel tipped gaze with her husband, this is why he favors you.

 

Thor swallows his sputtering gasp and ends up choking while Odin takes a deep steadying breath, indignance simmering in his eye.

 

“This one is just as impertinent as the other! I should lock her away too!”

 

“You’d imprison a guest Lord Husband?”

 

Odin glares at his wife but lets her continue. “What harm is it to let her stay with us? Is her uncle going to come here and forcibly take her? If his words are truth, if he truly wishes for her to ‘pass the remainder of her days in comfort’ then he’ll have no problem letting her spend those days here with us. We have the room. She is no burden. There are plenty of ladies of rank here to keep her company. Besides, she is not yet well, look at her. Simply standing is a trial.”

 

“I am no invalid my Lady,” you defend locking your knees to stop them from swaying so bloody much.

 

“I never suggested otherwise my dear. Besides my love, she is the orphan daughter of the woman who gave her life to protect your kingdom and your sons. That alone is worthy of some consideration is it not?”

 

Odin’s face softens at the end of Frigga’s argument. His eye studies you seriously, assessing if you are indeed worth the trouble. But Frigga squeezes his hand and he relents with a gruff sounding sigh.

 

“So be it. Tend to her, see that she is given quarters as befits her title. As a courtesy to your mother, you will remain a Princess, but in name only. You will be given an allowance and a servant of your choosing. In such time, if it is your wish, the Lady Frigga will arrange for you a suitable marriage. Asgard does not lack for middling lords who would relish the opportunity to marry a Princess, landless though you are.”

 

You are not landless you think. There are acres and acres of land that is yours by birth and blood and right. But you have exhausted your goodwill with Odin to belabor this point now.

 

“Thank you, Lord Odin.”

 

He doesn’t answer, instead he excuses himself, but as he leaves he tells you this. “I do not believe your mother was a tyrant as the letter says. And she has always served me well. It will be an honor to have you among us.”

 

“Thank you Lord Odin.Truly.”

 

Thor takes his leave of you, amused by the proceedings. Lady Frigga is last to leave, by design, she has suspicions you want to speak to her alone.

 

“Lady Frigga, may I have a moment?”

 

‘You two are so predictable’, she thinks, concealing a smile behind a yawn. “Yes dear?”

 

“I’m sorry, I won’t keep you, I just...Thank you. You saved my life.”

 

“Oh, don’t thank me child. Save your gratitude for Prince Loki.”

 

“Prince Loki wasn’t even here. It's obvious he doesn't--  How did he save my life?”

 

Your eyes give everything away. Your hope, your disbelief, your disappointment. Frigga watches them flash as you struggle between the two, noting their brilliance, their fire.

 

“When my Lord Husband made it known his plans to return you to your uncle, Loki was your fiercest--rather your only defender. He believed that if you left our protectio,n serious harm would befall you and tried to make his father understand that. When Odin proved...unconvinced, Loki pressed the matter so hard he was imprisoned for his troubles.”

 

Horror wins out over disbelief or hope, you look stricken, ready to fall. “Is he okay? Has he been hurt?”

 

Your genuine concern for her son touches her.  “Don’t worry, he’s alright, just confined to his quarters for a while.”

 

“I don’t understand. Why would he…?”

 

“You don’t understand how attached he is to your life? After all this is the second time he’s saved it.”

 

Good point, one your heart latches on to a bit too quickly. Your cheeks heat up and it’s suddenly very difficult to meet Lady Frigga in the eye.

 

“Uh..Please, my Lady, will you thank um... him for me?”

 

“Don’t be silly." Frigga chides gently. "I think he’d much prefer it to hear it from you. Now, let’s see about getting you better rooms.”

Chapter Text

He paces his rooms, a caged animal, every minute that passes with no word of you is another minute spent in Hel. He hasn’t heard from anyone in his punishment, not Frigga or Thor, he can’t even get the servants to tell him what’s happened to you. It drives him mad.

 

This is ridiculous. He shouldn’t care so much about you, the bloody Horse Girl, that he starts to lose sleep, wondering if you’ve indeed been sent back home.

 

He thinks like a murderer in his confinement. Figuring out what would happen to you if he was your uncle. Loki wouldn’t kill you right away. That’s foolish. He’d need to figure out some pretense or plan to murder you so it wouldn’t look suspicious. That might might take a few weeks, time enough for him launch a rescue.

 

He reminds himself that even though others don’t believe it--and precisely because others don’t believe it -- he has honor. And that it’s only his honor and your own that compel him to save your life anyway he can.

 

It is the honorable thing. That’s it. That’s all.

 

He won’t let you fall, for honor’s sake. Nothing else.

 

A week later, Frigga returns to a room nigh destroyed by a restless prince. “My son, what has happened?” she feigns surprise. Yes it’s cruel to keep him in the dark so long but she considers it her own punishment.

 

You should never lie to your mother, especially about being in love.

 

Loki doesn’t answer, bolting past her to sprint down the halls to the infirmary wing.

 

Frigga smiles as she watches him run.

 

**

 

The door to your room is open. He calls for you but you don’t answer, instead he sees a little girl crying on your empty bed in your empty room.

 

“Who are you? Why are you crying girl?” He barks. She’s young, and she’s new. She doesn’t look like one of your nurses, she’s dressed as a servant instead.

 

“She’s gone.” The girl answers through her tears muffled into the pillow.

 

Loki’s heart, in one of those times he allows himself to remember he has one, stops dead.

 

“She’s gone and she’s never coming back!”

 

It makes sense. It’s why Frigga kept him in the dark for a week. She couldn’t face him.

 

No. He refuses to believe… He’s only been locked away for a week, you can’t be dead yet. He has time, he remembers, you can still be saved.

 

He will save you.

 

“No.”

 

“Yes!” The girl wails, persistent in her sorrow.  “Manmae is dead. And she’s never coming back!”

 

The fight and the fear drain from him so quickly he physically deflates. The tension in his shoulders snaps like a frayed rope cut and all the air escapes from his chest in the heaviest sigh. He’s pretty sure you don’t have a child and if you did, you definitely would have mentioned it by now.

 

Still, something's familiar about what the she said...

 

“What did you say girl?”

 

The crying child finally pulls her head from the pillows. She looks like you, he thinks. Has the look of your people, dark brown skin with hair in neat little braids capped with colorful beads and shells. They clink together when she wipes her eyes with her hands.

 

“My...my Lord? I’m sorry.” She rises and starts to smooth the bed clothes. “Please don’t tell Mistress Aleene. She’ll scold me.”

 

“Stop!” He yells and the girl freezes in place, hands hovering over your pillow to fluff it. “What did you just say? Who is dead?”

 

“Manmae...err...it means ‘mother’ in my homeland.”

 

“And where is your homeland?”

 

“South..t-the low countries.”

 

“And how did your mother die?”

 

The girl blubbers with such a direct question, fat tears sliding down apple cheeks that have seen too many of them.

 

“Killed.” Her breath hitches. “I barely escaped.”

 

He presses the girl with hard questions. Not his finest moment, tormenting a child, but he has to be sure. “From where did you escape?”

 

She blinks, she doesn’t understand.

 

Loki almost screams with frustration. “Were you in your house? Were you out? Where!?”

 

“Oh! I was in the palace. Manmae worked in the palace.”

 

“And how did you escape?”

 

Her face brightens immediately. “That’s easy. My Princess saved me.”

 

**

 

Your new room is a palace within a palace, far nicer than anything you’re used to. Your only request was a large westerly window that you can sit in and soak up the sunsets but Frigga found you something with windows that spanned the walls, bracketed by cushioned sills deep enough to sleep in.

 

You have a bathing chamber that looks carved out of a mountain of ivory marble with iron pipes that pump in hot water from huge heated cisterns below. Your vanity is topped with fancy oils and soaps and perfumes and your closet is filled with too many clothes you don’t own that you’ll never wear.

 

Lady Frigga has been too kind to you in all this, perhaps to disguise the fact that every time you ask after Loki she waves off your concern by simply telling you to wait.

 

Well you’re done waiting. It’s been a week. You are finished with waiting!

 

You mean to find him. And if you have to beg Odin’s mercy to let him go--well you just hope Loki won’t be there to see it.   

 

You bend to pull on your boots flexing your legs. They’re stronger yes, but a few steps still tire you. It doesn’t matter, you mean to find him!

 

You search through a cloud of silks to find something decent to wear until you kick a chest in the bottom of your wardrobe. Inside you find your black leather armor, hidden from view to ostensibly spare you the memory of the last night you were in them.

 

You reach to pull them on and your fingers slide through a tear in the chest, just under the swell of your left breast, big enough to fit your balled fist through. These are the holes, still crusty with blood, from when Fa’Rey took her blade and...

 

You scratch her from your memory. And Fa’Dan! You need to find Loki and you can’t get distracted by--

 

There’s a knock at your door, timid and tentative until it strengthens into a constant rapping.

 

“What in the bloody nine realms--!”


The door opens and a girl walks in, a girl you know. Suddenly the bloody holes in your armor don’t matter any more. Fa’Dan and his thrice damned daughter disappear from memory. The pain in your legs is a distant throb and the pain in your heart is supplanted by joy.

 

This is the girl you saved.

 

“Se’risa!”

 

“Princess!”

 

She runs, arms stretched toward you and wide open, her beads clicking as she flies into your arms wailing. “You’re alive! Princess you’re alive!”

 

You knew this girl. You knew her mother. You knew her father and her brothers. Se’risa was always sweet, always curtsied so cutely. Her mother made your favorite pastries, made sure Hava packed them in your gear for whenever you went out with the Cavalry. Now she’s here, and you feel a hole in you somewhere, well up and seal closed.

 

Full.

 

“Se’risa. How?”

 

“The filly gets a foal, and now the stables are full.”

 

Loki. He leans in your doorway as though without a single care, like his imprisonment meant nothing to him. He casts himself in ice, holds himself aloof, lying with every part of him, concealing the terror he felt for you. He won’t tell you how he paced the floor wearing scuffs into the marble. He won't tell you the dread he felt for the few agonizing moments he thought you were dead. Those were the grave secrets, unknowable even under threat of death.

 

“I found her, crying. It was so pathetic reminded me of you.” He lies more. He knew the moment he realized she was one of your countrywomen that he would restore her to you. “ A match well made don't you think?

 

You want to sigh and roll your eyes, but can only smile.

 

“Se’risa, how did you get here?”

 

“I listened. You told me to run for the Servant's corridor. I did. And I followed it outside. Then I found a road and I walked for a very long time. Nice people found me and they brought me here. I clean chamber pots and sweep hearths. If they were yours, I'd be happy.”

 

She holds tight to you, and for a young girl her grip is strong. But you pull free of her and kiss her forehead. “You will stay with me now, okay?”

 

Se’risa nods knocking loose her last few tears, jangling her beaded braids. The Prince will never understand just how much he’s given you. Se’risa is more than a familiar face, she’s hope. This girl is a kingdom unto herself, your kingdom. And Loki told you nothing’s yours unless you can defend it. So you’ll defend this girl will everything you are until one day you can give her her home back.

 

And in so doing, reclaim yours.

 

Se’risa is hope, the very word means ‘hope’ in your language. There’s hope in your heart now, it makes it feel light, feel joy.

 

It makes it very easy for you to do this.

 

You cross your room towards him, until you’re there before him.  But he takes a step back, you're after the dagger of course. Why else would you be so close?

 

“I don't think so Princess, that trick won't twice.”

 

“No trick,” you say before you kneel.

 

Hand over your heart, eyes closed, you dip all the way to the floor until your knees touch the marble.

 

“My Lord Loki. Please accept my humblest gratitude.”

 

You kneel. He expects--he doesn’t know what he expects but it wasn’t this. You kneel, give him the gratitude he thought your stubborn pride would always deny him. But here you are, bowed before him because you want to be. Not because you were forced, or tricked, or obligated or honor bound or frightened into it.

 

But because you want to.

 

“The horse girl humbles herself. Why?” When he calls you names there’s a teasing lilt to his tone. Light and musical, you can tell he’s intentionally being a bastard.

 

That’s gone from his voice, it’s flat and heavy. Weighed down by something that pulls you down with him--you don’t know where you’re going. And you don’t care.

 

“You saved my life, you restored Se’risa to me. It is the least I could do.”

 

You forget about that little girl in the room when his hand settles under your chin and lifts. Two of his fingers is all it takes for you to rise back to your feet, your two gazes meeting, clashing--just like they did the night you met. Something breaks in his heart, shatters it. Maybe it’s a lock or a cage of ice, but whatever it is, your eyes breaks it.

 

“No Princess, that is not the least--”

 

You’ll never be able to remember who did the least the most.. All you know now is the touch of his lips against yours and nothing else. You’re clueless and thoughtless, mind unable to process anything but how close he is, how strong he feels against you. How much you love it.

 

He thinks your hair smells sweet, you smell sweet, not like the heady flowery perfumes the other ladies drench on themselves hoping to attract mates like bees, but something subtle that he can't name but he assuredly wants. You. All of you.

 

“Princess? Uhh...are you...should I...um…”

 

Se’risa. Now you remember her.

 

You release him, wobbling a bit. It’s not your legs that are weak now but your head. Standing for too long makes you a bit dizzy but you’re sure your lightheadedness has nothing to do with that. But his hands find your arm and keep you upright. You weren't going to fall, but he made sure you didn’t anyway.

 

‘Don’t let her fall.’ He thinks.

 

“Thank you,” you repeat. “You have no idea what this means.”

 

You have a smile and a voice. When it’s not screaming or shouting at him, when it’s not threatening to geld him--Hel even when it is --it’s pleasant. He wants to hear you say his name with that voice.

 

“So easy to please with such a simple serving girl.” The bastard is back, the moment's done. He is sorry for its loss but he is breathless with notion of making more . “I shall have them bring hay for the both of you.”

 

“My Lady is not a horse and neither am I!” Se’risa leaps to your defense, pushing between Loki and you-quite done with all this... yuck!  She only reaches his elbow, but she stands as though she towers over him.

 

“Calm yourself little foal,” He pats her head but she bats his hand away. “My, with such a fierce protector what need have you of me Princess?”

 

You're not ready to answer that question seriously, so you give the semi-serious answer. “I need my dagger back.”

 

He melts a little bit, just a little, his smile warm enough to soften some of his ice.

 

“Then you’ll just have to take it from me. I look forward to your attempts.”

 

“I bet you do.”

 

“Oh, I do.”

Chapter Text

You and Se’risa spend a week together, crying, hugging, talking in your mother tongue, overjoyed there is finally another pair of ears that understands.

You can't make her miss her mother any less, no more than she can do the same for you. At night she still cries, she's still only a child. But her tears don't last the night anymore, instead of waking bleary eyed and ashen faced, she wakes curled next to you, a little vine twisting around a trellis.

It's not home, but it's damn close.

Before long, Mistress Aleene makes complaints, asking for the return of her scullery maid. You refuse.

So Mistress Aleene takes her complaints to Lady Frigga.

“How am I to run your palace without suitable maids to empty the chamber pots? Are we to empty our own?” Aleene titters as if the idea is absurd.

“Find another!” You growl. You’re protective of Se’risa, if the world were yours she’d be the Princess now, not you, coveted and cared for by her loyal Cavalry captain.

“Lady Aleene,” Frigga asks “Do we not have the staff?“

Aleene takes too long to answer ensuring anything she say is a lie. “Se’risa is a young girl, she does the work the older girls…”

“You mean she does the literal shit jobs no one else wants!”

Granted asylum by Lord Odin and retaining your title as Princess, you start to feel a little bit like your old self. The woman who was always the Cavalry Captain first and second before she was ever the Princess. That soldier’s voice returns, making you forget--or not care--you are in Lady Frigga’s presence. The words fly out of your mouth before you remember yourself making Lady Aleene screech in scandalized shock and even Queen Frigga has to raise an eyebrow in subtle reproach.

Loki has an audience with his mother this morning. He's late of course, incapable of rising before noon and all that. He slinks into her audience chamber hopefully to avoid detection only to find his mother's attention already diverted between you and the majordomo of the palace.

“She should be in tutelage with the other palace children!”

“And you should remember your tongue, girl, you are in the presence of Queen Frigga! To suggest someone lowborn --and of the low countries no less-- be taught with the children of Asgard Lords--the arrogance!”

He watches you, watches the frisson of anger arc across your body, straightening your spine and balling your hands into fists. You are lightning trapped in a bottle seconds from breaking free and glorious to behold.

He hasn't had the chance to see you since Se’risa, but his lips still tingle with the memory of you. That kiss was soft and timid, the introduction of a guest who doesn't stay overlong but one he desperately wants to meet again, for longer, more intimate conversation.

He wonders then, if he kissed you now what would he feel? Could his touch command your anger to sizzle away in his hands? Or would he make your energy change states, transforming burning rage into burning passion?

He wants to know, he’s sorely tempted to interrupt. To seize you by the shoulders and kiss you thoroughly, testing his hypothesis over and over again, scientific rigor and all that.

“Oh, Loki, you’re here.”

You're embarrassed by how quickly his name makes you whip around to see him. Lady Aleene remembers her courtesies and bows, you don't. Forgetting everything that wasn't that kiss. It wasn’t your first, but it was definitely your best. And by the stars you hope it won’t be your last.

Aleene mutters something about manners, and you finally remember yours, bowing so hurriedly your legs buckle, knees hitting the marble hard enough light pain in every nerve from ankle to shoulder--reminding you one more time you aren’t all well yet.

“Princess.” He calls your name and the sensation dulls a bit. When he helps you up with a tender hand at your arm, the sensation dulls completely. “I think you and I are past such formality yes? After all you are a princess as I am a prince. Wouldn't courtesy demand I bow to you?”

You, Frigga, and Loki know that's not how etiquette works between royals but Aleene doesn't, forced to remain bowed and silent until acknowledged.

And Loki takes his very sweet time lifting you to your feet.

Frigga is so delighted she nearly squirms out of her chair.

Aleene coughs once, then again, then fakes a coughing fit to remind someone that she’s still here.

“Oh, you.” He doesn’t acknowledge her name, as though he forgot it, even though this woman has been around so long she likely helped deliver him. “Was I interrupting something important mother?”

“No, son, no.”

Loki lets you go, lets his touch linger at the back of your arm before stepping a formal distance away, convinced he can feel lightning jump from your body to his. He’s ready to lie, make an excuse to defer the meeting so he can have more time with--

“Lady Aleene.” His mother interrupts his thoughts before they can turn carnal corners. “I trust you to run the palace competently. And I would not have your abilities hindered. At the same time, Princess, I would not deprive of you someone who obviously means very much to you.”

Frigga smiles so wide it’s obvious she’s not only talking about Se’risa. Your face explodes in so much heat you’re convinced the edges of your hair are starting to smoke. Loki takes in in stride, churlish enough to wink at his mother. He trusts her enough to let her have this one truth.

“I trust you ladies can come to some kind of suitable agreement between yourselves yes? For now, I must excuse you both, my son is egregiously late for our meeting as it is.”

“Yes my Lady,” you answer.

“As you wish Queen Frigga.” Mistress Aleene responds.

Satisfied, you both are dismissed.

**

Outside you try to smooth things over with Aleene. “I can pay you for her and you can use the wages to hire another.”

“We all know your money comes from Asgard’s treasury.” Aleene spits. “You would rob Riorn to pay Odin!”

“You asked me to remember my tongue in the presence of a Queen, remember yours in the presence of a Princess, Mistress.”

“You’re a Princess in name and naught else. You best tread carefully, wear out your goodwill and see that name revoked!”

You open your mouth to fire back but find your quiver empty of arrows. Aleene is right. Frigga is kind to you no doubt, but there’s no way to know she’ll always be. And Odin, honor or no, you don’t have any idea how long he’ll tolerate you.

And Loki? Is there anything…? How long will he last?

Is there anything to last?

“Still, I am kind. I can be persuaded to give up the girl.” Aleene reaches for your hand in a gesture of friendship, her thumb sliding over the braided gold cuff around your wrist. You try to withdraw your hand but Aleene squeezes tight, intent plain. Hava saved this for you and your crown. The best of your family jewels she stuffed into a sack, the last things that prove who and what you are. Se’risa and her happiness mean more to you than a title or an ornamental lump of gold and yet when you say,

“Name your price.”

And Aleene slips that ornamental lump of gold off your wrist,

It hurts.

**

This is an important meeting, he really should be paying attention. His father's jubilee will be the biggest event Asgard has seen in an age and his mother will require every scrap of help she can get. He really should be paying attention.

“Loki?”

He’ll use whatever pretext he can come up with as an excuse to see you when this is over. Or maybe he won’t. Maybe he’ll just show up. Does he need a reason now? Does he still need to keep making excuses to be in your presence?

Frigga sighs, she knows he hasn't heard anything she's said for the last hour. She can't find it in her heart to be upset though. When has this son ever gone about his day with such a smile on his face?

“It seems the princess must possess some magic of her own for you to be so enchanted.”

Loki snorts. “I bet you thought that joke was clever.”

“I did! I am not as humorless as your father my child.”

“Praise be for that.”

Frigga shakes her head and puts aside her notes. They aren’t really accomplishing anything anyway. “I had wondered who would accompany you to the jubilee, I guess I need wonder no longer.”

“Mother the jubilee is months away.” Loki answers errantly.

Frigga’s smile droops. “Will you tire of her so quickly? I had thought she was special.”

“She is.” He answers quickly, and you are, he means it.

“Then act like it. Be honest with her.”

“You say that as though I’ve already fallen in love with her.”

“You haven’t?”

“Of course not. One kiss does not true love make.”

Because it takes things like your kiss, and your smiles, and your laugh, and your snarl, and your wit and

Frigga fixes her child with a deadly glare. “Don’t toy with this one for sake of your silly games, Loki. She deserves better than that.”

She dares her son to lie to her. Make excuses for the string of bloodied hearts he’s left behind him. You are special, you stand out, you’re different. Frigga has to believe that this time will mean something.

“I know.” Is all he answers her with.

Chapter Text

That pain in your heart dulls when you later see Se’risa dressed in trousers and a tunic, her servant’s smock folded neatly on your bed.

“Mistress Aleene says I don't have to work for her anymore and that Queen Frigga granted me permission to go to school with the noble kids.”

She's unhappy, obvious in the way her bottom lip pouts. She fights her tears and loses when you nod, hiding your bare wrist from her behind your back.

“Princess! Please don't get in trouble for me!”

Your heart breaks when she bows, hand over her heart mimicking what you did for Loki. She’s too young for such things, you think, swearing loyalty or fealty. “Please! Don't trouble yourself for me. I'm just a dirty servant!”

“Oh ‘Risa please don't do that.”

If you had the strength you would have lifted her from the floor into your arms, but after a day’s worth of business and errands you can barely keep upright.

Still, you try. Kneeling and putting her back on her feet so the two of you are face to face.

“You aren't a servant anymore, you hear me? You’re not a servant. You’re a princess just like me.”

“I am not! You are the princess and princesses shouldn’t waste their time or their…”

Se’risa squirms in your embrace to pull at your arm. She holds it between you, staring at your naked wrist like a murder weapon, eyes welling with tears. “Princesses shouldn’t waste their precious things on dirty servants!”

You laugh, it’s your first reaction. Nothing’s funny, you’re just amused she found out so quickly. Or Aleene purposefully told the girl to inflict unnecessary damage. But Se’risa’s face breaks when you laugh, possibly mistaking it as directed at her. Damage control.

“That’s what you’re worried about? A silly bracelet? Do you know how many of these I have?”

One. Only one.

“One for every day of the week. Two for holidays. Three for feast days.”

Se’Risa sniffs. “You’re lying.”

You are, Loki thinks, secreted behind the semi-closed door to your room. And a poor one at that.

He came here after his meeting with his mother. He hadn’t settled on what exactly his intentions were, unable to choose between kissing or annoying you senseless, both scratching the same (well not exactly the same) primal itch in his brain.

He hesitates when he hears the child's blubbering, stopping long enough to go from hesitation to eavesdropping.

He's seen the sum total of the jewels you escaped with. You’re no where close to having something different for every day of the week. And aside from your crown, that bracelet was your finest piece.

“No it's true.” You're too deep in this hole so you keep digging, hoping to find another escape. “One for every day. So it's nothing, especially when compared to you. I have so many bracelets, they mean nothing, and I have only one you, so you mean everything.”

You dab her eyes with your sleeve. “Chin up. Princesses don't stare at the floor, okay?”

Se’risa perks instantly, beads clinking softly with the movement.

“Before I go to lessons tomorrow will you help me with my hair? And I can pick out your bracelet for the day?”

Your heart drops, she just won’t let it go. So you double down, hoping the hole you’re digging won’t cave in on top of you. “Of course.”

Shit.

You don't hear Loki’s soft chuckle from outside your door, nor hear him tell a servant to bring you to his chambers in hour. You're still focused on what tale you're going to tell this girl in the morning, torn between admitting the truth and faking illness as an excuse to avoid getting dressed for the day. Before you have the chance to decide, Loki’s servant knocks.

“My Lady, Lord Loki requests your presence.”

Se’risa makes a face. “I don't like him. He says mean things.”

“He does, but they don't hurt when he says them.”

“Is it because you like him?”

You clear your throat hoping to avoid answering but the girl did witness you kissing him so…

“No, it's because when he says them he doesn't make the words hurt. If he ever does, trust me I'll let him know.”

“But you do like him?”

“Admittedly…”

“Why?”

Oh Hel. You don't even know exactly why, how are you going to explain that to a child?

“I'll tell you when I return.”

Se’risa sneers, makes a disgusted noise in the back of her throat. “Fine.”

**

If your room is palatial by your admittedly narrow standards, then Loki’s rooms span the length and breadth of the world. You could quarter your Cavalry here with their horses and half the palace guard alongside.

“This way.”

The servant leads you down corridors of marble and stone into a sitting room set with dinner for two.

A small round table, lit with crystal candelabras. The plates are gold, covered with domes to keep the food under them warm. A decanter of wine sits ready to pour, two cut crystal glasses ready to receive.

The silverware is actual silver, not that you could tell but it's a damn good contextual guess. You count the knives again wondering why there's a need for more than one before you…

Your hand strikes without thinking.

Your father's dagger! He must have left it out in a moments inattentiveness and forgotten it. You snatch for it, ready to claim victory but your hand slides right through it.

“Shame on you. I'm not sure if I'm amused at your gullibility or offended that you think I'm that stupid.”

He appears in smoke as the dagger disappears into it. His magic smells like the threat of rain on a summer night, when lighting strikes but no water falls. Thor is the Thunder Prince, he sounds the noise that makes the Heavens shake. But Loki is the flash that comes just before, the one you don’t expect, the one that strikes you dead before you even hear thunder’s boom.

You're reminded, you really never forgot, how frightening he could be. But you've never been afraid of him. And you aren't now. He is deadly fearsome but has never once made you feel afraid.

He's dressed well. Black and green sleeveless tunic, long enough to touch the floor draped over a linen shirt with simple black trousers.

You look extremely pathetic by comparison. Leather trousers and a modest linen shirt. You’re dressed for riding not a dinner with a prince.

“Had I known you were inviting me to dinner, I would have dressed better.”

“Next time then, Princess.”

“Next time how about you ask first?”

You’re quick. He loves it. You don’t have to think, you respond. You two trade wit seamlessly.

“Ahh, shall I present myself to your guardian and beg her permission?” He clasps his hands in mock supplication. “Please will you let your mistress come out and play?”

“She'd only tell you no.”

“So the foal doesn't like me hmm?”

“It's precisely because you call her that, that she doesn't. You know her name”

“I prefer yours, Princess.”

He wins this round, but only because you let him, desiring to let the sound of your name like that sink into your ears, uninterrupted by your witty retort.

“Well I’m here, my Lord.”

He escorts you to your table for two, pulls out your chair, pours your wine.

“I half expected this plate to be full of hay you know,” It’s not. It’s some delicious roast boar.

“If this is not to your liking I’m sure we can find you sweetgrass in the stables.”

He’s surprised when your eyes light up, wide and wonder-filled. “You’re people don’t really eat--?”

“No! Half-wit. The stables. Walking is overrated anyway. Put me on a horse and I’ll be just fine. Four pairs of legs are better than two.”

“You aren’t strong enough for it.”

It’s not a question, he knows. He can tell by looking at you.

“I know. But, I will be.”

After dinner, he leads you from the sitting room, past overstuffed chairs and overstuffed bookshelves and into his inner chambers. There’s an armor stand against a far wall, a great gold and horned helm sitting atop it. Staves and scepters lean against the walls. Weapons of very type and shape lay strewn about the floor. He’s carved a very narrow empty space, pushed back the creeping horde of his things to make space enough to navigate through.

His trinkets are fascinating, he’s like a magpie, travelling out among the lands and bringing back the best treasures of the realm.

This is Loki’s heart, you realize. This place. You’re here in his heart and it beats with all the magic in room.

Something snags at you, a burr or thistle pulling at your consciousness. Why are you here?

You ignore the feeling, choosing to run your fingers over his collection of ceremonial knives.

In the middle of the display, your dagger sits in a place of honor. You purposefully ignore it, shooting at your host a glare that makes him laugh.

“That one is actually yours, go on, take it.”

You cluck your tongue. “Fool me once.”

He isn’t lying. That one is the genuine article. He reaches around you, bringing him close enough to kiss and picks up the knife with his hand, it doesn’t pass through him.

You grumble a string of curses in your tongue and the common one, so foul even Loki’s scandalized.

But he laughs, it's light, birdlike. It doesn’t rumble the belly or throb in your blood the way your father’s laughs did. His sits high, on unreachable branches, ready to fly away if disturbed. He doesn’t truly laugh often, so when he does, it doesn’t linger, like snatches of birdsong. There is no ice in him when he laughs unguardedly.

Just magic.

You’re quiet for a long time as you explore his things. You ask him questions and he answers. Where this came from, what does that do. As he answers your questions, he tries to figure the answer to his own. Why did he bring you here? There’s the superficial answer, better put, the lie for why you’re here. But the question remains.

And you ask it.

“Why did you bring me here? Really?”

You turn to him, you want to touch him but you don’t, unsure if you’ve earned that privilege yet. “Dinner was lovely and this place is, it’s magic. And as wonderful as all this is, I don’t think you brought me here to show me your toys.”

He didn’t.

“Close your eyes.”

That wasn’t the answer you were looking for.

“What do you want from me?” You persist.

“For you to close your eyes, horse girl.”

“Loki. Tell me.”

“Princess, trust me.”

He hasn’t given you a reason to. He doesn’t expect you to. But you take a deep breath and close your eyes anyway, gifting it to him, making him question everything all over again.

She deserves better.His mother echoes in his head.

The spell is quick, over and done in a few heartbeats.

“Open.”

There is a collection of jewelry in front of you. Bracelets. Several velvet cushions full. One for every birthstone. One for every precious gem.

“What? What are these.”

He takes your hand, the one missing the braided loop and guides it to the piece in the top most, farthest left corner. “This is for Firstday.” He moves it over to the right. “And Secondday.” He moves you again. “And Thirdday.” Down the line marking the days of the week. In the second row there’s two bracelets piled on top of each other. A row below that, there are three.

“You heard me.” You gasp.

“I did. ‘One for every day.’ And so forth and so on.”

You draw your hand away from his, pull it back like he burns you. “I can’t take these.” You’re answer is quick and finite. Immutable. You will not take any of these with you. You stutter and amend yourself, trying to salvage your manners. “I mean, thank you. Thank you. This is...I’m in your debt again assuredly but I can’t.”

“Why?” No accusation or hurt in his question. It is just a question.

“This is too rich a gift Loki. I can’t take it.”

You’ll be in his debt, you’re already in his debt. This is too much kindness, and too much kindness is never offered freely.

“These kinds of things, you should give them to…”

You are the Princess of a small kingdom. Your wealth and prestige can't match that of Asgard but being royalty and a woman besides, certain universal truths will out.

Nothing is given to a Princess for free. There's always a motive, something to gain.

Back home, men and women vied for your affection. They wanted the throne next to yours or your favor which would assure them rich rewards. True friends were rare beyond the obligation of Captain and soldier. Fa’Rey--before her dagger proved you wrong--was the only one of them you really trusted.

You left no lovers behind, you're pretty sure you don't even know what that kind of love feels like. So why all this?

“You should give them to someone special. Someone who means something to you. Not me.”

One kiss ago, Loki was a stranger. He saved your life twice over, he restored Se’risa to you. He was an infuriating bastard who you couldn't stop thinking about. But he was still a stranger.

One kiss later, he still is. And you still can't stop thinking about him.

But he's still a stranger.

“You’re a stranger Loki, I don’t know anything about you and you don’t know anything about me. All I know is...that kiss was really good and I’d like more. That’s all I know. And I have no idea what’s going on in your head, if you even feel...What do you want from me, Loki?”

Everything. He wants you, to kiss you again like he did yesterday, but he’s greedy. He wants more. Loki is selfish and gluttonous, he’s had a taste and now he wants you whole. He could ask, or offer, or imply his wishes, leave his door open for you to walk through at any time and for you, his door would always be open.

But with the way you look at him, the way you trust him so earnestly, he knows it would never just stop at his bed. He’s greedy, he knows the depths of his faults. He wouldn’t stop until he’s got your heart in his jaws. And you can’t know that, you can never know that.

“She deserves better.”

“You misunderstand me, none of this is for you.”

Your heart drops, makes a new home around your ankles. “Oh.” You try to put it back in place, salvage some of your pride. “Then why?”

“You’re a poor liar. The worst in fact.”

“I don’t under--”

He interrupts you. “So here’s a bracelet. One for every day of the week. Two for holidays. Three for feast days, so you don’t have to lie to the poor little filly anymore and my reputation remains intact.”

He’s satisfied when the smile returns to your face, he’s held off the truth for a little while yet. He’ll tow the line for now as best he can, keep the beast at bay.

Your heart lifts, somewhere in the clouds now. “Why didn’t you say so.”

He forgets himself, his turmoil, the moment your lips are on his again. He simply forgets.

There’s no doubt this time as to who kisses whom. You wrap your arms around his neck, close your eyes, and it’s magic again. Magic that sparks between you like lightning. You smell rain and leather, you hear thunder in the low groan that rumbles either in his chest or yours, you can’t tell anymore.

Yes! This is what he’s craved all day. This. Just like this. You close and soft and yielding in his arms. Not too much, he warns himself. Savor this, make it last as long as you can. Maybe it will be different this time. Maybe you’ll be different this time.

He keeps you close when you part, won’t let you get too far away so that he can’t kiss you again.

“You saved my ass again.”

“And what would you have done princess, had I not?”

“I considered faking sick.”

“Keep your boasts more modest next time, or you will drain my treasury.”

You laugh and kiss the corner of his mouth.

“Why didn’t you just get me my bracelet back?”

You watch him select one, thick gold leaves studded with smaller emeralds. You give him your wrist and he slides it on, fitting as though made for you.

“It’d be easy to return your bracelet to you. So I didn’t. Besides, I suspect your pride is so damned prickly you'd figure out a way to pay Aleene with another one of your jewels and I’ve got better things to do than retrieve family treasures from petty creatures like her. This is will do.”

“Yes, it will.” You echo, and you aren’t talking about the jewelry.

Chapter Text

You’re a princess, you know how to handle yourself in polite company.

In theory.

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.”

“What?”

“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 groan.

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?”

“Yes.”

“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?”

“No.”

“So what…? Oh. Oh!

“What? What’s wrong now?”

“The Prince!”

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.”

“For?”

“Uhh…”

“Bit and tack! Just tell me.”

“Heartbreaking.”

“What is?”

“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.

Chapter Text

Niti accompanies you. It’s galling. You’re getting better, bit by bit you are, just not fast enough. Dizziness is your most common complaint, weakness a close second. Your strength has improved, walking isn't so harrowing anymore but sudden onset dizziness can still handicap you at a moment’s notice. Niti, for now, will be your crutch--in more ways than one, she's handy enough to keep you upright and remind you of protocol. The result is you, a woman in the prime of her life, hanging onto another like an invalid.

“But what’s worse, hanging on to me, or fainting into a fountain?”

“I’ve never had the opportunity to hang onto you before. How do I know it's not worse than fainting into a fountain?”

Niti laughs and and concedes the point, noting wryly. “Ask any of my girlfriends, they’ll tell you which is worse.”

“That doesn’t answer the…”

Niti laughs harder. “I know!”

The fur mantle keeps the cold at bay but you cinch it around your neck tighter, the low countries get cold but never like this and never for this long. There, summers start in Fourthmonth and last until Ninth. Here, the snows are still melting and afternoon strolls in the gardens can be ruined by sudden snowstorms.

“The clime does not agree with you, does it Princess?”

Niti pulls you up short so you can address your speaker.

She has the bluest eyes sharp enough to cut, intelligence as clear and striking as their color.

Ice blue eyes with ice blonde hair, she observes the customs of the Winter’s End season, dressed in the palest pink silk. If titles were earned on looks alone, she’d be the highest rank here, but she smiles and dips gracefully, looking as though the ground moved to accommodate her whims rather than her own legs moving.

“Highness.” She calls you.

Niti squeezes your arm. “Ylva,” she whispers. “A duchess.”

It takes a few heartbeats to recall the proper style of address, forcing Ylva to wait on your memory to return before she can resume conversation.

“Your Grace.” You say, nodding your head, returning her bow but not as deeply. “And yes, it is quite chilly still.”

“For you, I don't doubt. Lowlanders are summery folk, unsuited to Asgard’s winds.”

At its surface, the statement was correct, but her tone makes you feel odd. Your nerves perhaps, when was the last time you spoke this casually with another lady especially one of such finery?

“It is good to see you up and about, the ladies and were beginning to think you a ghost rather than living flesh. We are all very eager to meet you. None of us have encountered a Lowlander before, and a Princess besides. Will you join me as my guest? I will introduce you to the other ladies.”

Niti squeezes your arm again but keeps quiet.

You thank the Lady Ylva and follow as her willing guest.

**

The women sit in a covered terrace each attended by her own servant making for quite the crowd. While the conversation doesn't stop when you arrive, the tone shifts, excited whispers replacing the soft titter of the gentleborn.

Niti clears her throat comically loud, forcing the ladies to stop chittering about you and recognize that you’re standing right there. They rise to their feet scraping chairs against the flagstones.

A chorus of “Highness” circles the table and you’re finally allowed to sit.

Niti has to abandon you to stand a respectful distance away, close enough to render service, yet far enough away to offer privacy. You feel the loss immediately, you’re on your own now.

Ylva introduces the ladies in order of rank, you hope Niti is paying attention because there is no way you’re going to remember this many names attached to this many titles.

“We are humbled you could join us Princess.” Ylva speaks first and speaks the most, dominating and directing the conversation. She is the highest ranked here next to you, the other girls naturally follow her lead--or do so out of compulsion.

“The pleasure is mine.”

The conversation is a pleasant kind of awkward, that unsteady feeling that accompanies meeting anyone new. The girls talk a bit about themselves, their hobbies, why they’re here. Most are relatives of members of Lord Odin’s cabinet or the companions of Lady Frigga. They have their own lands and holdings left in the care of lesser relations while they participate in the grand social activities of court. This song and dance is familiar, you remember watching your mother and father weave in and out of crowds of noblemen and women when you were younger, hanging onto Hava’s skirts as she introduced you to their friends and courtiers.

“Ladies, can we talk of something else, it seems we have bored the Princess.” Ylva turns to you, indulgent smile lighting her face. “Lady Astrid, I hear your brother has returned from battle.”

The Lady Astrid perks up immediately. “Yes, he has. With nary a scratch or bruise upon him! Mother and I are glad he has returned.”

The ladies offer warm words congratulations, you barely murmur yours. You are glad her family is whole, but are reminded again that yours is not and never will be.

“He tells these harrowing stories about being right in the thick of battle! They frighten me terribly, though I am jealous. He fought with the prince!”

A distinct whistle of appreciation reverberates around you and you too perk up a bit. Glad, at least, for the change of topic. “My brother says the prince was so brave. Slaying the barbarians left and right. I wish I could have seen him.”

“We all do!” Another lady offers.

“Yes!”

“Which one?” You ask and the table quiets, staring at you, waiting for you to continue like they haven’t yet understood the question. “You speak of princes, which one? There are two. Unless there is another prince of whom I am not aware.”

Astrid laughs. “The Princess jokes! How funny!”

You’re sure you haven’t made any jokes.

“Princess,” Lady Astrid dips her head like a mother imparting a lesson to an ignorant child. You stiffen, balling your fists in your lap. “I’m sure you haven’t learned yet being new here, but there’s only one prince ever worth mentioning in polite company and that’s Prince Thor.”

Someone sighs and asks. “I wonder what he’s up to now?”

“Out hunting with Sir Hogun and Volstagg and Fandral and the Lady Sif--and that other one.”

“Ina, you would know his exact whereabouts!”

“I pay that smithy very well to keep me informed.”

“Remind us again, Aarda, why you’re so keen on him?”

“Well have you seen him?”

“I’d like to see more.”

“Ladies he’s more than just a pretty face. He’s gentle and kind and brave. He’s the perfect warrior in every way.”

The ladies talk in circles expounding on the virtues of the elder Prince. It annoys you. You don’t know Thor well enough to make any kind of assumptions of his character but you’re pretty sure he isn’t ‘the Upholder of all Light in the Realm’. Meanwhile the prince you do know, is only mentioned as a foil for his brother. The adjectives they use aren’t very kind, cruel even.

“You all speak as though Prince Loki has none of these qualities.”

“He doesn’t.” One of the women shrugs, her answer believed as immutable fact.

“How would you know?”

“We just know. We’ve always known. He has the look of a snake. And his tongue carries twice the venom. I heard he once made a girl cry just by looking at her.”

“He’s fearsome.”

“And a coward.” Lady Astrid affrims with a solemn nod. “My brother didn’t mention seeing him in the battle at all. Probably hiding somewhere under a rock while Prince Thor and Lord Odin smashed those barbarians to bits singlehandedly!”

You’ve seen his memory of that battle, you saw the blood on him. You watched helplessly as he watched your mother fall. Patience flies from you, as do your manners.

“Prince Loki is no coward! He was in the vanguard with my mother, he watched her die!” You point at Lady Astrid so there would be no mistake about whom you were speaking. “The only soldiers who are cowards are those who come back without a scar!”

You rise too quickly to your feet, over and done with this exercise in futility. You’re glad when the ladies have to rise with you murmuring “Highness” as Lady Astrid remains seated, too shocked to do anything but blubber by a child. You’re glad you’re not obligated to return the address. Niti has your arm the moment you stand, and you’re glad for it, a wave of dizziness nearly knocks you back into your seat. Not the most noble way to punctuate your exit.

“Where to Princess?”

“Anywhere but here.”

**

Niti walks without purpose, there’s really nowhere specifically you want to go, you just need to get away from those women.

“You really made an ass of yourself back there. I’m impressed. I’ve never seen a face on Lady Ylva like that. She usually looks like she’s got Mjolnir so far up her backside lightning might come out of her mouth instead of words.”

Niti laughs and you reluctantly smile. “Ylva was the most tolerable of the bunch.”

“And let me tell you princess, that’s a first. You should call on her tomorrow, so she can apologize to you.”

“Is that really necessary? Like you said, I was the asshole.”

“Yeah, so she has to apologize to you for introducing you into a situation where you had to be an asshole. She’ll also make suggestions on what to do about Lady Astrid.”

You sigh deeply. “I did call her brother a coward.”

“Baselessly too!” Niti boasts. “If you were of equal rank or less and Lady Astrid wasn’t a dull blade in mind and body she might have challenged you to a duel!”

You imagine Astrid opposite you in a dueling ring, brandishing a fearsome dinner fork as a weapon, wearing a silk breastplate and chiffon greaves.

“Oh you laugh but don’t come crying to me when she demands satisfaction!”

“Stop! Stop! It hurts to laugh!”

“It’s Ylva’s fault anyway. Bringing up the war like that.”

“Do you think she did it on purpose to upset me?”

“Maybe not intentionally. But she definitely wanted to orchestrate something where a girl could put her foot in her mouth saying something stupid. Opening your old wounds so she could later offer sympathy and her services. She’s a crafty one that Ylva.”

Niti speaks highly of her, her admiration plain.

“You’re smart Niti, why’d you choose me when you could have had a mistress like Ylva to take you places?”

“Well one: she’s already taken. And two: whose to say I won’t if one changes?”

You appreciate her honesty even though it stings a bit. “I hope to have won you over by then.”

“Keep pissing off the prissy skirts like you are and you will.”

Niti stops paying attention to her feet and you two amble down the marble corridors and gilded halls of the Palace. You stop by the lesson hall, the school day is not yet done but you can peek through the glass doors to see Se’risa sitting right up front, whole body leaning into the man speaking.

You don’t interrupt, you just watch. Se’risa’s handwriting is shaky but her letters are clear. You’re glad her hands don’t have to clean chamber pots anymore, they are far better suited to writing.

You and Niti depart before the instructor can dismiss the children for a break.

Before long you’re outside again, the sun is higher so it’s warmer, you don’t shiver so much as you walk the grounds. You pass couples along the way, making new acquaintances whose names you hope you remember.

Then you hear the sweetest sounds you’ve heard since waking.

“Down boy! Get down! C’mon hee! Hee!”

The man curses, and curses again but the horse keeps neighing. You stop dead to listen with your whole body.

“Niti.”

“You got it.”

She leads you to the source of the noise, the horse corral where a man is trying desperately to gain a hold of an intractable horse.

“You don’t understand! They’ll melt your hooves for jam if you don’t calm yourself!”

“Edvard! What about our coin? You bet us 100 silver you could tame this beast. Even Lord Thor won’t have anything to do with him!”

“I’m trying! The bastard just won’t heel!”

The horse bit and reared, tossing its rust red head this way and that, swerving away whenever the man was within striking distance with his reins. He was toying with the man. The horse, so inclined, could easily trample him, crush both knees with a well placed kick. This was a diversion, a distraction from the daily torment of waiting for his mistress.

You.

Chapter Text

You know this horse. You delivered him from his mother. You slept in the barn with him, was with him when he took his first shaky steps on new legs. He’s whip smart, all your people’s horses are, but he is exceptionally so. That’s why you named him Cephalus. “The Brain.” There was no finer animal in this world.

You’re in tears, no way to stop them, you started crying the moment you heard the neigh, knowing his cry anywhere. You thought he died with Hava but there he is standing--rearing-- before you, ready to bite this poor man’s hand off and call it a day.

“Cephalus!”

You break free from Niti, you don’t need her legs anymore, you’ve found yours. Cephalus hears you and stops his tantrum long enough for the Edvard fellow to grab his reins.

“Gotcha helbeast!”

Incensed, Cephalus bites the man’s wrist hard, bolting free of him the moment he’s released. He leaps over the low fence of the corral and gallops across the open field toward you.

Mistress!

Niti shrieks, assured you’ll be trampled into the grass but Cephalus rears high and comes to a stop inches from you, nudging you desperately with his nose.

No one understands you, joy’s knocked the sense and the common tongue right out of you. Cephalus whinnies, pressing as much of him against you as he can, speaking the horse language you don’t understand trying to make you feel how much he missed you.

And though you can’t comprehend him, you know.

“Princess!” Niti, swallowing her heart so it returns to her chest from her throat, approaches, extremely wary of the horse. “Seems like you two ’ve met before.”

Cephalus paws the dirt and nods his head, mimicking your own nod.

“This is my partner, Cephalus.”

“Partner? The Low Countries are more liberal than I thought.”

You and Cephalus fix Niti with the same glare. “Not like that! We don’t own horses. It’s a partnership, lifelong in most cases. Mutually beneficial. Losing a horse, especially a warhorse is like losing a limb. I was walking around missing the rest of my legs, and he’s been here the whole time. Tack and Bit, I am so glad to see you.”

You more mistress, these Asgard men are awful.

“Ladies!” A man, the one in the corral with Cephalus reaches for his reins and the horse submits, too close to his mistress to cause a ruckus. “Apologies for the wild horse, it’s a good thing you managed to stop him. I shudder to think what would have happened if he hadn’t!”

The man is kind faced, he gives his smiles away easily and pays for it with the lines etched into the ruddy skin around his eyes and mouth. His bright blue eyes are wide and searching, fearful one of you is hurt.

“Unhand him. He stopped because he wanted to.”

“Edvard!” Someone screams from the stable entrance, an older looking bearded man. “Don’t think this means you’ve gotten out of paying us!”

“I’ll get you your bloody money! HOLD ON!” He bellows, the red in his face deepening about the ears and cheeks. He’s soft bodied, no soldier, the build of a nobleman who’s done aught else but bet on things and argue about them.

“Apologies again Mistress…”

“Princess.” Niti corrects because she knows you really weren’t going to do it yourself.

Edvard mouths the word ‘princess’ shocked. “You’re the Princess! The Princess. The one from the horselands and this..”

“Is my comrade, let him go!”

He releases the reins immediately and Cephalus, glad to be free of him prances behind you and away from him.

“No wonder you tamed him, they say your people and horses are of a kind.“

“We are not sir. But he is my partner and friend. He knows my mind as much as I know his. Are you hurt?”

Edvard rubs his bitten wrist, there are indents of his teeth but the skin remains unbroken. “Oh no your highness, he stopped before any real damage…”

Your start inspecting Cephalus, making clear your question was for the horse. He looks good, shiny coat, glossy mane.

“They feed you? Run you?”

Cephalus nickers softly.

“Good. Good.” You pat the horse's neck reaching for your pocket of sweets you forget isn't there anymore. Cephalus enjoys chewing on the anise candies your old stablemaster made. He said he never groomed a steed who didn't like them. Tomorrow you'll venture to the kitchens and ask if they can make something similar. But for now…

“Princess, if you would, I have to return the horse to the stables before they notice he's missing.”

“You will not! He is in my care now as is proper.”

You grin, and Niti knows your thoughts before you utter them.

“Princess! Don't! You're not ready!”

You toss an imperious grin at Niti.

“Thank you, sir, for saddling him for me.”

It’s not as difficult for you as you thought it'd be. Leg in one stirrup, lift, swing, and your whole again. Where you belong, snug in the saddle of your comrade.

“Princess! You're in a damn dress. Don't!” Niti curses, helpless to stop you from the ground.

He knows to run, you don't make a sound, you don't suck your teeth or squeeze your legs or shout Volé-- the command to fly. He simply takes off on his own.

Wind tangles in your hair and stings your eyes closed. Cephalus is your eyes now and you trust his better than your own. The creeping ache in your legs melts away, displaced by wind burn as your dress hikes high revealing bare skin. You're likely indecent but you dare a man to catch you to see. You can out run lighting and best a Valkyrie on the wing. You are faster than sound and you know this because you never hear your scream of joy losing it somewhere in Cephalus’s trail of dust.

You fly, wingless. You release the reins, bold enough spread your arms out, the air whipping over and under affecting the sensation of flight. You stay grounded though, holding on with skill, talent, and more luck than there is strength in your legs.

Cephalus warns you, you feel his muscles shift and stretch, preparation for a jump. You take the reins in hand again and you urge him on as he clears a hedge, forquarters clipping the greenery spraying leaves in your face.

You just laugh and Cephalus laughs with you.

Cephy is a brilliant steed, even your mother agreed. He was not her gift, warhorses cannot be gifted. They are chosen before birth, bloodlines researched in the annals of meticulously maintained and updated genealogies. You chose his mother, the Sages chose his sire, and together they crafted a horse to rival Crimson Rabbit, the God of Horses in your land.

“He runs over 1000 miles without stopping,” the Sage told her, reciting the old mythologies. “He can leap rivers and cross mountains as though running on nothing more than rolling grass. He is dangerous riderless, and deadly when coupled with a doughty warrior and you Princess, have seemed to have birthed his son.”

How far away is home? How many crossed mountains or leapt rivers would it take to get there? You feel like you could run all the way home like this. Cephalus has read your heart in the way only he could and made its desire his command.

Take her home.

You see it in your head, clear as diamond crystal. Charging in on Cephalus, in your Captain’s armor, your mother’s Crescent Halberd in your hand. You challenge the King and his Princess, you defend what’s yours and take it back with bloody hands. The people sing and cheer, overjoyed you’re home. You’re home. Se’risa is with you and you are home.

But you’re not in armor, you’re wearing a dress. You don’t have your mother’s halberd, it was lost on the battlefield. And as you are, you can’t manage to keep a simple dagger much less fight for a kingdom back. Cephalus knows none of these things, that you have no home.

“Cephy hee!”

The horse slows up, canters into a stop. You pat his neck. “Well done, Cephy. Well done.”

Then you look around and have no idea where you are.

 

It's a green field, no natural markers to place you, you can't even see the palace anymore. Cephy faces west, into the setting sun, but getting back won't be as easy as turning him around and running full tilt the way the you came. You jumped rivers, cut through a copse of trees, bore east down a gentle slope, and stopped here with no way of knowing which way is back.

Shit.

The sun is westerly and sinking fast. You have an hour of daylight left and there are heavy grey clouds borne aloft by quickly cooling winds from the south.

Shit.

You're in a dress made for spring days, not winter nights. No one knows where you are or would even assume you’re missing. You are a princess, dressed and jeweled like one and there might be bandits in these hills.

Shit.

Chapter Text

There are good days with Thor and bad days. Make no mistake he loves his brother, there's something endearing about him that he can't deny. But he never conflates his love for his brother with like and there are just some days when fratricide seems like the better option than dealing with one more inane word from his mouth.

 

The only reason the man survived childhood without being smothered by a pillow was because of that damnable filial affection and the fact that it'd break his mother's heart.

 

Today though, the urge to stab isn’t so compelling.

 

“You’re in a good mood today brother. Nary a sour word from you.”

 

The brothers went on a hunt today with Thor’s three lackeys and the Lady Sif. Bloodsport isn’t usually a pastime of his but he shot well today. A hare and two quails.

 

“I dare say Prince Loki is in a good mood. What small child did you torture for that smile?” Volstagg jests, handing the reins of his mount to the smithy for new shoes.

 

“You call that a smile?” Lady Sif asks. “His mouth is a flat line.”

 

“Any face on Loki that’s not a frown is a smile.” Hogun laughs, poking Loki in the ribs with his elbow.

 

Upon further evaluation, this day is now terrible and murdering all of them is the only way to improve it.

 

But before he’s allowed to enact his completely justified killing spree, a commotion in the stables alerts him.

 

“We cannot find her. She’s nowhere on the grounds!”

 

“We found a ruined hedge and that’s about it. No hoofprints. Like the damn thing could fly.”

 

“We have to find the girl!”

 

“Forget the girl, we have to find the horse! It’s worth far more than the woman! And speaking of worth, you still owe us money Edvard!”

 

“You there.” The men startle and bow upon being interrupted by Prince Thor. “What has happened?”

 

“Lord Odin’s troublesome horse has escaped.” A tall bearded one answers.

 

A smaller man, barely an adolescent pipes up from behind him, shivering either out of chill or fear. “Lord Odin promised riches for the man who could tame him. That’s all we wanted. We only wanted to try.”

 

“What are you talking about? What horse?”

 

“The huge red one!”

 

Loki knows that horse, Thor does too.

 

“Brother, is that the Princess’s horse? The one we found with her?”

 

“So that why it came to her.”

 

Loki moves like the shadows behind a flickering light. He seizes the bearded man--a man an entire head taller than him--and lifts him off his feet.

 

“Speak. Quickly.” He squeezes his neck with every word.

 

“We were taming--the horse.”

 

I was taming him!”

 

“Shut up Edvard.”

 

“SPEAK!” Loki belows, black nailed hands constricting tighter around his prey’s neck.

 

“The horse saw the woman, ran to her. She got on the horse and disappeared. I’ve never seen anything move so fast!”

 

Loki drops the man. “The Princess is gone.”

 

“Gone? Has she run away?”

 

Loki dismisses the notion as soon as Thor says it. She can’t run away, where would she go? He thought she was content here, if not happy. Why would she just run unless…

 

She’s a better liar than you think, fool.

 

The voice comes on his bad days, on the days he feels like taking a pillow to his brother’s face and taking a match to everything else. The kind of days that see him locked in his room amongst the silence of his things because they can’t betray him, because cold objects love him more than any living flesh. That voice comes to him now to tell him.

 

She ran from you , Loki Liesmith .

 

“My Princess did not run away!”

 

Another voice, smaller, higher pitched but with just as much conviction as the ones coming from full grown men, drives away his darker one. The little filly - Se’risa-- small hands clasped between Frigga and what looks to be a servant.

 

“What in the Nine has happened here? I give that girl my hospitality and this is how she repays me?”

 

“Lord Odin!”

 

Everyone has to bow, only Se’risa doesn’t, looking among the faces of the adults searching for the one who will bring the Princess home. She settles on Loki and does not waver.

 

“I brought the Princess here on a walk. She saw her horse being abused by those men there.” The servant points to the men, the blue-eyed fool Edvard, the bearded oaf, and the child. “The horse escapes his tormentors at his mistress’s call. She starts to cry, she’s happy, she gets on the horse for a ride and they disappear. Like cockroaches when you light a candle.”

 

Volstagg makes a queasy face, stomach soured by the imagery.

 

“She didn’t run away!” Se’risa protests again, hiding her sniffling behind a brave face.

 

“No she did not.” Frigga squeezes the child’s hand, speaks to her but looks only at her younger son. “She’s too many precious things here to leave them behind. We must find her. Send our scouts she can’t have gotten far.”

 

“Lady Frigga we tried. There’s nothing to find, no trace or track. She’s of the horsefolk, she doesn’t want to be found.”

 

“That’s not true!” Se’risa speaks, stepping from behind Frigga’s protective skirts. “My lady rides Cephalus the Swift, heir to the Chitu--” She corrects herself from her tongue to the common one. “The Crimson Rabbit.”

 

“How exactly does that help child?” Odin asks.

 

“He runs over mountains like it’s flat land. He’s so fast he outruns starlight.”

 

Odin laughs in the girl’s face. “Impossible.”

 

“No,” Loki asserts. “It’s not. Her people breed horses, have for ages. Their creatures are superior to ours. Magic. They could travel 100, 200 hundred miles away in any direction in the blink of an eye and she’s a stranger in our lands, she wouldn’t know her way back.”

 

“Then how do we find her?” The Lady Sif clenches her mounts reins in her hand, eager to offer assistance.

 

“My Lord, turn Heimdall’s eyes--”

 

“Absolutely not!”

 

Se’risa crumbles into tears.

 

“Father!”

 

“I said NO! The barbarians are not yet completely pacified. I must keep watch over them at all times. My Watcher must not be distracted.”

 

“My Lord.” Frigga pleads, squeezing Se’risa’s hand, trying to offer comfort to the girl.

 

“No, I said! Use whatever else you need to find the horse girl, but not him.”

 

Loki bristles, wondering if that’s how cruel he sounds when he calls you horse girl.

 

Yes.

 

“It’s dark,”  Hogun checks the sky, noting the wind and the clouds. “And I feel a blizzard coming. We must find her.”

 

“How? You heard Loki, wherever she is it’s far from here and the horse is so damned fast it’s hooves don’t touch the ground long enough to leave a track. How? It’s dark. It’s cold. She’ll be frozen or worse by the time we find her if we ever do.”

 

His imagination is gruesome. He’s seen the frozen dead, the maimed dead. He imagines your face, your smile. They don’t find you for months. The carrion crows have eaten away most of that smile and that face. The vision scares him enough to blurt aloud

 

I will find her.”

 

He won’t call it that, it’s too soon,(as if a function of time could make such a feeling any more or less valid.) He knows what he feels but names have power, and he’s not ready to give it any kind of power, unwilling to submit to a power large and strong enough to eclipse his own.

 

And never will if he has his way.

 

And yet though unnamed, the power compels him to kneel in front of a little girl for whom he has never regarded as more than a nuisance. Compels him to soothe her for no other reason than she is important to you.

 

“I will find her.”

 

Se’risa hugs him, sobbing ‘pleases’ and ‘thank yous’, and he feels cool metal press into the back of his neck when her arms wrap around it. He pries her loose by her fingers examining the loop of gold far too big and mature for her, resting on her wrist.

 

One of his bracelets.


“And I know how.” he says, eyes flashing green.

Chapter Text

It gets cold, fast. Keeping your cloak tight around your neck doesn’t do it any more. You’re shivering when the last orange rays of sunset streak the sky, and you’ve lost feeling in your fingers and toes by the time that light disappears. The sky, what you can see of it anyway, is all grey now, clouds hanging over you like swords ready to drop, but instead of steel they release soft puffy white flakes.

 

Cephalus nickers and whines, he’s not as cold but he’s suffering too. You can’t let him kick off into a gallop again because you don’t know where you’re going and you can’t make it harder for anyone else to find you.

 

And you hope people are trying to find you.

 

You don’t wonder if he’s coming for you, you know he is, you have to believe he would. He cares enough right? You mean something to him, don't you? He wouldn’t just write you off?

 

I’m sorry mistress, I don't know where to go.  Cephalus paws at the snow, hoof swiping away an inch of accumulation, the layer getting thicker by the second.

 

You lean forward and wrap your arms around his neck, leeching heat from him. Your legs hurt and your head is throbbing.

 

You get sleepy.

 

**

 

You light up like a beacon in his mind, a lighthouse in his dark thoughts. You chase the shadows from his consciousness and become his sole point of focus. Loki flexes his magic, plucks it like the strings of an instrument feeling sound reverb, strike you, and travel back.

 

“North.”

 

Thor, Sif, Volstagg, Hogun, and Fandral accompany him on horses.

 

“How far?” Thor pulls his cloak over his head to shield his eyes from the sleet.

 

“I can’t tell, just ride north. Hya!”

 

**

 

Cephalus is smart, you named him well. He finds for you a cave.

 

If you ever see Niti again, you’re burning your dresses and wearing nothing but your Captain’s leathers for the rest of your life. One of your slippers fell off during your quest for shelter and you can’t feel anything from your knees down, like your legs are just frozen stumps. They make it very difficult for you to pry yourself off the horse, you manage but end up falling into a drift, ensuring from the flakes in your hair down to your feet you are covered in melting snow, dripping wet.

 

You take Cephy’s reins and he helps pull you to your feet, together you walk into the cave. You’ve nothing to light a fire with, you can’t even find anything in all this darkness dry enough to strike together to try. So you sit, and wait for daylight.

 

Or death.

 

Cephalus lays down next to you, he keeps you warm, but unless you can crawl inside his belly, the places he can’t touch freeze.

 

You’re getting sleepier.

 

**

 

He calls your name but the wind takes it and returns no echo.

 

Again.

 

Nothing.

 

He pulls on his magic again, your face explodes in his mind, illuminated with little points of light. The picture is clearer than it was, sharper, in his mind you smile and that unnamed power flares again amplifying his magic.

 

“Princess! Answer me!”

 

“Loki?”

 

**

 

You hear him call for you, not from outside but inside your mind. Like he’s right there whispering in your ear, his chest to your back, his arms around you.

 

“Princess! Answer me!”

 

“Loki?”

 

“Princess! Where are you?”

 

“I...I...m in a cave somewhere. P-Please, it’s so cold.” Your teeth chatter so hard you feel like you could slice off a bit of your tongue.

 

“Princess,” It really feels like he’s here with you. He’s close, and warm. He smells like leather and lightning and his arms make you feel like everything is going to be okay. “Princess, Listen to me.” You almost feel his breath on the shell of your ear, you shiver and it’s not from cold. “I am coming for you.”

 

**

 

There are no caves around, just flat land and trees, but the land juts up in the distance, the flat lands give way to rocky hills, that might be where you are.

 

“Thor! Those hills!” He points. “Spread out, search for a cave, she’s in a cave!”

 

“Aye!”

 

“Princess we’re coming.”

 

He waits for you to respond, but he hears nothing. “Princess! Do you hear me?!”

 

“Leav-ve me a-alone!”

 

**

 

You strain to hear more of Loki, to keep him as near you as you can manage, but you just can’t keep your eyes open, you’re freezing, and hurting and so very tired. Just a moment's rest, you bargain with yourself, just a moment, and when you wake up, Loki will be here and you’ll be safe.

 

Cephalus nudges your head with his nose, snorting in distress.

 

Don’t sleep mistress, you can’t.

 

“Well, well, well boys. Looka here.”

 

This voice comes from outside and it doesn’t hold you, it shoves you. A booted foot kicks you in the stomach, sending you sprawling and startling Cephalus to stand.

 

“Whatcha got there?”

 

You’re too groggy to count them, but your fuzzy mind can guess who they are.

 

Highwaymen.

 

“Fellas.”

 

“Hey!” A lighter feminine voice protests.

 

“Al’right Fellas plus one . Looks like we found some fun in all this shitty snow. You look like you’re from the palace. Whatcha doin’ so far from ‘ome love?”

 

“Leav-ve me a-alone!”

 

You know how to take a hit. And if you weren’t exhausted, frozen, and generally still recovering from almost dying a few months ago you could take hits far heavier than that, but your ribs sting like they’re broken and it’s very hard to breathe.

 

They mock the chattering noises you make, laughing. Cephalus nudges you, reminding you he’s still here and he can help. Strangers would make a normal horse skittish and jumpy, Cephalus stands still, his reins at your hand. You could mount and bolt but they’ve come in from the outside blocking the entrance to the cave and Loki’s coming for you, you have to stay put.

 

“Leave ‘er alone she says. But you look so cold madam. We could warm you up. For a price.”

 

The bandits snicker and move closer to you, hemming you deeper into the cave.

 

“Your horse alone looks like he’s worth a fortune. Hand me the reins and whatever else fancy you got and we’ll let you snuggle up next to--”

 

“One of us!”

 

“To our fire.” The leader corrects.

 

Cephalus neighs his answer and you agree.

 

“No.”

 

They laugh harder.

 

Then they reach for their swords.



**

 

He doesn’t understand your sudden refusal, you were just begging for his help. He calls for you again, pulling hard on his magic, the strings starting to fray and the picture of you in his head gets dimmer until it blows out.

 

“Princess?”

 

He can’t see you anymore but he feels you, he feels your deadly terror before it winks out completely and the connection is severed. You are cut off from him, it feels more like your cut out of him, excised from his heart. He screams your name, your terror is now his.

 

“Princess!”

 

He needs to find you. Now! He breaks away from his brother and the rest, kicking his horse into a blind run. The hills grow larger and closer, the snow makes it hard to see, the wind impedes carried sound, but he needs neither to find you. Whether it’s the bracelet he’s cued into or just that power leading him to you, he doesn’t know, doesn’t care.

 

He has to find you.

 

**



Terror melts the ice in your limbs, makes your heart and mind race. Cephalus is calm and steady, his presence a reassurance.

 

That you won’t be fighting alone.

 

It is a mark of pride for one of your warriors to mount their horse in seconds and a warrior never forgets.

 

You have not forgotten.

 

You shout and Cephalus swings his heavy neck, the momentum enough to help you into the stirrup and your leg over on the other side of his body. A man dashes forward, sword flashing even in the thick darkness of the cave.

 

“High!” You shout and Cephalus rears, a mighty hoof striking your attacker just under his chin. 2000 pounds of angry, protective horse catching a man in the face. The bottom half of his skull shatters and he is dead before he hits the ground.

 

Someone screams, Cephalus screams, another bandit slashes at him, drawing a long red stripe of pain across the horse’s shoulders and neck. You pull his reins hard right and turn Cephalus’s body to create room between you and them.

 

Had you a halberd, this would be over in seconds. One good swing and you can take more than one head. But the heir of Crimson Rabbit is a weapon in his own right, as he turns he flicks his long tail in the face of the next closest assailant, blinding her long enough for him to swing fully around, kick his out his back leg, and cave the woman’s chest in.

 

Arms are around your thighs and ankles, pulling, you feel like your leg is going to dislocate from the joint. Another pair of hands reach for Cephalus’s reins to control him, he’s still worth far more alive than you are.

 

So while Cephalus kicks and screams, struggling with the man trying to pull you off him, you give the other man exactly what he wants. You let go of the reins, throw them forward, and they’re long enough to miss his hands and wrap around his neck.

 

“Rear!”

 

Cephalus obeys even as the arms reaching for you get a good hold and pull. As he rears up, you are torn from the saddle and the man wrapped in the reins is yanked forward until he looses his balance and falls to the ground.

 

Right under Cephalus’s hooves.

 

There’s only one left and he’s got you, pulled you out of the saddle and into the dirt. There’s no time to scream, you don’t have a weapon. You can’t fight a sword in silks it’ll tear through you, one clean cut, messy with blood, right in half.

 

Cephalus tries to kick the corpse off his his forelegs while kicking with his back hoping to catch the last attacker with a deathblow to the back of the head. But he’s out of range. He’s going to stab you before Cephalus can here, it’s too quick, the fight is over and done in seconds and you’re the last one to die.

 

He’s too quick.

 

The magic is too quick.

 

Green lightning strikes the man in the back and he falls forward, almost crushing you under him.


“Princess!”

Chapter Text

Diminished by cold, injury, and exhaustion, all your might isn’t enough to push the corpse off you. Loki helps, rolling the body away sparing it several foul oaths and a kick to the ribs. That man died painlessly, feeling nothing, Loki wants to make the bastard hurt in the afterlife if he can.

 

“Rot in Hel you piece of shit filth!” Loki kicks him harder, breaking a bone somewhere. The crunch ignites a rage he can’t satisfy with even more cruel blows.

 

You nearly died. He’s not relieved he’s saved you, quite the opposite. He’s incensed, harboring misdirected wrath with nowhere to go. These bloated corpses touched you, wished to harm you, they did harm you, he sees the blood splatter on you.

 

You were almost taken from him.

 

The power that surges through him at the sight of your face and the sound of his name on your lips flares, oil thrown on a wildfire. His eyes green out completely, given over wholly to a bright emerald that is terrifying in its beauty. The magic, his magic, incinerates every corpse in a flash of green fire. They are dust in seconds.

 

He is angry.

 

Because he almost lost you.

 

And there was nothing he could do.

 

A boon of the fates, a left turn instead of a right, is the only reason you still breathe.

 

And there is nothing he can do about that.

 

He doesn’t control death, he cannot amend fate. All he has is you and the threat that one day he will lose you. Somehow, someway, by someone’s hands maybe even his own--he will lose you.

 

That impotence maddens him.

 

“Loki?”

 

You’ve made it to your feet, but just barely, leaning against the wall of the cave for balance. Cephalus nudges him in the back, pushing him a step towards you, the contact grounding him in the present where you’re still alive. His jagged edges soften, the light in his eyes dim. He is himself again.

 

“Princess.”

 

You smile when he calls your name, like a spell has been cast, like magic. Instantly your battle heat evaporates, burns up, sizzling away like a drop of water in a hot skillet leaving you frozen again. You’re drained of everything completely. You can let go now, you can fall because somehow you know he’ll catch you.

 

He does. You fall right into his arms.



You tremble violently, skin prickled by goosebumps so he wraps you in his cloak. It’s all he has but he’s never minded the cold, this is a spring squall, the snow will be gone by midday tomorrow.

 

“You came for me.” Each word is bitten off by the clatter of your teeth.

 

“Don’t talk.”

 

He cinches his cloak as tight around you as he can manage, covering every inch of you that he can reach. A clasp snags on the cream silk of your dress, tearing the ruined thing further.

 

“What is ridiculous clothing? Why aren’t you in riding clothes?”

 

You shake your head, eyes drooping, you have the answer to the question but you’re far too tired to voice it.

 

Loki sets you gently against the wall of the cave but your warhorse whimpers,

 

Go back.

 

And tries to block him from leaving the cave.

 

“Calm yourself beast, I’m not going anywhere far.”

 

Light sparks from his fingertips and shoots straight into the sky, a bright green and gold beacon of light. It makes a loud boom, ensuring it’s heard over the howl of the wind.

 

“The rest will find us now.”

 

He returns to you, your eyes are closed, head listing to the side. You look dead, like you’ve passed away in the seconds between when he held you last and now. He panics.

 

“Wake up Princess!”

 

His shout startles you, you jerk awake groaning.

 

“Loki…” You mumble. “Lemmie ‘lone. Tired.”

 

“I don't care! You must stay awake.”

 

You'll die of the Ice Sleep if he allows you to rest without warming you first. He lights a fire then takes you back into his arms, cradled like a precious thing.

 

When he holds you, you fill his gaps, you fit in his arms, your head on his shoulder, shuddered breath blowing against his neck. He uses it to keep time. In and out. In and out. It’s cadence comforts him, lets him know you’re still alive.

 

“You're an ice block,” he complains but only holds you tighter. “Keep awake, my brother will be here. We'll leave when the snow relents.”

 

You don't answer.

 

“Princess!”

 

This time his shouts don't move you, you sleep on, right into death.

 

“Princess!”

 

Fear trumps a delicate touch, he shakes you hard bringing you back again.

 

“Please.”

 

“No!”

 

“Tired.”

 

“I don't care! You will stay awake horse girl!”

 

Deadly defiant, your eyes flutter close again. He exhausted all his magic to find you, burning up the very last of it to burn those corpses and light the fire. He’ll lose you like this. You’ll die in his arms. That power he’s ignoring, the one he won’t name even though he knows what to call it, that devastating and wonderful word, squeezes his heart until there’s nothing left of it. Until only anger remains and he lashes out with it.

 

“You're so stupid running off like that! Were you even thinking at all horse girl?”

 

“Not my fault.” Your eyes are closed but you still answer. “Cephy ran.”

 

“Is the horse then to blame? I'll have him boiled down for gelatin and glue.”

 

That makes your eyes spring open. “You will not!”

 

Loki grins. You are so predictable he thinks before goading you more. “The kennelmaster will have a feast for his hounds.”

 

“If you touch him I’ll…”

 

“Do what? The same as you did to those bastards? Impressive work.” He pauses then adds for a stinging afterthought. “For a woman.”

 

He feels you stiffen, you actually struggle against the tight grip of his cloak and arms.

 

But you aren't complaining of exhaustion either.

 

“I am the Captain of the Royal Cavalry! Heir to the Crescent Halberd wielded by my line for millennia. I ride the progeny of Crimson Rabbit and he accepts no bridle but mine!”

 

Keep her angry , he thinks. Keep her talking. And you’ll keep her alive .

 

“Who is this Crimson Rabbit?”

 

Outside the snows swirl and Loki cannot sense his brother. He dares not leave you to find him or risk you succumbing as he searches. This night he'll wait out, keeping you close and warm and alive. The power simmers under his skin, enlivened every time he meets your eyes. He is close to naming it, accepting it for what it means and what it will do to him. For your life.

 

“The God of Horses. He has a red coat, stained by the blood of the unworthy who tried to tame him. He runs 1000 miles in a day.  Across water and mountains like flat land.”

 

He knows this tale. But he listens, content that you’re still talking.

 

“He is the God of Horses but is he not also your king?”

 

You nod, smiling. “You've been reading.”

 

Loki scoffs, unwilling to admit he's spent more than a few days engrossed in the histories of your kingdom.

 

“How, then, did the God of Horses become a king of men?”

 

Your eyes focus on his, unable to waver from the green warmth that feels like a forest in summertime. He came for you. Saved you. You don't regret what you said to the Lady Astrid.  You'll fight for him every time. To Hel with how he seems , you see him now for what he is, and you'll defend it.

 

You wriggle until your arm is freed from his protective cocoon and you place your hand on his face. Your body has been slowly warming but when you touch him, and he presses harder into your hand, the cold flees your limbs and melts the ice around your heart.

 

“He fell in love.” You whisper.

 

Loki knows the story. He finishes it.

 

“Yes. With a Princess.”

 

**

He doesn’t know where Thor is, but he’s no longer concerned with him arriving. Salvation can wait a little while. He speaks without words when he kisses you, expressing what he doesn’t know how to give voice to.

 

“Don’t you ever...”

 

“You have no idea how much…”

 

Loki is a man of strategy and action. He acts now and hopes it suffices for the words he won’t ever say. He tells you in his own way, with lips and tongue but no sound save the quiet huff of his breath and the low growl in his throat.

 

His cloak falls away from your shoulders and arms but you’re not cold anymore. His face covers yours, he imparts his warmth into you and it tingles from your scalp to your toes. He feels like

 

Magic

 

What was frozen melts.

 

What was cold, blazes.

 

What was exhaustion is now suffused with new vigor. You hold him still, hands clasped around his neck, the bracelet you don’t know is what he used to find you, pressing into his skin leaving starburst patterns in his flesh.

 

He lets you fall.

 

No.

 

He guides you. Lays you down atop his spread out cloak pressing the long lanky length of his body against your own.

 

With one arm braced against the ground, his other is free to roam, reading you with his fingers, every bump and curve. The silk of your dress parts easy for him, bare flesh for the taking.

 

You call his name and arch into him. When he doesn’t move, you arch again. Murmuring ‘yes’ into his mouth. ‘Please.’

 

“Princess.” He growls and groans, obeying. You sear him with your softness, from the curve of your shoulder, down around the swell of your chest. He stops here to sample, squeezing your breast gently, gently , his thumb brushing over a nipple that responds immediately.

 

Your gasp pierces the murmuring quiet in the cave. You've never been…

 

Your mind whites out when he repeats the action. “So responsive Princess. What other sounds will you make when I….”

 

He leaves your mouth, nipping your lip making a promise to return. You offer your neck and he accepts, feeding on your pulse a man starved for your life. His hand kneads you, pinching and pulling and rolling you between his fingers.

 

You whimper and moan and beg for more because this is literally unlike anything you've ever felt. You doubt there's more to feel, but he proves you wrong. Slipping the silk off your shoulders, he moves again and takes that well loved nipple into his mouth.

 

The way you scream only encourages him. He is gluttonous and greedy, of you he would never be satisfied. He needs more.

 

He switches, leaves a kiss on one tight bud bud then licks his way to the other and you cry just as loud when he suckles you there.

 

“Loki. Loki.” You’re at war in your own body, the sensation is too much and it’s yet not enough. You squirm, pushing more of yourself into his hands, giving. Giving. Urging him to take. Take.

 

“Enraptured already? I’ve barely touched you.”

 

His hands, nimble and deft snake lower to your parted thighs that you suddenly snap shut.

 

“W-wait. I…” Your chest tightens with a truth that makes it difficult to breath. You feel that sweet ache between your legs, but it’s a throbbing that’s only been self-satisfied.

 

You cover your eyes with the crook of your arm, turning your face from him.

 

Undisturbed, he kisses his way up from between lush breasts, around the curve of your collarbone and finally home to your lips.

 

“Don't hide. Tell me.”

 

You’ve no doubt it’s a command, Loki doesn’t ask, but his voice is tender enough for you to move your arm away but keeping your eyes on the ceiling. You are not ashamed of your inexperience, neither are you worried about his potential reaction to it, but your tongue keeps still in your mouth as you try to find the right way to say it.

 

But he's patient, he waits, idling with nibbles and nips to your throat.

 

“I...I’ve...you…”

 

You can barely speak as it is, and his tongue on your flesh makes it impossible. With your hands framing his face, you pull him to you, hiding your confession amidst kisses.

 

“You've had lovers before me?”  You know he has according to Niti but you'd rather not presume. So the question sounds like it's half-asked half-stated.

 

Loki chuckles around your lips, sucking the sweet from them.  “Does this concern?”

 

“No. I don't mean it...I mean to say you have, I haven't.”

 

You hide your face in his neck, embarrassed by this clumsy little confession. But he pulls you from him, humming softly.

 

“I was right then, you do come from a country of fools.”

 

He kisses you before you can argue with him, before he sees the bashful smile fill up your face. “Then guide me, Princess. I am yours to command.”

 

He means it. He is as greedy for his lovers’ pleasure as he is for his own. And for yours he's desperate, insatiable. He offers you his hands, instructions implicit.

 

Show me where to touch you.

 

Your hand shivers as it reaches for his. How does he prefer his lovers? Does he fancy innocence or wantoness? You're inclined to neither, but you want him. It doesn't need to be special, and it's already magical-- he's the magic, it just needs to be right. Your hand hesitates in the air, hovering between your bodies, he takes it, threads your fingers together, steadying.

 

Take your time. As much time.

 

Slowly, timidly, with your hands locked together, you place them on your chest and make him squeeze.

 

He loves the way your head tilts back, the way steam curls from your mouth when you sigh.

 

You’re bare from the waist up, dim firelight flickering on your skin. He chases those shadows with his fingertips, and traces patterns with his tongue from your collarbone to your earlobe.

 

You are beautiful. He thinks. And you need no embellishments beyond that. Even when his black lacquered and blunted nails hitch on one of your freshest scars, he murmurs ‘beautiful’ as he smooths his hand over the stretched and glossy skin. Silently promising he will flay the flesh from your cousin and uncle if he ever crosses their path.

 

Your nails scrape against his leather armor, hoping to dig through to skin, to leave your own marks on him, trace red furrows into his so pale flesh.

 

“Soon sweet. Patience.”

 

You groan, displeasure bubbling in your throat. You can't wait, you hunger. You reach for the ties and straps again but he shimmies away, his hand quick as green lightning palming both yours in his one and raising them above your head.

 

“Patience.” He growls, but the tingle his tone makes in the back of your head makes you only want to try him, to test that patience and experience whatever threats he’s promising.

 

He holds you in place, gripped tighter by his eyes on yours than with his hand around your wrists. Supported on his elbow, his free hand slides down and past the belt of silk around your waist. He watches your eyes widen as you figure where he means to go. Your breathing increases, steamy breath pours from your mouth, maddened by the mere promise of his touch.

 

“Loki.”

 

You're slick and soaking, he can tell. Lightning in a bottle ready to be freed all he has to do is…

 

“Open.”

 

You comply, parting your thighs, thrilled by how exposed you feel when you do.

 

“Pleas--“

 

Your cry strangles short as he drags a finger down the soon to be discarded damp cloth of your smallclothes.

 

Fates above you're drenched! You move and squirm and shout as though there were no barrier between your flesh and his so when he pushes the cloth aside to sample you directly…

 

Your heart stops, crushed by the pleasure of his fingers on you.

 

He releases your hands and they fly to his shoulders, something to hold to keep from drowning.

 

Like you are, it wouldn't take much, and he's no interest in teasing you overlong. Not this first time anyway.

 

“I cannot wait to have you home in my bed.”

 

“Yes!”

 

You answer him swiftly, a mattress of feathers is prefered to one of rocks, but more importantly you are eager and desperate for yet another time.

 

He moves his long and sinuous middle finger in shallow stokes, touching you, peeling back your petals and folds to uncover the raw pleasure within.

 

“You on my sheets. Sweaty and spent. Id wear you out till sunrise. I wonder can the horse princess withstand such vigorous riding?”

 

“Please!”

 

He has your swollen and silken bud under the pad of his finger, gently swirling because he can tell by the frantic cant of your head you'll be there soon.

 

He's a reader, a learner, and your face is the perfect study in passion. As he dips and swirls and swipes your clit he takes measure of the depth of your groans and the pitch of your pleas.

 

He listens as your breath tightens, pulled taut, stretched wide, too little flesh containing too much pleasure until the tension snaps and tears you to shreds, the howl of his name the sound of your breaking.

 

“Come for me Princess. For your Prince.”

 

He guides you through it, holds you still so your bucking hips don't smash into a rock.

 

The hand under your arched back lowers you onto his cloak, spreading it out to give him more space to lay.

 

“My stars.” But stars didn't do that to you,  Loki did. He put the fire in you and that explosion didn't burn you out.


“My prince.” You correct yourself. “My prince.”

Chapter Text

You fold up onto your elbows. A quick glance outside informs you that the snow still falls and Cephalus is turned discreetly away, dozing on forelegs.

Smart horse. You named him well.

You reach for Loki and pull him down with you back onto his cloak.

“More,” you demand as you kiss him, hard, bold tongue pressing against his, imperious.

Your Prince laughs, flattered by your arrogance. No matter. He already has plans to humble you.

“Then undress me Princess. And hurry.”

You have no idea how you’re supposed to do that with his fingers still roaming, distracting you. And when he’s dressed in intricate armor with more straps and ties and belts than actual armor. Lust dulls your dexterity, you fumble with the knots and he makes no attempt to help you, amused by your frustration.

“Where I come from, armor is armor. Two pieces, sewn together. Not all this nonsense.” You grumble fumbling with a knot.

He lifts your head, brings his lips to yours. “Hurry. Up.” He purrs, making sure your frustration with him doubles. Bastard.

But you spy his downfall, attached to his belt..

Your father’s dagger.

You unsheath the blade and slice open one side of strings that hold his leather tunic closed.

“You dare!” He shouts, voice caught between ‘How dare you!’ and ‘How dare you stop!’

Outraged and powerfully aroused, he abandons his pretense of teasing you with the task of undressing him and does it himself.

Every swathe of skin he reveals, you sample. First his chest, and you, quick study as you are, take one of his rosy budded nipples between your teeth. When he hisses you release him, stammering apologies that he dismisses with a shake of his head.

“Do not stop.”

Pride and power mix in your heated blood, a dangerous cocktail that intoxicates. Your head swims in the sighs you make him make with your mouth and teeth on his flesh.

You learn fast the best ways to make him sigh. He favors his earlobes bitten, his neck, his chest. You pepper him with teeth marks until he is well seasoned across his body in round red little welts.

Your hands perform the same work, nails scratching down the length of his back and over his still clothed thighs. You hook your thigh over his hips and squeeze, bringing the two of you nigh flush. Loki’s groan thunders in both your chests, and he pushes his hips forward to match your movements. You clash but you don't meet, unable to fully join for the breeches he's still wearing, but you can feel him, his hard length bumping against your inner thigh as you slowly rock against him.

“I want you.” You tell him, gasping. He's put a thigh between yours, set you grinding against him, reaching for the deeper buried pleasure to bring to the surface of your skin.

He pretends not to hear, pretends to be lost in the crook of your neck, smothered by the sweet softness of your hair and skin. He keeps moving that thigh, one hand ironbound on your hip guiding you slowly back and forth, preparing you for what's to come next.

“Loki! Please!” you shudder, close again to bliss and that's all he wanted, just another strangled cry of his name to satisfy his vanity.

“Well when you ask so sweetly.” He pushes gently on your shoulders.

“Lay.”

From your back you observe his fingers unbutton and untie his breeches. His hands hook into his waistband and pushes down over slim hips and sinewy thighs until they come free.

You stare, your familiarity with male anatomy is mostly confined to biology and horses. You know what to expect and though virginal you were never prudish, you enjoyed hearing the tales of your soldiers’ conquests off the battlefield. But it's hard to reconcile that all of him, all the magic of him, from sharp cut of his cheekbones, to the flat expanse of muscled chest, to the icy smile that feels warm when you kiss it--is for you.

“Impressed?” he croons.

He's seen your eyes rake over him, had they nails he'd be torn to ribbons. And of course he's noticed your eyes linger in his southerly regions and the bob of your throat as you swallow an awed sigh. He preens, if ever his former lovers had a complaint of him, it was never about quantity.

“Am I supposed to be?” Your question was honest having no real basis for comparison but his pride shrivels anyway.

“You will be.” He growls. “That I promise.”

He rests atop you, propped on elbows, the two of you content for the moment just like this. Your arms are strong wrapped around him, that no one’s held you like this before. You do come from a country of fools.

“Princess.”

But this cold and filthy cave is not where you were meant to be. You should be in his chambers, in his bed, his arms

His.

He lowers himself and you open for him, arms and heart.

“I won't hurt you.”

Its instinctive to reassure. He's never forced a lover and he never will, but rumor and his reputation for broken hearts obscure fact, painting a gruesome picture he'd rather leave ignored. Addressed only when some nervous lover winds up in his bed looking for a taste of the darker prince.

But you say. ‘I know,’ as he descends. ‘I know.’

He never had to disprove to you he wasn't a monster. You knew.

He slides against you, coating himself in your slick. Your nails sink into his shoulders, you tense, ready for this, for him, anticipating the bite of pain that you expect when he fits inside.

“Ready?”

You cant speak, only nod.

You feel him, you feel him push, you feel yourself part and stretch, you wait for the pain as he moves, filling you.

It never comes. You feel an odd stuffed sensation, but no pain. His hips meet yours, seated fully, deeply too you note, but there's no pain or discomfort.

Just magic.

“Good girl. Sweet girl.”

You fit him beautifully. Your face, so wonderfully expressive, tells him everything, conveys every spark of pleasure that shoots through you. He remains still, waiting, it's you who moves. Who lifts her hips and pushes him deeper, it's you who gasps and groans.

It's you who goes too fast with the snap and roll of your hips. He grinds a curse between his teeth, centers your hips in his hands to control the pace. If you do that again…

You do, and he can't catch the moan that tears from him.

“Steady Princess.”

But you don't want steady. You feel amazing and you chase that feeling down the length of his cock, slamming into him again.

Loki curses, frissons of lust coursing the length of his body, making him twitch inside of you. He's not cold but you tease gooseflesh out of him with the way you move.

He means to be gentle, gentle is the only way he'll last with you fluttering and squeezing him like you are. But the sound of his name screamed and sighed will likely finish him long before the sharp snap of your hips will.

“Princess.” He chokes on your name. And you answer him with his.

Your eyes are somewhere in the stars, bursts of light blooming across your vision at the end of every thrust. Your heart jumps and stutters, it knocks free of your ribs, flies out and away. Pressure builds and breaks, builds and breaks again, you come for him every time your bodies touch. Little foreshocks that herald a looming earthquake.

Your pleasure wraps tight around him like ropes of silk. He loses his battle with gentleness and rhythm, thrusting hard enough to rattle his teeth and knock loose sense from his brain.

“Yes, Loki yes!”

You are powerful under him. He is magic atop you. You both crest and crash together, mixing to make something new and greater than the sum of its parts.

Binding silk pulls impossibly tight before loosening taking all of him with it, making him gloriously blind and deaf but certainly not dumb. You make him come, your name an unintelligible shout of ecstasy on his lips.

You shudder underneath him, a low wail sounding your shattering. Your entire body curls into a perfect arch wringing the very last drops of pleasure from you. Together you fall back into sense. Your back touches the real world first and it feels like a woolen cloak on rocky ground, in chilly cave, sheltered from the snow outside.

To him, the real world just feels like you.

Chapter Text

You’ve given up hope of getting out of this cave before morning, so the two of you lay against a wall, his cloak over both your shoulders, watching the snow pile up outside. His eyes are closed, he’s dozing, exhausted from the drain on his magic and his body. Your arm drapes across his waist pulled tight, like you’re keeping him as close to you as you can.

He feels possessed by you from within and without. You're in his blood, compelling him, directing the nature of his thoughts. And you’re on the outside, holding him to your chest, covetous in your embrace. He feels wanted and oh Fates how long has it been since he’s felt that?

You have no great revelations now that you're on the other side of your virginity. You haven’t been gifted with any secret knowledge. You haven’t changed. You don’t feel any different aside from an ache in your thighs, but that feels no different from being in the saddle too long. However that ache is accompanied by the most wonderful calm you’ve ever felt, a happy warmth, like a candle’s been lit inside your chest, heat and light suffusing your skin.

But most of that peace, that happiness, has to do with the arm around your waist. The steady breathing of the man next to you.

Mine he calls you. My Princess.

You like that. You feel possessed but not owned. Like there’s a place for you, where you belong, in the space between his left arm and his right. Where you are now.

You nestle closer to him, whispering. “How did you find me?”

He won’t tell you exactly how, he won’t mention the picture of you in his mind, of how beautiful you were made of light. He won’t tell you of the heart freezing terror he felt when that light blew out. He’s a coward, he knows it.

“Like this.”

He holds your hand up, watching the pink pearl and gold bracelet slide down your arm.

“And if you hadn’t given me this, how would you have found me?”

He doesn’t know how to answer this one outside of ‘upending the earth’, so he deflects, dissembles, trades truth for sarcasm because the truth is a weapon that can always be used against him.

“You’re no damsel, you would have figured it out.”

You snort. “Or frozen to death.”

“Perhaps. Are you warm enough?”

You snuggle a little closer. “I could always be warmer.”

“Thor will be here when the snow relents.”

“If it relents.”

“It will, all this will be gone by morning.”

“The Northlands are strange.”

“As are the Low Countries.”

“Thank you, Loki. So much.”

“For what?”

“You saved my life again.”

“If I hadn’t,” He murmurs, holding you tighter. “The little filly would have drowned us all in her incessant tears. Stop talking, rest.”

You kiss his shoulder. He’s clothed again but he still thinks he can feel the heat of your lips through the leather. “My mouth next time.”

He hears your soft, tired giggle, feels you shift, feels you lay a light peck on his lips before returning to his side.

“Finish your story.”

“You tell me to stop talking and rest, and now you tell me to finish my story?”

“Indulge me. Finish telling me of the Horse God. He fell in love, yes? Then what?”

“Haven’t you been indulged enough?”

You’ve got cheek, mamae says it came from your father but he says it came from her. Regardless of where it came from, Loki is quick with his movements. He’s kissing you again, growling as he does. “Oh my sweet little princess, with you I would test the limits of overindulgence.”

You fidget a bit next to him, desirous of being his eager test partner and also very willing to finish your story. You know it well, it’s your favorite, along with every other romantic in your country. “Are you sure, you’ll probably think it’s stupid.”

“It’ll be better than listening to the horse snore.”

“Leave him be, he’s had an exhausting day!”

“Tell me.”

“Please isn’t in your vocabulary is it?”

“No, but I know it’s in yours.”

He laughs as he feels you curl into yourself, hiding your face in his shoulder. You don’t turn red but you still blush.

“Fine. Crimson Rabbit, being such a prize, was sought by every warrior in my kingdom. Some tried, all failed. He did not accept the bridle of one who was not worthy and the particularly arrogant or those who tried to be crafty in their capture of him met gruesome ends. The ‘Crimson’ part of his name only came much later.”

“I see. Se’risa said your steed is his heir. I can see why. I suppose I owe him a carrot or two. Keeping you alive as he did.”

You nod. “Anise candies. That’s what he likes.”

Loki will grow the beast an anise bush when they return.

“Anyway, after building such a reputation, the Crimson Rabbit was free to run about the country unmolested and feared by all. Until one day.”

“He met a princess.”

You smile against him. “Yes. She was engaged in battle, her horse had been killed out from under her. She was making her last stand, prepared to die. She was dreadfully wounded, swinging her Crescent Halberd. At the time, our land was torn apart by factions and war. This Princess was the vassal of a powerful warlord. Her liegelord betrayed her, led her into a trap to die, fearful she would gain too much power. Crimson Rabbit was impressed by her strength, touched by her devotion to her fallen mount. He aided her, and saved her life. From then on he wore no bridle but hers. Bore her into battle and to victory so many times that she became a warlord in her own right. She united the land, and eventually became its queen.”

“And then?”

“She paid homage to the horse that saved her life and aided her for so long. She slept in the stables with him, shared her spoils with him. She treated him not as a beast of burden but as her equal, and because she was the only to ever do so, he fell in love with her.”

“Princess, I’ll have you know I’ll suffer no rivals, especially a four-legged one. Should your horse be so inclined…” Loki makes a slicing motion across his neck, intent plain. You shake your head, your laugh turning into a long yawn.

“This Princess took no lovers, devoted only to her people and her cause, but even still she was lonely. Crimson Rabbit sought to ease her heartache but didn’t know how. He prayed to the stars for help and they granted him a boon.”

“What was it?”

“They made him human. She taught him kingship and he taught her the language of horses. And from that union two children were born. A horse and a woman. The woman birthed a line of monarchs and the horse sired the families of steeds we have been stewards of for so long, from where Cephalus was sprung.”

“And yourself . I’m not so wrong then to call you horse princess.”

“I have a name.” You remind him, grumbling.

“I know. I still prefer mine.”

He lets you rest, not so concerned now about you being cold. You’re asleep when he says it, murmurs it into your hair. One day when he’s not so cowardly, he’ll tell you to your face, let you hear it from his mouth the way no other before you has. Oh he’s uttered it before, to calm hysterics or reassure one lover when confronted with another. But for you, he’s willing to tell you true.

But not yet. Not just yet.

**

Thor is frozen solid, has icicles growing from his hair and nose. He is particularly put out to find his brother--after a frantic search through a night of relentless sleet--warm and cozy, flushed faced and snuggled up to you who apparently smiles in your sleep.

He can only guess why.

But Thor is a gentleman--in front of ladies anyway--he keeps his comments to himself during the ride back noting the way his brother gives you his cloak and has to hold the side of his armor closed with his hand; the ties are cut. It could be the work of the bandits you spoke about yes, but he knows his brother. Smiles like that don’t come after that kind of battle.

**

You barely make it out of the stirrups and onto the ground before Se’risa attacks you. Blubbering a hysterical pidgin of your language and the common one, she cries, relieved you’re back and safe. Niti is there too, similarly relieved.

“So what happened?”

“Cephalus ran, I got lost, I fought off some bandits and the Princes found me later.”

Niti narrows her eyes, peering at you so hard you’re convinced her eyes can ferret out the parts of the story you left out.

“Okay Princess,” Niti nods before bursting into hysterical tears. “I thought we were friends! You’re supposed to tell me ev.ry.thing.” Niti sobers up immediately, her tears drying before they fall.

‘Later’ you mouth as the King and Queen approach.

You make a formal apology at the foot of Odin’s throne, expressing your grief for causing such a stir and your thanks for the Princes who found you.

“You look good in green, my dear.” Frigga muses afterwards, fussing over the emerald and black cape that’s still draped over you. “It suits you. Such a pretty color on you to, accenting your natural glow.”

You fail spectacularly at coming up with an excuse or a polite response to Frigga’s compliment. Between Niti and Frigga you’re pretty sure everyone knows or will know soon.

“I have the most delightful idea. I'll have a dress made in those colors for you.”

“Don't..” You stutter knowing damn well your protests will mean less than nothing to this determined mother. “Don't trouble…”

Frigga knows too, and cuts you off before you can refuse.

“Nonsense, no trouble at all. In fact…” Frigga waves her son over, Loki of course, and is pleased to watch you struggle between wanting to melt into him and freeze away from him lest you give too much away.

But both your faces (yes even her Loki’s because she’s known that boy all his life, he can hide from everyone else but her) give away the game.

“You summoned me mother?”

“Loki, I have a mind to throw a banquet tomorrow to celebrate the Princess’s safe return. Since she is the guest of honor, and you her gallant savior, I’d like you to escort her.”

Frigga knows it’s a bit much. You’ve already proven you don’t really need her help to ‘move things along’ as it were. And she’s not really on the grandbaby warpath.

Just just wants to see you two happy and together.

And...

Uncomfortable…

But only a little bit.

Never let it be said Loki didn’t get his mischief honest.

Chapter Text

Niti sits on your bed like a mother waiting for a wayward daughter to return after curfew. Se’risa is with her, trying to affect that same look--and succeeding.

“Spill.” They say in unison.

With Niti you wouldn’t really have a problem divulging the truth of what went on after the bandits and before the trip home. But with Se’risa there…

“The last bandit pulled me from the saddle, he was going to kill me. But Loki arrived just in time to stop him.”

“And then what?” Niti asks.

“They probably had sex.” Se’risa answers far too frankly for a girl her age.

Niti snorts and explodes into giggles.

But you just want to sink into the floor, your face breaking into hopeless embarrassment before you have the time to summon a defense.

You sigh and pinch the girl’s cheeks. “Can you promise not to utter any of that to your friends?”

“I’d never tell your secrets!”

Niti rights herself, dabbing the corners of her eyes to stop her tears from smudging her makeup. “Since you’re smart enough with that look on your face to not deny it, did you enjoy yourself at least? What’s he like?”

Sensing an opportunity for payback, you shrug and make a noncommittal noise deflating both girls’ desire for the juicy details.

“Magic.” You say, disappearing to your bathing chamber.

**

“If you continue to make that stupid face I’ll melt it off you.”

The brothers are spending a rare moment of quiet together in Loki’s study, Thor pouring over the martial history of your kingdom while Loki reads a book on poetry. Thor reads, just not often, and never with him. Loki knows his brother, he came to talk, not read.

“What face?” Thor closes his book, stopping right in the middle of the Wars of Withstanding; a very, very long period of continuous warfare in which kingdoms outside of Asgard competed with each other and against your people for control of your land. A period that only ended with your mother and father a few centuries before you were born.

“That face.” Thor plays dumb, but Loki’s one of the few who knows his brother isn’t actually dumb, maybe a bit slower compared to his own intellect but definitely not dumb.

“I was only expressing marvel at the Princess’s history. Seems like they fought for ages trying to keep or win back their independence. It shows, she seems feisty.”

Loki smiles, remembering the look on your face as you near sliced him open to get him out of his clothes. “She is.”

“Aha! I knew it!” Thor slams his book in triumph. “I knew something was going on.”

“Congratulations.” Loki sneers, eyes never rising from his reading. “You have eyes.”

“Don’t play cute. You hated her not too long ago. What changed?”

“Nothing.”

“Liar.”

“Naturally.”

“You won’t tell your brother? I’m hurt.”

“Nothing to tell.”

“Oh, is that why mother has engaged a legion of seamstresses to make the Princess a dress in your colors? She wants grandchildren so badly she can almost hear them bleating.”

“Then she’ll have to settle for whatever bastards you have laying about.”

Thor gasps, mortally offended, rising from his chair ready to challenge his brother for his honor. “I have no such!”

Loki cackles. His brother’s dalliances are well known as much if not more so than his own. “That you know of.”

Thor’s face starts to match his cape around his ears and across the bridge of his nose. He sits grumbling, but launches one more parting shot.

“Well, since you’re so clearly not interested beyond the obvious you won’t mind then if I --”

Thor cannot finish his sentence before his brother flies from his seat, book forgotten, to tackle his brother to the ground. It’s a good natured tussle, no bruises or too much blood spilled, but Loki makes his point abundantly clear.

“Next time use your words, Silvertongue, instead of your fists to prove a point.”

Loki snarls, magicking away his brother’s black eye lest Frigga sees it and orders the both of them to clean the stables for fighting-- again .“I am reminded of Olga.”

“That...wasn’t..okay, that was my fault but still she was bad business for the both of us anyway. At least with the Princess, I was only jesting. I’d never come between you two. She’s like to geld me for trying anyway. They’re fiercely independent those horse folk.”

Loki laughs and extends his hand to help his brother off the floor. “That she is.”

“She’s special to you little brother. And I’m happy for you.”

Loki retracts his hand. “You said that about Olga!”

“I mean it this time! Honest!”

Loki leaves him on the floor, payback for an old hurt that somehow doesn’t hurt so much anymore.

**

You are not a fancy girl. Something you regret since it always made your mother so happy to see you in dresses instead of your tried and true Captain’s leathers.

“Katkat. This a royal dinner.”

“I know, and I’m in my Royal Cavalry armor.”

She smooths out your cape, sighing. It was your father's, cinched around the neck with a pin depicting the symbol of your house--a horse--of course. You wear it like he does, proudly, and with a gaze of vigilance, like war might break out over the dessert course. She fought, your father--her heart-- by her side for so long so you wouldn’t have to.

But you are your father’s daughter, she thinks, sometimes more than you’re hers. And it’s good, it's good to look at you and see so much of him. Proof he lived and still does. But part of her wishes you could just be the Little Princess he wanted you to be; worry and war-free.

“It would not kill you to wear a dress.”

“It might.”

“For me then?” Your mother goes to your closets and pulls out a dress that was made of silk and was summer-grass green. She has to shake it a few times to smooth out the fabric, it had been bunched at the bottom of a chest and likely never worn.

You wrinkle your nose at the garment. It’s not ugly but…

“No thank you mother.”

So when Niti tells you to open your eyes and look in the mirror after having wrapped and tied you into this dress, you cry.

You hide your ‘perfectly make-uped by Niti’s expert hands’ face in your hands and sob. Mamae would have loved to have seen you in this. It would have been her heart’s joy.

You are beautiful. The perfect Princess. She never wanted a Cavalry commander, she wanted just this.

Niti sniffs, guessing why you’re in tears. “Stop! Your eyeliner will run and we’ll have to start all over and you’ll be late and Frigga will be mad and the servants will talk.” Her protests turn to blubbers and she starts crying too.

Only Se’risa can keep you two together. She misses her mother too, but she has to be strong for you. Princesses have to be strong for each other.

The dress a beautiful green. Like the color of grass stains on a white saddle on the hottest day of the year. It’s lighter than silk, softer and sweeter than linen, pleated from your neck to your toes and beyond with a multitude of full skirts that swish and sway. There are no sleeves but a little capelet drapes about your shoulders fastened there by a crest of pale pink and purple and gold spring flowers. The only real skin you show is down the front, a deep v that slashes to your navel, no cleavage but daring enough to reveal just a bit of you including the trailing edge of one of your scars.

“Don’t cover it.” Niti tells you as you struggle to hold the front of the dress closed just a hair's breadth or so more. “This is what got you here, you survived the attack that made this. You’re indestructable.”

“I can assure you, I’m not.”

“Well make them believe you are.”

You smile for Niti, and you can feel your eyes water again. You let the dress go.

Undone from your usual cornrows, your hair frizzes into a sphere of curls around your head. With some artful pin work from Niti and intricate braidwork from Se’risa, you manage to push it back out of your face to hang loose and wild about your head.

“The other ladies are gonna shit.” Niti claps her hands ignoring Se’risa’s mumbles about proper language.

“Do I really look--?”

Se’risa and Niti nod.

“Do you think the Prince will--?”

They both nod harder.

As is becoming a time honored tradition, Se’risa picks your bracelet. You smile as she slips the cuff on your wrist, a simple band of hammered gold. “I wish I could come,” she sniffs.

“I’ll tell Queen Frigga that I won’t attend another party if I can’t accompany you, princess.” You kiss her forehead. “Don’t wait up.”

Niti cackles. “Oh we already know not to expect you back tonight. Looking at you,” She appraises you, giving you a serious head to toe evaluation. “Better make that a couple nights.”

You reach for a pillow and throw, Niti grabs it and uses it to bop Se’risa on the head.

“Princess?” A voice sounds, muffled by your closed door. “Princess, your escort has arrived.”

Niti coughs and straightens, replaces her trusted friend mask with her servant one--at least for when Royalty is watching. She coughs, making frantic motions with her hands.

“Stand up.” She filters the words through her clenched jaw, hand over the doorknob.

When you’re standing and decent and flashing the biggest smile you can muster to your face, Niti opens the door.

And finds Lady Frigga there.

“Good evening child.”

Chapter Text

You’re not disappointed to see her, you’re just…

“I know you were expecting someone taller and darker and more handsome and for that I must apologize.”

All three of you bow your deepest for the reigning lady of the household. “Lady Frigga.” You echo in chorus..

“Has there been a mistake?” Niti’s told you about your hands, how you ball them up when you get nervous, you fail her lesson. “Is the Prince unable,” unwilling you think, “To attend?”

“Oh, no, of course not. I am here for my own wickedness. Ladies,” She addresses Niti and Se’risa who keep their heads bowed in the Royal Presence. “Thank you. You needn't worry. I will escort the Princess to the banquet tonight.”

Frigga offers you her arm, same way a prince would. Of course you take it.

**

She looks like a queen, the kind of Queen your mother was, dressed in powder blues and shimmery silvers. There's grey iron in the blue of her eyes, magic shifting beneath the surface of her glance. If Odin is the storm, Frigga is the calm before it, peaceful and beautiful right before deadly thunder deafens.

You think it's a kind of honor to be escorted to the ball by her. Frigga deems you worthy of such esteem. You hope you earn it.

“You haven't had a formal welcome or introduction to court. I mean for this event to remedy that. It’s been so long now since I’ve had a princess as my guest.”

Frigga sees the slight discomfort in your face as you reconcile the true nature of your title. She pats your hand gently, stopping right before the gilded doors of the banquet hall. You hear soft chatter beyond, like the party's already begun.

“Don’t overthink it. You are exactly who you are my dear.”

Your eyes cut away, falling somewhere upon the queen's silver and blue slippers. Easily said, though hardly believed. You are a Princess no doubt, but that’s just a name on a paper now, with barely anything to your name this woman or her family hasn't given you.

“Princess.” She lifts your gaze out of the marble floor tiles with a gentle press of her hand under your chin. “Look at me child. A king may grant a title, but you cannot bestow or revoke true royalty. You are exactly who you are.”

She runs a hand down one of the green pleats of your dress.

“And you are beautiful.”

Your gaze falls again. Only this time to cover tears.

“Oh what's wrong love?”

“I...I'm sorry. Thank you so much for everything. I must look so ungrateful. I just..”

She squeezes your hand, a gentle reassuring touch. “Tell me.”

“I wish my mother were here to hear you say that.”

The iron in her eyes splinters, glittering under a thin film of her own tears. Frigga’s always had a weakness for motherless children.

Always.

She chokes a bit when she answers you. “I think she heard. Now enough tears, it’s time to feast and be merry. Agreed?”

“Agreed.”

**

Loki yawns, he sighs to himself tipping the glass of wine to his lips and draining it to the dregs before searching for the next closest and fullest glass. People are here, milling about. Yes this banquet is for you but it’s also an excuse for Asgard’s court to dress expensively and show off to one another, make the biggest impression on you, its newest member.

It's tiring watching them preen and gloat, fawning over each other and their exaggerated riches. He’s reminded of you as he catches snippets of conversations, of how he said your silence was far more intelligent that the sum of others’ words. He grins to himself, satisfied that’s still true.

“Alone are we, Lord Loki?”

A woman glides into the space next to him for a woman like her can do nothing but glide when she walks, skirts billowing behind her like clouds in the wake of a soft breeze. He knows her face and he knows of her, something about being a duchess and very refined one at that. But her name escapes him.

“I am for now, Lady…”

“Ylva.” she supplies suggesting this is something he should already know but isn’t too upset about correcting.

“Yes well, I am alone for now.”

She smiles and snatches a wine glass from a servant passing by, mid-stride, the crystal singing as it strikes against her nails. She takes his empty glass and replaces it.

“Then allow me to remedy this for a time.”

He skirts the edges of rudeness, barely making eye-contact but now she’s distracted him enough to make him turn his head and pay the Lady Ylva his full attention.
“I hope I’m not intruding on a quiet moment with your conscious.” He smirks her presumption is entertaining.

“My lady, my conscious is never quiet.”

“Oh? And what goes on in there?”

He’s thinking about you, wondering where you are and why you’re not here yet. He’s wondering where his mother is. He wants to ask you for more stories of the Princess and her Crimson Rabbit, intrigued by those folksy little tales. He wants to ask you to dance and is secretly disgusted by how excited the notion makes him. He’d render the entire gathering blind and deaf if he could have that kind of moment with you unobserved, but his mother would probably sew his lips shut for such a crime. He’s wondering how long he’ll have to stay here anyway before he can have you to himself and make good on some of those promises he made in that cave.

“Mischief.” He answers Ylva with another smirk, this time the whole of his mouth moves and the Lady Ylva responds in kind.

“You would find a willing accomplice to your games if you but looked my lord.”

She speaks of games. Well he knows hers, knew it the moment she pressed herself entirely too close to him.

“My Lady, I have no doubt you would be able to find willing participants and I encourage you to look. But for me, the game cannot be too easy.” He takes a step away from her, creating a formal and chilly distance. “Or else there is no sport.”

There’s an empty space on his belt where a dagger used to rest, you stole it (though he suspects you would call it having it returned) during that night in the cave. He looks forward to getting it back.

Wait.

He looks forward to the effort he means to put in to take it back.

She laughs quietly to let him know she’s not offended by his rejection. She is well versed in it, experienced in doling it out far more than she’s ever had to take it but--

One doesn’t get to be an unmarried Duchess from ever taking a rejection she didn’t want.

She prepares her counterattack. She’s misread him and that’s fine, Fates know she’s done it before. This prince doesn’t respond to the obvious in the same way the older one might. Had she pulled this with Thor, they’d be halfway to a bedchamber by now and a marriage proposal in the morning. But that prince doesn’t interest her in the way this one does.

This is the one she wants. If she has to take a temporary loss on that journey to desire’s achievement so be it, the road is always fraught.

Ylva readies a polite but stinging withdrawal, a barb she intends to leave with him sharp enough to leave an impression and venomous enough to poison his thoughts with her.

But you ruin that.

Utterly.

He’s walking away from her just as her parting shot is ready to fly. No words, no excuses, he just leaves, the epitome of rudeness.

Because if there’s some set of manners that govern such exchanges--

You’ve made him forget them.

He’s subtle--that’s all-- just a slight widening of his sharp green eyes so more white than emerald shows. But for him and his features --guarded like a dragon over a treasure pile of secrets and hurts and desires--he might as well have shouted. He’s floored even though he’s still upright--stunned near speechless by you. It’s not your dress--though the green goes a long way to get into his heart--it’s just you. The way you’re smiling at his mother, the way she’s smiling back. It’s the way you two lean into each other like a couple of old friends sharing a secret laugh. It’s the ease with which you walk, your limp is gone, no trace remains. You’re whole just like you were the day he met you.

You are a royalty in a room filled with nothing but.

And yet you are the only Princess in attendance.

“My Ladies.”

You’ve never seen him bow earnestly. The last time he had the opportunity back home, it was definitely mocking in the way he flared his cape and bent in half at the waist. This bow is solemn, serious, but the same grin that was on his face then is still there now. The context has changed completely in the lifetime between. He’s not mocking you anymore.

He’s happy.

This is Frigga’s professed wickedness, she wanted to be here, at this moment, wanted to see his eyes light up when he saw you for the first time. And Loki does not disappoint her.

He rises and kisses his mother on the cheek. “Mother. As always you shame the room with your beauty.”

The queen allows herself to bask in her son’s genuine affection for just a moment, keeping this little bit of him for herself before she allows you to have the rest.

“No dear, that honor is not for me tonight. Come greet your guest my son. Prove you remember at least a little of my instruction.”

You’re nervous without a reason, shy with no explanation. You feel caught out, like his eyes will expose you, see something fraudulent. Because you already know from experience they can see every damn thing right down to the bedrock of your heart. But when he looks at you, and you work up the nerve to stare back,

You forget why you were ever afraid.

He’s handsome, no armor just leather, well made and supple. The chest piece is all black but for a gold crest hanging low about his chest. The rest is form fitting leather, green and gold that dizzies the eyes as it criss crosses his body. His hair is wild, controlled chaos just the right amount of unkempt precision. So many textures and temperatures, warm smile, cold eyes, smooth leather, and slick hair, you ache to touch him.

He looks like magic, and you certainly feel it, because sorcery would be about the only thing keeping you breathing.

“Princess.”

You both remember your manners. You extend your hand and he takes it, bending his head to kiss the air above it except

He actually kisses it, lips parting just a tiny bit around your knuckles. That kiss wasn’t paying courtesy, it was making a promise.

When he rises he stands beside you, tucking your arm in his. He has become your escort. The party can now begin.

Chapter Text

 

“Ladies, gentleman and more!”  The herald cries,  “May I present Princess--”

 

“I can't wait to get you out of this dress.”  You hear him in your mind, just like before, kidskin voice a caress upon your brain.

 

“Do you have to do this here? ” You answer him back, your mouth closed. You’re surprised you can, but then again you’re not. His magic makes your own.

 

“Well I was planning to wait but I suppose I could find a secluded corner to drag you off to.”

 

“Don't you dare!”

 

Don’t dare me little princess. Now smile, hide that pretty blush, your guests are coming to greet you.”

 

He stays near, within his fingertips’ reach to brush and slide and bump against you. As he does, he tests the limits of this new magic (and his patience--finding his ire growing as the guests circle about you to pick at your bones like the carrion crows they are).

 

This proof of concept came unexpectedly when he was searching for you. He felt you, saw you, heard you, could speak to you. He tests that connection again, glad it's not born of desperate circumstance and it works. Through you, his talents expand (legion as they are, he's always looking to grow them).

 

You make him powerful.

 

“Princess!”

 

This man seems familiar to you, he’s tall, he eclipses your height by a foot or so. And very  red, his flushed face matching his coppery curls and beard.

 

“I’m so glad I found you! I meant to apologize about what happened the other day…” He stops when you don’t return his enthused greeting. “You don’t know who I am do you?”

 

You steal a glance at the prince hoping for some help but shrugs, looking almost malignantly bored.

 

You are no help!

 

Naturally.

 

“Edvard!” You suddenly remember. This is the man who was foolishly attempting to tame an unwilling Cephalus.

 

Edvard beams, considering it the highest honor that you remember him. “Yes! I’m so glad you’re back safely. You gave me such a fright galloping off like that! It’s truly a relief you weren’t hurt.”

 

So far, most of the people who’ve come to greet you have introduced themselves, rattled off their titles, and flitted away making promises for later invitations that they will either never send or you will never accept. So Edvard’s genuine concern for you eases you, makes you comfortable enough to venture from the protective arm Loki’s wrapped around your waist. It feels good to have him so near and you have every intention to return.

 

But how can you miss him if you never leave?

 

And somehow, he cues in on your thoughts immediately. Are you trying to make me jealous chattering with this oaf?

 

You continue your conversation with Edvard. He’s telling you about his family though where they are you can’t remember or don’t hear because you’re carrying on a separate conversation in your brain. That depends, are you jealous?

 

The oaf places his hand on your arm laughing at a joke he made at his own expense. It brings laughter to your lips which only makes Edvard beam brighter. Immensely.

 

The conversation lulls but you laugh again in the silence. Edvard quirks an eyebrow at you and you remember there are two conversations going on right now that you better keep account of before you embarrass yourself. No I’m not trying, this man is a friend...he’s not even a friend, I don’t even know him that well. He’s just the man I saw with Cephalus that day. He seems nice enough. Better than that Oxhammer man.

 

Oh? Well it seems from the tint in his face he has more than friendly designs for you.

 

That startles you and you gasp right in the middle of his question about Cephalus’s ancestry. If the man has an interest, you can’t tell. Edvard doesn’t appear to have a motive, people with agendas don’t typically ask about horse ancestry unless their agenda is horse ancestry. To your eyes, this is all friendly conversation.


Can you read his thoughts? Can you read mine?

 

“Well Cephalus was just a colt when I read his thoughts and I..”

 

Edvard catches your flub startlingly fast. “You can read his thoughts? Surely you jest. I’ve heard myths your people can speak the horse language but I never guessed you could read minds too. Is it only horses? Can you read mine?”

 

“Wait...what did I say? That’s not... I’m sorry. How silly of me to say. What I meant was--”

 

No Little Princess. I don't need that kind of telepathy to know what he wants.

 

This is getting cumbersome to keep track of. Edvard hangs off your every word and trading secret words with Loki is causing trouble. How’s that?

 

It’s the same thing I want. I already told you princess, I’ll suffer no rivals. You are mine.

 

You stop mid-sentence. You feel his growl even in your brain. You’ve heard this before, something like it. He called you ‘mine’ at the height of passion and it’s aftermath, when you two were so close both your worlds began and ended at the other. But this is different, it sounds different, like he actually believes he owns you bridle and bit.

 

“Excuse me!?”

 

“Ahh,” Edvard stammers, his ruddy face blushing harder. “I meant only to...I was wondering if you would...

 

Edvard struggles to make his request, one you’ll grant anyway just to put some breathing space between you and Loki. I hold my own reins. You snap. To be handed to whomever I please. Remember that Silvertongue.

 

“Thank you,” You step wholly away from the Prince, taking Edvard’s hand. “Lead the way.”

 

**

He doesn’t expect your anger so he has no counter for it. He formulates no response as you walk away from him, smiling at that grinning fool.

 

Princess! Where do you think…

 

He shudders, it feels like an iron door has slammed down in front of him, you sever the connection. He doesn’t know how.

 

“My Lord Loki!”

 

Someone calls his names, one of the alchemists he consults with. Loki ignores him, he’s no interest in idle conversation, he’s still trying to figure out what wrong he did. He retreats from the party, seeking solace in seclusion.

 

From a shadowy corner, he fumes, a full wine glass in his hand untouched, though the idea of inebriation is far preferable to watching that oaf steal his dance.

 

The man is not an expert dancer but even if he was, the Prince guesses the two of you would still look painfully awkward together. When he leans in, you pull away, he approaches, you shy. You two look ill-matched, and you yourself just look uncomfortable.

 

It’s the same when another steps in, cutting in politely to take up where Edhard or whatever his name is left off. You’re as stiff legged and stone-faced with the new bastard as you were with the old one. The graceful walk disappears. The easy smiles you shined at his mother melt from your face. And for him, when you catch his glance from across the room, you spare no smiles at all.

 

Because you ruin everything, see?

 

Loki swallows his wine in one gulp hoping The Voice will go away.


Everything. Even this.

Chapter Text

Edvard is sweet but you thought he was just going introduce you to his friends or get you a glass of wine. You weren’t expecting him to ask you to dance. Rather you didn’t hear him ask because you were too busy asserting yourself with Loki in your damned head. You should have said no when you discovered his intentions, explained that you were saving your first dance for someone else. But you let him guide you to the floor anyway, his shaky, ill-coordinated steps making mash of your toes.

It’s a blessing unlooked for when Tolvir...Tolbard? Arrives to cut in. You can’t remember his name exactly, he rambled more than danced, going on about hunting and his estate in Breidablik. You end your dance early with him, faking pain in your legs. He offers to escort you to your seat on the dias but you decline.

“I must insist. A princess, especially one so delicate, must be accompanied.” His hand remains open for you to take it and he’s not moving. You really don’t wish to sit, you’re not even hurt but…

“Delicate Tolmund? Now what about this woman suggests such?”

A lady comes to your rescue, shooing Tolmund away with a sweet but withering grin. “I will escort the Princess, you’ve occupied enough of her time as it is.”

“Your Grace.” It’s Ylva. You’re grateful for her intervention, but you’re not quite thrilled with how she did it. You’re not ‘delicate’ it's true, but the way she says it makes you feel odd. Like you have no business being ‘delicate’ at all, like the notion of vulnerability is foreign to you, and after crying with Frigga and Niti about your mother you know damn well that’s not true. The moment passes long enough for you to let it go, ascribing your feelings to nerves and overthinking.

“My gratitude.” You whisper once Tolmund is out of earshot.

“Of course. Tolmund can be an incessant chatterbox. Going on about his brutish hobbies.”

You scrunch your brow a bit. “I actually rather enjoy hunting. Back home, the spring hunts would be going on about now. We shoot waterfowl and pheasants. There’s a huge feast.”

“Yes, but your home is here now is it not?”

“Uhh…” Such a simple question but it startles you. Makes you ask yourself: ‘Where is home now anyway?’ Is it the place you sleep, or the place where your ancestors sleep? Is it the place you’ve known for your life, or the place where your life is safe?

Ylva stares, noting the awkward and extended silence.

“I haven’t given that question much thought.” Your honesty is as much for her as it is for yourself. You don’t really know.

“I’m surprised. It seems Lady Frigga and Lord Odin have shown you nothing but hospitality.”

“Oh no, please don’t mistake me.” You defend yourself with a wave of your hands, hoping your hesitance didn’t convey contempt for your hosts. “They’ve been the kindest.”

“Yes, especially given the circumstances.”

“Right.” You offer a half-hearted answer considering such ‘circumstances’ were your mother dying, your uncle and cousin trying to kill you, and the death of your friends and allies.

She bleeds you with painless cuts, upsets your confidence, and rattles your peace. And she does it with a smile and the best intentions. You’re sure she’s not intentionally being rude or cutting but if her tongue was a knife, bits of you would be on the floor by now. Your scar burns, you lace your hands just under your breasts and over the injury. Your chilly fingers don’t soothe the pain.

“Still, no matter the circumstances.” She waves her hand, waving away your dead mother and stolen throne. “I’m glad you're here. It is good to have another highborn lady among us. And so beautiful besides.” She tucks a lock of your hair behind your ear, confused when it springs back defiantly returning to its proper place curled and kinked about your temples.

You suffer it, your hair never conforms without heat or heavy hands. “Thank you your Grace.”

“Please you must call me Ylva. I regret you left us so soon the other day. You must allow me to make it up to you.”

You let go of an anxious sigh, grateful for the change of topic.

“No no, the fault is mine.” It is, you made an ass of yourself and insulted that poor girl’s brother. “Is Lady Astrid here? I’d like to apologize.”

Ylva hums, thinking, looking as though she misplaced something she needs to find, like an earring or an idea.

“Oh, I don’t think I saw her here.”

Ylva comforts you when your face falls.

“You mustn’t be so hard on yourself for what happened. We all misspeak sometimes.”

“True, I didn’t know her brother, but he’s probably not the coward I called him.”

“Oh no, I looked into it. Her brother is most assuredly a coward, his job was to guard the supply chain and they found him guarding it very well from underneath a wagon.”

“Still, for all the horrors that go on in a battle, being under a cart might be a better pla--”

“But the girl was exceedingly foolish to suggest the Prince Loki is a coward.”

Your words tangle with hers but you choose to leave them behind rather than try to extract them. The last you saw him, he was glowering in a corner. When you look back to that same corner he’s not there and your heart sinks. “No, the Prince is no coward.”

“He has such a poor reputation. Some of it is earned, rest assured, but most of it isn’t.”

“Princess! Princess!” Thor thunders like his name, calling for you from clear across the hall. The crowd would part for him if he gave them half a chance to move but he just barrels through, determined to reach you.

Ylva pulls you close. “But however much his reputation is mere rumor I do know this: be careful Princess. It’s hardly a secret you’re next on his lists of conquests, the famed ‘Horse Princess’. And when he’s tired of you, he’s like to pass you along to his brother. That’s how they treat their lovers, no better than toys. Poor Olga, she never recovered and I’d hate to see that happen to you.”

She releases you, her poison planted, and bows before the heir apparent. “My Lord Thor.”

“Princess! Since my brother has forgotten about you, dance with me instead!”

He beams at you but you don’t take his hand, thinking wryly Ylva’s prediction has come true a little early.

“If my Lord Thor wishes for a dance, he may ask the Duchess instead.”

You figure you’ve killed him from the way his face falls. “I--I I meant…”

This is the height of ill-manners, you know it. But you can’t quite bring yourself to care. While Thor stammers, you leave, breezing past Ylva, unaware of the smirk on her face.

Chapter Text

He is a creature of nightfall. All his deeds are best done in the dark. He prefers moonlight or no-light to the sun. Prefers a single roaring hearth than a room full of candles. He’ll never tolerate large groups for very long, they drain him, wear him thin like nails scratching over fabric until it’s threadbare.

Loki retreats to night, his constant companion. He escapes the ball and you and his thoughts and his bloody feelings , desirous of just a few minutes of true quiet.

He still hasn’t figured out why you ran from him and he’s not quite sure why he cares so much.

It’ll gnaw at him, this problem, until he’s found a solution.

Or until the problem goes away.

But this problem doesn’t go away, it follows him, right out onto the balcony and into the spring night.

**

You have no idea where you’re going. People try to call for you, wave you over to their little group for more chatting. Men with lesser nerves --who apparently missed your epic rejection of the crown prince-- approach you to dance. You ignore all in favor for the closest breeze--by the stars fresh air! You need it. You make it to a balcony overlooking fountains and a garden stuffed with spring blooms. The air smells so sweet it almost sickens you.

Until you realize what you’ve done, who you’ve insulted, an insult which by proxy insults his mother and her husband and…

“Oh horse's ass!”

Yes. Now you’re sickened.

You should apologize, turn heel and beg--ok not beg, humbled or not you won’t ever beg-- ask for forgiveness. You’ve behaved monstrously, have since you walked in the door. You’ve always had more pride than sense, more mouth than brains. And this probably won’t be the last time it earns you trouble.

Because even though you know what you should do, and who you should be offering apologies to, you remain where you are, counting the flowers below--one by one--stalling for time hoping everyone just forgets about you and the mess you’ve made.

There you are, fretting, raking fingers through your hair seemingly seconds from screaming. He observes you, still as death, watching you, waiting for you to speak again wondering what you might say.

Loki? You test the connection, insides fluttering on what is likely a vain hope.

He isn't expecting his name. The iron door you shut, you lift, and your voice saturates him.

Still, he keeps quiet.

Loki? Are you…

He feels you sigh. Of course he's not.

“Princess.” He uses his mouth to answer you, pleased in his own little way to prove you wrong.

Your hands fly to your mouth to cover a cover a sharp gasp that was very nearly a scream. He hasn't moved, still cloaked in his shadows.

“Have you fallen from favor so quickly? That's the thing about novelties they don't last very long.”

His words prick a bit, they sting.

“Are you angry with me? About earlier?”

“Being angry means I have to care Princess.” He lies. He's not angry, he also cares.

That hurts too, but you harden your face before it betrays you. “I'm not apologizing.”

He says nothing, further proof of his point.

This night is a disaster unsalvageable but you should say something before it’s over.

“Look I was just trying to...you have to understand I...”

“I thought you said you weren't apologizing.”

“I'm not!”

“Sounds like excuses to me.”

You let more than a few seconds of silence go by, remembering Loki’s words and Ylva’s words words and Thor’s untimely arrival.

“I'm not your plaything.” You say quietly. Only your lips move, not your jaw, your words filter through your teeth.

“I'm sorry, speak up.”

“I said I'm--” You look up from your feet and somehow --magic of course--he's moved from his shadows into your space, hands clasped behind his back. Expectant.

Pride wins out, it always does when he looks at you like that. When he looks down on you, eyes half-lidded in a lazy kind of arrogance.

“You heard me.”

He tsks you, shaking his head. “How can I fix this if you don't tell me what wrong Princess?”

His lips are as straight as a horse crop with no give, but you've learned to read the smirk in his eyes.

You fold your arms, tossing his words casually back to him. “I thought you didn't care.”

He’s very quiet when he answers. In fact, he’s silent. Do you want me to care?

“Yes.” you reply, just as quietly, but your voice gains volume as you keep going. “I need you to trust me. Trust that I chose you.” It’s a funny sort of difficult ease with which you say the rest. “I am yours, not because you own me, but because I want to be.”

It’s so very like him to gloss over your little confession, like he didn’t hear it or that the words don’t level him. He heard them and took to heart every syllable.

“That's what this is all about? A matter of diction?”

“Words are powerful, Silvertongue.

He concedes with a little nod of his head. “Noted.”

“Well then, if we’re throwing about such heavy words, extend the same to me Princess. Trust that I'd never hurt you unless you asked.”

This time his lips do bend, like a crop with a little give. You’re torn between smiling back or kicking him, though you note the inherent fairness of the request. You want to ask about this Olga, for the truth behind whatever Ylva was trying to tell you. But if you’re asking for trust, and he is too, you figure this is a good place to start.

So you let it go, though it still sticks, a thistleburr attached to the back of your brain, but you hope-- you trust-- it’ll fall off in time.

He waits for you to answer him, looking for a nod or listening for your quiet affirmation but you make him feel it instead.

Yes.

Yes what?

I trust you.

She shouldn’t. The voice makes a valiant attempt to shatter his burgeoning mood, but it’s easily ignored, left in the shadows with the rest of his doubts.

“So, it sounds like you’ve been busy wreaking a subtle sort of havoc out there yes?”

“Not intentionally. I think I may have terribly insulted your brother.”

Loki barks with laughter, if he felt even the least bit of anger towards you, he doesn’t anymore.

“You will have to tell me everything.”

“Right now?”

“Well, I suppose you’re right, we have wasted far too much time with talking and not talking. I’m owed. Pay.”

Instinctively your hand pats your thigh where you secured your dagger, ensuring it hasn’t been magicked away.

“That’s not what I mean, Princess. Although there will be plenty of time for me to divest you of that. I mean this.”

He opens his hand, plain that he wants you to take it.

“A dance?”

“Yes.”

“Out here?”

“You ask too many inane questions. Yes.

“But you can hardly hear--”

You feel the magic, you hear it too, zipping through the air, closing the balcony doors and frosting the glass with ice so busybodies can’t see beyond. He means to jealously guard this moment. He’s not ashamed to be seen with you, far far from it. He’s already proven rumours and gossip mean nothing to him. Rather this is something he’d keep for himself, for the both of you, just two, just yours.

“Dance.” It’s a command not a request, one you’re delight to fill but--

“You could ask.” You needle him further, because you can, because you choose to, because you know he enjoys it and so do you.

“Please.” He grits his teeth and his jaw bulges, he’s exasperated near to death and he loves it. The annoyance and the want mixes in his heart, tingles all throughout him enlivening every sense. He feels alive because you’re here pushing him further and further toward the edge of his sanity--a rising action with no climax--well not that kind of climax, not yet anyway.

He vents the pressure with a rough grab, pulling the two of you flush together, taking one of your hands in his own.

“You really wanted this dance, didn’t you?” You smile at him, wrapping your free arm around his shoulder.

He begins to move to no music, absolutely none, but he waltzes like there are symphonies in his head.

And there might be.

“Not as much as you did.”

“Liar.”

“Naturally.”

He doesn’t step on your toes, and the pain in your legs magically disappears.

Outside a red wreathed hand wipes away the frost on a single windowpane, a busybody checking on the progress of her work. The glass cracks when she sees what’s beyond but no matter, a duchess knows better than to have only one plan.

**

“My Lady Ylva.”

Rather than act like being caught, the Duchess’s hand returns to it’s normal color and she stands to face the Queen.

She bows low, the very picture of grace. “Your Majesty.”

“See anything interesting?”

“I admit the frosted glass was a curiosity, the couple behind it even more so.”

Frigga waits and Ylva must comply.

“The Prince Loki and the Princess I mean. Dancing I saw.”

“Ah, I hate to interrupt them but would you be so kind to let them know their presence is requested on the dias. Lord Odin has gone all this time without speaking to her. But do give them a moment or two. Thank you.”

Frigga doesn’t wait for the duchess to act, she expects. She turns from the Lady Ylva, confident her orders disguised as a sweet request will be followed.

Ylva doesn’t mind allowing the two of you a ‘moment’ or two. She knows exactly how to spend it. She sees the Lady Astrid right where she left her, mired in a conversation with the other ladies of the court, recalling the very first day you met them.

“Astrid, dearest. Come have a chat.”

Chapter Text

He likes that you hold him tighter when someone knocks at the balcony door, startling you. He enjoys the feeling of your nails in his back, not for any carnal pleasure but because when you’re scared, no matter how insignificant, you reach for him, you don’t fly away. He won’t tell you that of course, another one of those grave secrets.

“What.” He growls at the intruder.

“Princess, My Lord Loki.”

Loki magicks the doors open and defrosts the glass. Ylva on the other side curtseys, she has to, both of you outrank her.

“My Lord, my Lady, the Queen requests your presence on dias.”

“Thank you your Grace.”

Ylva smiles with her sigh. “Now what did I say about you calling me by my name?”

This duchess is familiar, it takes a moment for Loki to remember their conversation earlier. He considers telling you about her earlier play for him but it’s inconsequential now, she likely didn’t know. It seems you’ve made friends and he won’t sully that.

“You two know each other?”

“Yes, we met the day I found Cephalus and tonight she helped me escape the clutches of awkward suitors. I’ll have to remember not to be so formal Ylva.” You say with a light smile.

You appreciate Ylva’s earlier warning, the same way you appreciate Niti’s. They are the concerns of friends and you’re glad you have friends from whom you warrant their concern.

 

“Thank you for telling us, we’ll be along shortly.”

Ylva serenely smiles and dismisses herself, making her way to her own spot at the head table.

“We shouldn’t keep my mother waiting.”

“I don’t intend to.” You kiss him, light and chaste, right on the thin, stern line of his lips. “There, now we can go.”

**

The party roars on beyond the dias with singing and dancing and drinking. Only the highest born or titled are allowed on the dias and you note a handful of the ladies you met the day you met Ylva are there.

Astrid too.

They all make their greetings, some warmer than others, it seems like your outburst hasn’t been forgotten. Astrid, though, regards you the coldest, with barely a nod or a mumble of your name. It’s earned you know, when you have a free moment, you’ll take her aside and make your apologies.

Now Thor is present as well but he seems far less affected by your treatment of him than you expect. When Loki seats you, you’re nestled right between the brothers with Hogun, Volstagg, Sif, and Fandral flanking Thor’s other side.

“Princess!” He has a horn of ale in both hands with Volstagg steadily pushing more into them. “Seems like my brother hasn’t forgotten you after all! Good!”

“No he hasn’t but I’ve forgotten my manners, I must apologize--”

“No no! No time for apologies here, I was being a boor. I still am. The apologies are mine to make! But I will accept a dance as payment, your duchess friend didn’t seem interested!”

Loki feels the familiar tingle of jealousy creeping in his fingers, making his nails itch until he hides them in his balled fists. His brother can be a drunken boor, anyone with a pulse is fair game for his advances but this doesn’t look like that. More like it looks like Thor is trying to be your friend--or at the very least as friendly as a drunken boor can be. His friends have better manners though.

“It’s bad luck to have no ale Princess.” Volstagg reaches for the closest full cup. “Drink! Prove Loki hasn’t completely ruined you.”

Fandral chokes on his drink, wondering if his friend has completely missed the innuendo.

Sif rolls her eyes, knowing he didn’t, and knocks Volstagg on the back of his head. “Ignore my idiot friend Princess.”

Hogun agrees. “Yes ignore him and tell us the story of how you came to be lost and beset by bandits.”

Thor perks up from his ale. “Yes and make sure you tell us every…”

Thor starts to slobber, his tongue thickening in his mouth. His friends snicker, knowing exactly who to blame. But Loki sits quietly waiting for you to tell your story (with however much or little detail as you wish) the picture of innocence even as the Queen shrieks with dismay at her older son’s behavior.

You’re not a very good storyteller, not like the Sages are back...in your Kingdom. But you find the words come easy when you have such a captive audience. The ladies hang on your every word, gasping in horror when Cephalus jumps the hedges that mark the edge of the palace. Sif cheers the loudest of all when you mount your horse in the cave and Cephalus kicks an attacker's chest in. Everyone, even Volstagg sighs when Prince Loki arrives right on time.

You don’t tell anymore of the story beyond that.

Perhaps the biggest surprise, however, is how you’ve found a new fan in the Lord Odin.

“Well done girl, you ride a fearsome steed. Allow me to stud him so I could have a barn full of his like.”

“I am honored, my Lord Odin, the Heir of Crimson Rabbit would produce fine foals. Capable warhorses every one.”

“Crimson Rabbit eh? I have heard rumor of this beast. Tell me more.”

You grin and launch into the tale. You have a rapt audience again, and even though Loki’s heard the story before, he still listens, pleased to simply hear you tell it again.

As the night wanders on, they ask you for another tale of Crimson Rabbit and his Princess. You tell the one where the Princess guides her steed back and forth across the battlefield, kicking up a great cloud of dust. A trick she used to confuse her enemy and make them think she had a force much greater than the tiny one at her command. Together the pair intimidated the enemy bad enough to make them retreat from the field.

“And that was how a force of one thousand defeated an army of ten times that much.”

Odin thunders his laugh and the table claps. Voices ask for more but before you can choose another tale to tell, the Lady Astrid offers her own compliment.

“Excellent story Princess. Well told. You have such rich history, a delight to hear. Don’t you agree Lord Odin?”

The King turns his attention to the woman. “Aye child. Indeed.”

“It’s a shame then the richness of their country hasn’t been added to our own. Adding such colorful and rustic culture to our own, and providing them with the great technologies of Asgard. Surely all would benefit?”

Ylva you can dismiss as ‘meaning well’, but there is nothing ‘meaning well’ in what Astrid says. It is at the very least rude and at the worst inflammatory. You feel your fists ball in your lap. Even Thor stiffens, the happy buzz of intoxication bleeding away at the edges. He’s read enough of your history to know your peoples’ prickly pride concerning sovereignty.

“Lady Astrid,” he supplies as smoothly as he can. “Asgard and the Low Countries have enjoyed a peaceful and amicable partnership for many years. No need to alter that.”

A lady would have it end there, considering herself duly and politely censured, by the crown prince no less. You wouldn’t need to say anything and both faces are saved. But Astrid is a lady on a mission. “Assuredly so, but with their Queen dead, their conquest would be a forgone conclusion, with little blood spilled. To the glory of Asgard of course.” Astrid raises her glass with the salutation and drains it.

You’ve embarrassed yourself enough tonight, and consider yourself lucky Thor chose not to take offense. You are at the table with the King and Queen of Asgard, with the noblest of blood and the highest of rank in attendance. You’ve never met most of these people before tonight, and with the way things are, you’ll probably spend the rest of your life here in exile. How you conduct yourself here and now will determine how you are perceived for the rest of your time here however long or short that will be.

“Perhaps the Lady Astrid does not know.” You’ve insulted Astrid already, maybe this is your recompense. Distasteful as it is, you’ll take it but she has to stop now. “That my home has fought long and hard for it’s freedom and it’s peace.”

“Yes but it’s not your home anymore is it? Didn’t you say you weren’t sure? So which is it? One wonder where your allegiances lie if you can’t call home the place where you’ve been so graciously sheltered. Perhaps my Lord Odin will need to rethink his consideration of you. It would us no good to nurse a traitor at the breast.”

Her tone is sweet and light, completely at odds with the accusations she makes but your tone matches your face, your fists, and your fury.

“I. Am. No. Traitor!” You’re on your feet. You’re not about to fly over the table, but it’s a thought that thankfully catches on the fraying net of your self-control. “My family has e-ver been loyal to Asgard’s crown. My mother died for that loyalty! Watch your tongue or see it removed!”

Loki wants to laugh, feels like he should to diffuse the sudden heightened tension. But he speaks to you silently, hoping to have some effect.

Apparently you have a thing for removing tongues.

He earns no laugh, but the fury emanating from you infects him. He can feel your anger, becomes angry by proxy it’s so potent. Your pride courses through you down to your very marrow, inextricable from you. And though only your pride is wounded he feels you bleed like it's your body.

This is bad.

The Astrid girl is unspeakably rude but you're about to tread so far out of line his father may make you spend a night in the dungeons. You can't threaten a King’s guest, in a King’s mead hall, in front of the King . The tales of his father in his younger years suggest good men have died for less.

“Yes! You're no traitor the way my brother was no coward! Admit your lie and beg my forgiveness and I'll consider recanting.”

Do as the girl says. You're venturing too far out even for my protection.

I don't beg! You feel Loki roll his eyes.

Then don't! But likewise don't be stupid Princess!

It's your play, your move. The guests on the dias stare, some gasp, some smirk, some shake their heads. You see Ylva, she's gnawing on her lip looking worried and distraught and you remember what she’s said to you before. You’re confident when you speak again

“I heard your coward brother was found hiding under a cart while battle raged. I didn't lie, and I'm not begging.”

Princess!

Hogun can't hold his snort, nor Sif her gasp. Bless Thor, he outright laughs. Beyond, the party continues oblivious to the distress at the King’s table but Astrid ends all that with a screech.

The entire gathering stills into a dull roar thinking a murder has happened or something equally violent.

Not yet but--

“I challenge you, traitor, to trial by combat!”

She is an unlovely shade of vengeful red, and the women sitting close to her try to calm her down.

“Enough!” The Lord Odin speaks and the low murmur silences completely.

“You don't know what you're saying girl. You're asking for a fight to the death. The laws are clear and holy not even I can circumvent--”

“I'm not asking!” Astrid replies. “I'm demanding ! But if the traitor fears death, she is in her rights to decline. My brother's name will be cleared and the nag’s honor will forever be tainted.”

“Take the girl to rest. She is clearly not in her right mind, imagining slights.” Frigga assists, waving handmaidens near, ready to take her away--with as gentle a force as they can, of course.

“My Lady, my mind is clear and sound. This is not the first time my family had been insulted. I'll stand for it no longer!” She turns to her friends, they all mumble their assent.

“She's done this before.”

“Savage girl.”

“She has no place here.”

You hear them. You imagine when you wake from the nightmare of this evening, their words might hurt. But they are easy to ignore in favor of the white blind rage pounding in your ears. Niti warned you about this, that Astrid might challenge you, and you laughed. Seems like you owe her an apology.

You are no stranger to duels. Fa’Dan once killed a man for the honor of his daughter. And your own father told tales of the countless duels he didn't fight when men challenged him for your mother when he was named her King.

“But little princess, your mamae said ‘If you're fighting for me, fight me and let your blade decide your worth.’ She bested them all without a drop of blood spilled, so really she was fighting for me . Because,” Danda leans close to a younger you poking you in the belly and ribs where you're the most ticklish. “Between you and me little princess, your danda wouldn't have been able to beat some of them.”

But Astrid is a slip of a girl, at your weakest and worst you could best her.

“I don't want to kill you girl.”

Princess! Don’t.

He turns to his mother and father, but they’re helpless, honorbound by laws older than they. A challenge issued must be either accepted or declined. They cannot interfere.

“You won’t, traitor .”

And so you, with more pride than sense,

“Aye then, let’s test your boast.”

Accept the challenge.

Chapter Text

Your night ends with a quick and stern word from the Queen to her sons. “Take her to the audience chamber and wait, your father and I will finish with our guests here.”

Frigga always speaks with a serious candor but even you must humble yourself when both princes bow, answering her in unison. “Yes mother.”

They don't manhandle you, they don't drag you away like a prisoner to a cell, but with the way Thor says,

“Follow me.”

And with the way you feel Loki seething, you don't object or ask any further questions. You allow the princes to escort you out of the hall to the hushed whispers of the guests.

“How ghastly.”

“What a beast.”

“The Lady Astrid is right, we can’t trust her.”

You’re already set to burn, what’s one more log on your pyre? You ready the retorts on your tongue, all of them unkind when Loki stops you with a hand on your shoulder.

Don't you dare. You can't fight them all.

You don't know that! You spit in return.

He believes you'd try. He also believes you'll fail.

What’s the matter? You don't trust me? Your smirk stretches across your lips and his brain. He laughs out loud startling his brother.

“Loki?”

“What!”

“Nothing you were...ahh...never mind. Brother what are we going to do?”

“We?”

“Well...yes. We have to save her from this. Don’t we?”

The audience chamber is an empty gilded hall with the throne of Asgard standing at the end of a long red carpet. It's a trial to resist the compulsion to kneel though no king is seated.

“Your concern flatters me, but it is misplaced.”

“But are you sure?”

The brothers lead you to the foot of the throne and go no further.

“Prince Thor forgets who I am.” You remind him. “I am the Captain of the Royal Cavalry of--”

Were Princess. You were.”

Hard truths sting the worst. Loki doesn’t mean to be cruel, only pragmatic. But from the broken look on your face he knows his pragmatism struck a little too close, drew a little too much blood.

“Little Princess I…”

“Even so,” You cut off his attempts to blunt the blow with an apology. “You don’t forget how to fight, how to be a warrior. Prince Thor, if Asgard were taken from you tomorrow, you’d still know how to wield Mjolnir. Loki your magic wouldn’t just disappear.”

Thor nods, Loki folds his arms. They don’t answer you, they don’t need to.

“Then give me a halberd and I’ll show you how much I remember.”

The door bursts open from behind, the King and Queen seamless in their strides as they argue.

“You are the Lord of Asgard and yet you claim impotence!”

“You test all of my patience. You and that infernal princess both! How can I uphold the law if the laws only apply to some! You!”

Odin fixes his eye on you, paralyzing you in its stare. You know you should pay your respects but your knees freeze in fear.

“What in the Nine did you think you were doing?” He roars.

“Father,” Loki starts.

“I don’t want to hear it!” Odin bellows.

The younger prince begins again, he won’t have you face Odin undefended and the favored brother lends his voice to that cause.

“Father please.”

“From you either Thor! Both my sons better keep quiet. Answer me girl!”

The last time he dared speak against his lord and father, he was locked away for a week without word, made to think you were sent back to your home and death. Loki is ready to test that wrath again, consequences be damned.

His concern is misplaced.

“If my Lord Odin remembers, I was the one challenged nor was I the instigator.”

“Yet if you kept your head and remained quiet, we could have avoided all this. Frigga could have had the girl sent home, a private apology could have been issued. It could have been smoothed over, it could have went away. That girl would have been made to look the fool for blathering challenges like she has any idea what they mean! But no! You had to answer.”

“She called me a traitor, in front of you no less!”

“And are you?”

“No, of course not!”

“Then why invite calamity!”

“Because it was my honor! My very name was slandered.”

“Your name means nothing girl!”

“But worthless as it is, it is all I have left!”

If you ball your fists any harder, your fingernails might pierce your palms. Why hasn’t anyone dragged Astrid before the King demanding answer for her insults? Why are you on trial for defending yourself? Astrid seems young and you know she’s stupid. But for you to be humiliated and then furthered censured though you did no discernable wrong, you can’t stand it.

“Don’t begrudge me the right to defend what’s mine. You know my people, more pointedly you knew my mother--”

“Aye and you are too much like her! She was just as infuriating!”

“It is good to know then, that her legacy of vexing you remains.”

Odin gapes, mouth falling open then closed, a fish breathing air. Frigga covers her mouth to stifle a giggle and Thor, bless him again, outright snorts.

Odin glares at his wife and his sons. Frigga swallows her laugh, disguises it as a sigh and Thor just chokes. As for the other son, Loki very nearly abandons proprietary to kiss your wicked mouth. A woman outside his mother who can match his father?

Rare treasure indeed.

“A legacy wasted if you die in this vain quest to preserve your honor.” Odin does not mumble, but he sounds smaller, humbled even.

“Perhaps it would behoove my Lord if he remembers about whom we are speaking.” Frigga coughs, concealing another giggle, placing a mollifying hand on her husband’s shoulder. “I think you will recall the Lady Astrid. Sweet girl as she is, she doesn’t have any martial abilities to recommend her. Meanwhile our Princess is a tested warrior and commander.”

Thor strangles on one last guffaw before he clears his throat to speak. “I have a question.”

Loki cuts his brother with a stare, “Only one?”

“How did all this happen anyway? Lady Astrid claims you insulted her brother. Others agree. I don’t know you very well, not as much as I’d like, but from what I can tell from other praise,” Thor winks at his brother, “You don’t seem like the type to needlessly throw about insults.”

You fold your lip between your teeth as three and a half pairs of eyes shoot to you. “Ahh…”

They wait, some less patiently (Odin) than others.

“So, in making my first introduction to the ladies of the court, they started exchanging stories of the Prince and their admiration for him. Since my Lord has two princes I asked for clarification of which. Apparently...”

You struggle for a delicate response.

“I’m not as highly regarded as my brother.” Loki sneers. “We all know.”

“Yes well I didn’t. Nor did I understand their contempt. What I knew of you and what they knew didn’t match--and the Lady Astrid was loudest in her condemnations. Earlier in the conversation, she made it known her brother came home from battle unscathed. When she called Prince Loki a coward, I declared that he wasn’t and that the only cowards in war are those who come home without scratches. She took that personally it seems.”

There’s a beat or two of silence, truth sinking in.

“You were defending him.” Frigga’s voice softens, quiets. “You were defending my son.”

“And she’s a fool for it.” You expect that kind of response from Odin, maybe Thor, but not from Loki himself.

Stupid girl. You’re stupid. You’re immeasurably and utterly stupid. Loki understands, though he’s having a hard time coming to terms with the idea that all of this, everything that’s happened

Is because you were defending his honor.

And now you might die for your own.

“Brother, that’s not how you show gratitude.”

“No. It is not.” Frigga agrees her expression morphs from quiet awe to annoyance.

“But she's still the bloody fool.”

“For the first time in a good while, I find myself in agreement with my younger son. She’s a damn fool, but a determined one, I’ll give her that. You really mean to fight Princess?”

You nod and Loki scoffs. “If I have to.”

“Oh yes, you have to. The rules and laws are clear.”

Now Frigga and Thor scoff.

Odin pinches the bridge of his nose, worn utterly to the bone by this exercise in exaggerated offense. But his position is clear and immutable. You must fight.

“You have a week to prepare. See that you don’t die.”

Chapter Text

Single combat.

One weapon of choice.

No magic.

Interfere and risk pain of death.

A fight to a yield or death.

In one week.

Loki outlines the rules for you, dropping them on your head like pronouncements of death. You stand in his study while he paces, you watch him think, watch him try to reason your way free of this commitment.

“What were you thinking? Clearly you weren’t.”

You’re still in your dress, a breeze from an open door makes it flutter, silk sighing on silk. Loki forces himself to stop and look at you before he starts his anxious pacing again, boots clicking on the marble.

“I can fight, you recall.”

“Regardless of what you can recall Princess, you just now stopped walking with a limp. You’re too weak, unfit to fight.”

“And look who I’m fighting! A little bloody girl who knows nothing of war. Why are you so worried?”

“Why aren’t you! Arrogance kills faster than a blade. Did you even think about the people who depend on you? Your servant. The Little Filly? Did you even think about--”

“You?”

You study his face, tease apart his fury to reveal his fear. “You’re afraid aren’t you.”

“I am not!”

“Liar.”

He stops, forcing himself to look at you again, finding himself unable to meet your eye. Because you’re right, and you’re beautiful, and you might die. And it’s his fault.

“Yes. I am a liar but you’re still a damned fool.”

You reach for his hand, he resists your pull but still moves, making you work for every step he takes towards you. Its late, you're exhausted. You don't want to fight anymore, you've done enough of that tonight with only more guaranteed in the future. So you fold, wanting nothing more than to fold into him and let the matter rest for the night. “Yes, I’m willing to agree with you on that.”

“It is not a matter of consensus but incontrovertible truth.” He’s not grinning or smiling but he wraps his arms around you anyway, reluctant to yield to your touch but yielding anyway.

You are kissing him as you speak. “You’re supposed to trust me remember.”

I do. He answers in your mind as your mouth parts against his. But I’m still furious with you.

His mouth slides to your neck, lays kisses on your pulse.

Stop talking. You admonish as you sigh, his kisses are too hot for your skin.

I'm not talking.

His hands find your hips, reach lower to palm you rear. He grabs, nails digging and he opens his mouth to swallow your gasp.

Princess.

Loki.

He grabs again and lifts. Your feet leave the floor and you're forced to lock your ankles behind his back.

His bed isn't far and he's gentle when he lays you on it.

“You're not returning to your rooms tonight.” He declares this like only royalty can, words from his mouth made law at their utterance.

“I already told the girls not to wait up.”

Presumptuous.

Hopeful.

Your fingers thread through one of the leather designs on his tunic and you pull. He's heavy, you're pinned under him but the weight feels good, protective. Solid and strong. Your impatient fingers search the sides of his body for the ties to loosen or possibly shred. There is a knife nearby you remember.

He can't read your thoughts, he doesn't want to, preferring your constant surprises than a complete knowledge of your heart and mind. But that doesn't mean you're a complete mystery, he feels your smirk when you bite the cord of skin and muscle under his ear and knows already what you're planning.

Don't cut me out of these please. The seamstress will howl.

The knife on your thigh presses into his hips when you squeeze them. He knows you're not above using it again.

Then get out of them.

Impatient.

Eager.

With a wave of his hand and a soft swish of magic, he does and takes your clothes with them. Your skin prickles from the sudden rush of cool air, nipples hardening against his chest.

Impressive.

Stop talking.

I'm not talking.

He displeasure pleases him, he groans and growls, holding onto his patience as tightly as he can, holding onto you tighter.

You're duplicitous. You're trying to make him forget his anger, replace it, disguise it with something else, most notably his lust.

But with the way his fingers pinch and his teeth nip, he's not forgotten his anger, just transferred it. You make your body a conduit for it. But that's ok, you're a warrior and you'll remind him you know how to fight.

When he attacks, you parry, tooth and nail your weapons leaving delightful little wounds in his skin. You both have stopped kissing, you've started biting. He won't leave bruises, your brown flesh shows only the barest bit of red but the stinging burn will linger.

Fool he calls you with his mouth on your breast. My beautiful fool.

You are, that and more. You make him find other words for you. Strong. With a twist of your hips and a squeeze of your thighs, you flip him to his back. You leave a bite that will purple on his neck, a warning to stay exactly where you leave him.

“Can I try something?” You ask.

He thinks the erection pressing against the cleft of your behind is tacit enough permission to try whatever you like as long you're comfortable and you don't stop. But he nods, wetting his lips with the swipe of his tongue.

Adventurous. the apple in his throat bobs as he swallows a sigh that gets stuck in his throat as a moan.

Curious. You answer, your hips rising, rubbing yourself on the long curved arc of his cock. He fists the sheets, where they less than silk, they might have torn.

“Do it, princess…”

You will but not yet, sliding back down the length of him, his velvet against your satin, before sliding back up again. Warriors have patience, they know when the time is right to strike.

You fold over and kiss him, hips still grinding, still teasing him with the promise of those hips and that cunt driving down him to the root.

“Princess…yes...more.”

He still holds tight, to you, to his patience, his trust too.

“Loki.” You moan. Then you rise, carefully with your hand you fit him inside then you sink slowly, adjusting, acclimating to the stretch. It hasn't been too long since you last felt him deep within you, but part of you still waits for the pain you always expected.

You don't feel it. You only feel heat and pressure, a glorious burn in your thighs and your cunt.

“Stars!”

He stills you with his hands on your hips.

“Go slow.”

You rise and fall body making a hollow pop when your hips meet again. Loki hisses and his nails clench into the flesh of your hips.

“That wasn't slow.”

“I know. “

You bounce again, harder this time. There is the unfortunate metaphor for horse riding but it's apt. You know well how to move your body atop him whether you wish to trot or gallop and from the satisfied smirk on your mouth he knows which one you prefer.

You test my patience.

Then lose it.

Up and down, you rock on him, hands braced on his chest.

“Princess,” he pants. Head rolling back into his pillows.

Remind me now who is weak?

He is, he is so very weak, made so by the harsh slap of your hips atop him. He feels every muscle squeeze him, it makes him twitch, his body jerks up meeting you at the deepest part of your stroke filling you the fullest you've been yet.

“Fuck! Do that again!”

It's vulgar almost the way you take him, your frenzied rhythm jarring both bodies enough to rattle your bones. If your mouth were closed, the click of your teeth would sever your tongue but oh...

With the way you're fucking him (fucking! you repeat in the parts of your brain still able to register words and thoughts. How delightful! How carnally satisfying to desire and be desireable enough to just fuck!)

You don't chew through your tongue with your teeth because your mouth is never closed. It’s wide open in a permanent ‘o’, every one of your thrusts makes you sound an exclamation point on your pleasure.

Oh! oh! oh!

Your prince, he holds the bridle of your hips focused on the give in your flesh as you guide yourself down and down and down! on his cock.

He isn't quiet, and you hope polite company is nowhere near his chamber doors (or with the way he groans, near his whole wing) He screams just as loudly as you do, exulting in the upward snap of his hips and wet snack of your rear against them.

“Princess. Fuck!”

“Yes!”

You're close, you slow, but your prince continues driving up harder and harder as you drive down, his back steadily arcing of his bed. Heels and elbows in the mattress, his body stretches, he's curved like a bow, howling your name mingled with obscenities. You tear his climax from him, rip him from time and space and thought the way a warrior would rip a heart from a chest.

You can't stop moving and shaking, feeling him pulse inside you. Your head tips back and you let go riding to completion climaxing just as he finishes his own.

The bones in your back gel you curl forward, you curl into him. The warrior has well proven her point but you'll pay for the exertion later.

His arms open to nestle you closer, and with a little more magic you’re under the covers instead of on top of them.

You touch a smarting bruise, a love bite that’s already turning from red to purple. He likes the sharp prickle of it, he likes the hissing noise it makes him make.

Ravenous.

You shake your head against his shoulder.

Foolish.

Chapter Text

You sleep soundly yet it has nothing to do with the arm around your waist or the gentle sigh of the breath on your neck. Exhaustion puts you right to sleep as soon as your eyes close. You didn’t tell Loki about the way your legs burned on the walk from the hall to the throne room and how that pain grew worse from trip there to his quarters. You conveniently forget to mention your dizziness or how your scars started to burn at the three hour mark at the feast.

 

It doesn’t matter. Warriors still fight when injured and you will too.

 

Put a weapon in your hand and you’ll remember how to swing it.

 

So you won’t need to tell him how much your arms ached after holding him when you danced.

 

Odin and Loki both are right, you are a damned fool.

 

His face doesn’t change when he sleeps. He’s not softer or more innocent, he still looks as hard and cunning at rest as he does awake. You love the lines that construct his face, sharp and arrow straight, no curve in his lips or wrinkles in his wide forehead. Your prince is gentle when he wishes, sweet when he desires, but when he sleeps he is his crueler self, the one he makes everyone believe is his only self.

 

Maybe one night he’ll smile in his sleep and you hope you’re there to see it, cause it. But for now you kiss that smooth brow and unsmiling mouth wishing him well on whatever journeys his dreams have taken him. You pray to the stars and fates he remains untouched by nightmares and add your own little plea for your safety.

 

There is so much left for you to do. To say. People to protect. Maybe even save. You haven’t surrendered hope of returning, before tonight you always pray that you and Se’risa find your way home.

 

You cannot return as a body.

 

You remember death and how you ached for it when you first woke, thinking there was nothing left in the world worth remaining for. You squeeze a pale hand, slotting your fingers in between his knuckles, holding him as he holds you.

 

Mamae, Danda, Hava, I miss you. Every day. But please wait a while longer for me to come home.

 

You’re asleep again, shortly after your little prayer.

 

You don’t hear the stars reply.

 

**

 

He rises first, and early, beating the first light of dawn by an hour or so. He has to pull apart from you and it’s difficult, like trying to get the red out of the purple--he doesn’t want to leave. You linger on him when he finally extracts from you, your heat does, as does the tickle of your hair on his cheek. There’s other evidence of you too, the mark on his collarbone has bloomed into a full-fledged bruise.

 

His regular day-wear would cover it, but he considers an open shirt to tease you and possibly spite his father.

 

His servants have access to outer chambers and study and they know his habits and proclivities well enough to know to leave tea on the table and to never dare announce it’s arrival. There’s a robe draped over one of the chairs with a note folded on top written with script he doesn’t recognize.

 

You are in so much trouble! I’m going to kill you if Se’risa doesn’t first!

 

The servant. He’s not surprised she knows. By now all of the palace and possibly the city below knows. Good mornings come rarely. With you tangled in his limbs and sheets, he would have marked this one among the best. But the reminder of what’s happened and what's to come sours that.

 

He crumples the note and throws it into the embers of his hearth. There will be time enough later for your servant and the little filly to vent their anger.

 

“That was for me wasn’t it? You shouldn’t mishandle other’s people’s letters.”

 

Whatever he’s done with your dress, you can’t find it. So when you wake you have to wrap yourself in his sheets, holding your bedclothing closed with a full fist at your chest.

 

“You should have just come naked Princess.”

 

Not his eyes nor his mouth, but his voice smirks, full of mischief even this early, enhanced by his own unashamed nudity.

 

“Loki.” You shade your eyes.

 

“Oh now you’re bashful, where was your shy when you left me with these tasty little bruises?” He intentionally pokes a tender one and makes himself hiss. “What will my mother say?”

 

“Loki! I’m so sorry! I shouldn’t ha--”

 

“Shh! Not another word. Now drop the sheet.”

 

“Absolutely not, there’s nothing under here.”

 

“Yes I’m aware, I daresay that’s the point.” He dangles the robe in front of you, making it shake in between his two fingers. “Drop it.”

 

You shake your head, making your cheeks burn as you fight your smile. You take a step back but his sheets are long and your legs are tired . You step on your coverings and they rip from where you have them gathered in your fist. You can’t save them or your modesty so you let both go.

 

He takes several protracted moments to look, up and down and back again. “Much better Princess.”

 

“Jackass!” You mean to step forward and snatch the robe, you try, but your leg buckles suddenly your knee simply liquefies. You’re destined for the floor, bound for it, but for his arms, you stay standing.

 

“Princess.” He’s not smirking anymore, voice, eyes, or face. “Are you alright?”

 

“Fine. Fine.”

 

“I don’t believe you.”

 

You fit your arms into the sleeves of your robe. “Then don’t. But trust that I’m fine.”

 

That word again, he’s beginning to hate it. How you use it as a bludgeon to silence his doubts.

 

He bats your fingers away, takes their place to tie the robe closed. As he does he purposefully brushes every scar he finds. The one under your breast that he kissed so well the night before. The one on your hip that still hurts. There one right across your belly that you tore open that day you read Fa’Dan’s letter. There’s also the scar on your back, lines up neatly with the one under your breast, from where Fa’Rey punched all the way through.

 

“Then would you tell me if you weren’t?”

 

You are whisper quiet when you answer. “No.”

 

“See, now that I believe.”

 

He ties your robe closed, takes those fingers and lifts your lips to his mouth. It’s a fangy kiss, it leaves impressions in your lips. “Death cannot have you, I haven’t had enough yet.”

 

“I have no plans on letting it get me.”

 

“Good. Tell me them.”

 

“Where do you keep the steel?”

 

**

 

You have to delay your trip to the training grounds for a slight and uncomfortable detour. You can’t train in a dressing robe and you certainly can’t do it in the dress you wore the night before.

 

So you have to return to your quarters.

 

To get proper armor.

 

And face the wrath of Niti and Se’risa.

 

Except it’s not quite wrath as it is exasperation, Se’risa’s not even upset with you. In fact she’s completely understanding as you go over your exchange with Astrid, nodding solemnly as you finish, accepting your commitment to this duel.

 

She’s not angry because she’s already decided you’ll win. She doesn’t ask if you will, or make you promise that you will, she just knows it. Loki wishes he had the luxury of such faith but he’s seen you hurt and weak and bloody. He knows what you look like half a step from death and knows your journey back from that isn’t over. Not even close.

 

Niti knows it too. “I don’t trust this. Astrid’s a silly bird but she’s not stupid. Why challenge you at all. She’s no fighter.”

 

“Perhaps she’s looking to take advantage of the Princess’s weakness.”

 

Your voice rings out from behind a dressing screen joining Se’risa’s as you both protest against your alleged ‘weakness’.

 

“I am not weak!”

 

“She is not weak!”

 

Neither Niti nor Loki are amused.

 

“Do you need help back there?” Niti offers.

 

“I can put on my own armor. I’m done anyway.”

 

You step out from behind the screen in your Captain’s Armor. You don’t look ready for full combat, in this you wouldn’t lead a charge of your Royal Cavalry. Your armor is missing quite a few pieces, from the gouges still present, each hole in the leather lining up neatly with a scar underneath, to the scale overcoat that’s somewhere in personal armory back home. You do have your iron greaves and vambraces, ensuring an enemy can’t injure your legs or forearms as you run him down. But for the most part, your look is ceremonial--more form than function. For today it will do.

 

Se’risa rises, puts away her book, a tome thicker than the ones the Prince was reading at that age. She has your bracelet for the day all ready, an iron cuff with an obsidian jewel in the middle. Dutifully you take off your vambraces, don the bracelet, and re-strap it to your forearm. Se’risa’s fingers poke in the rents on your chest: the one under your breast, across your belly. She remembers the fragility of life, how easy the once thought invincible adults can be taken away from her. But you skewered a man to save her life, so she’ll always save her faith for you. Makes a gift of it to you when everyone else doubts.

 

“My Princess will win.”


“She better.” Niti crosses her arms, making a mental note to find an awl and some waxed thread. Under her care you can’t look shredded. “I got too much riding on her for her to just die on me. Go kick some ass Princess. Show them how you do it. You can do it right?” Niti pauses, takes stock of her ill applied words while glaring at the prince. “Don’t answer that.”

Chapter Text

“Too long.”

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.

Tastes.

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.

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.

Good.

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.

You land.

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.

“Princess!”

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.

“Move.”

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.”

Chapter Text

Everybody shouts at once, Sif actually turns her blade against him. “What do you think you’re doing!”

“Actually being of use Sif. It does her no good when her opponents pull their punches!”

Sif gapes for a moment before her mouth quickly snaps shut.

“I knew something didn’t look right!” Thor yells.

“I was just trying to help.” She mutters.

Loki pushes past those fools to you, throwing your spear to the ground. “Get your weapon and get up!”

Gold smoke wisps about his fingers until it solidifies into a gold staff with a hooked end. He prefers his magic when he engages his enemies but he’s more than competent with just the weapon alone.

He hits hard, as hard as danda did. Your next sensation after the pain is dirt pressing against your cheek and blood in your mouth. You spit it out, touching the back of your hand to your swollen lip.

“Next time warn me!”

Loki readies his staff, he feints, making you snatch your weapon and roll away before he can strike you again.

Loki nods, he’s not wholly pleased but at least you’re catching on. “Do you expect such courtesy from someone trying to kill you? No? Then you won’t get it from me.”

He attacks, with no announcement or warning and you aren’t on your feet yet. The hooked end of his staff slices through air coming for you. You roll, pushing off the ground with your hand hard enough to bring you to your knees. Hard enough to make you think you broke your wrist.

No time to reach your feet, his staff blade clacks on the haft of your spear inches from your head. This is a struggle you'll lose, his strength bears down, your arms tremble to keep him in place but they just aren't strong enough to push him back.

Fire boils your blood, makes you dizzy and sick with pain.

Let go. I won't hurt you.

Tell that to my jaw!

I'm sorry for that but it's clear you can't do this anymore. Stop now and I'll take care of you. Whatever you desire, name it, it's yours.

You think of hot baths and spiced wine. Warm hands that tickle. Kisses that burn but not quite like the inferno that's turning you to smoke and ash from the inside out. It sounds lovely, so very lovely. And yet...

His staff inches closer, your arms are failing you.

You bear your teeth at him, your eyes blaze at him. He feels your arms shake but you have him at a stalemate that you lose with every twitch. You are beautiful in your tenacity. He sees nothing but you and your unbroken will fighting with a half-whole body. It’s divine almost, the power of your will. The purest parts of you. The parts that say ‘I must win’ even as reality screams ‘you cannot’. He wishes he had such faith, but he doesn’t. He is grounded, buried, in the cold earth of reality.

Give up!

Shut up, trickster! I won’t…

You pull every muscle in your neck when you swing your whole body hard left getting out from under him. He doesn’t expect this, the movement or its quickness. Loki falters forward, staff hitting the dirt.

There's time, only heartbeats but in battle where the smallest unit of time is a twitch, a heartbeat is longer than an age. You're on your feet now, tearing for him, aiming for that smart mouth hoping you can return the gesture, make him taste some of his own blood.

But he's got a longer reach, faster hands. He parries each lunge, swiping them aside with no more effort than a child batting away flies.

Give up before you're humiliated Princess. The butt of his spear bludgeons your chest, he makes you breathless for the first time without his smile.

Is this it? Pathetic.

Lies, all of them, easily delivered but they numb his tongue and wound his heart.

You feel leather tear at your back. Only leather not skin. But Loki is still in front of you.

You turn, and see him behind you. There’s two! Stars help you but one is enough!

“You cheat!” You scream.

Both princes laugh, twin staves striking you, one in the back, the other in the chest.

“Not every fight is fair!”

He duplicates his doubles, then does it again, forming a ring of pain around you you can't escape. You swing your spear in wide arcs, you swing your whole body, every part of you is stretched and torn to keep him at bay.

It’s alright princess. It’s alright. Give up. I’ll care for you when this is done. There is no shame in defeat.

That’s a truth, there is no shame. Only death.

Give up.

Never has he been so torn, of such disparate mind. He wants both for you. For you to quit and keep fighting. He has no desire to add to your pain but he has less desire to see you give in to it.

You will hurt when you fight Astrid no matter her skill. If you mean to live, you musn't stop moving but stars he wishes you would.

No!

The limits of his magic make his duplicates fizzle and dissolve, you flip outside the circle of Lokis as they dissipate back into a single and familiar form. He gives no quarter, he’s back on you again snarling with every blow of his staff you block and dodge.

You’re weakening. Your body protests with more pain the further you keep going. You slow, you take more hits than you deal, amplifying your pain.

GIVE UP!

Please! For his sake now more than yours. He cannot bear to hurt you a moment longer but he cannot bear to stop himself because Hel take him

Death. Cannot. Have. You!

His form changes. It morphs. He shrinks and his limbs thin. He grows a rounded chest, his skin darkens and his hair lengthens. His face is still familiar though, but instead of quickening your heart and bringing a smile to your lips, it quickens your heart and brings a snarl.

Fa’Rey.

“It’s a wonder you didn’t die mi’isah. A mistake I’ll correct.”

His staff becomes her sword. He screams with her voice and you’re back home again, halberd in your hand, fighting for you life against family that means to take everything from you.

You freeze too long and it means another blow to your gut that knocks you into the dirt. But there are no twitches between the floor and your feet. You’re back up again. Screaming.

“You go too far Liesmith!”

It’s an illusion. It’s an illusion! It’s him under that brown skin and that sultry taunt. He’s trying to fracture you into pieces, to push you to your limit and push you off it.

Don’t stop moving little princess!

You don’t know anymore if that’s your father’s voice or Loki’s but you know, it’s clear, both want you to keep moving.

Pain makes you delirious. It infects you with reckless rage. Your spear slices against warm flesh, the back of a calf. Fa’Rey howls and rolls away but you twist and fly right after her shouting incoherencies in your language stained with the common tongue.

“I will kill you d’resh s’natha!”

You are blind in your left eye, the consequence of pulling the muscles in your neck (you aren’t, but you don't know it, it just feels like you are). There is no part of you that isn’t blistering with pain, but you don’t feel it anymore. It’s shut off from you, compartmentalized, locked in your chest, in the spaces of your heart. Next to where you keep your Prince, Se’risa, Niti, Manmae, Danda, Hava, Cephalus. Rage is the only feeling you let free, you have to make Fa’Rey pay for what she’s done.

And you forget that’s not Fa’Rey.

“Die al’banath!”

This isn’t interesting anymore, it’s not cute. Thor looks at you like you’re going to kill his beloved baby brother and a sword is in his hands, with a real blade, ready to cut you in half. Sif and the rest stop him, shouting Loki’s brought this on himself, and that both blades are dulled. But even a dull blade can kill if it strikes with a hard enough blow.

Yes! This is what he dug for, to bring you to this point where you are blind, deaf, and dumb to all except your own survival. He’s hit gold, pain is nothing to you and weakness is a foreign concept. You slash at him, you are really trying to kill him. Fa’Rey’s body and voice is just enough to trigger an avalanche of power that will bury him.

He is pleased even as you break his collarbone.

“Fa’Rey!”

He is tempted to shout his name back, to remind you of who he is and hopefully remind you what his true name means to you. But he keeps quiet. Blocking and dodging and dancing out of your murderous reach.

“You took everything from me!”

No Princess no. He thinks. He would give you everything. But you have to survive first.

His feet falter in the sand, he spares a twitch to look behind him and that’s enough, the blade of your staff cuts across his abdomen slicing him from shoulder to hip, dull blade (striking with a hard enough blow) drawing blood.

He screams.

“How dare you!”

You stop, the next twist and twirl would have lopped off his head or at least cut his neck but your body stops moving. Sight returns to your left eye, sanity returns to you, you blink and you see what you’ve done.

“Loki. Stars. Loki.” You drop your spear. You’re horrified.

Always stop, little princess, before you go too far, before you can’t take back what you’ve done. Always. Stop.

You didn’t. And now you’ve hurt--

“Loki, I’m so sorry. Kot--”

He drops his staff and seizes you by the neck. He doesn’t squeeze but you cannot move. “Do you.” He exhales every word through his teeth. “Apologize. To every battlefield. Opponent?”

Tears bead and fall. You shake your head.

His other hand is on your stomach, across your longest most painful scar. He pushes until you both fall to the dirt. His brow is bathed in sweat, his lip is bloodied. His armor is sliced through to flesh and he’ll have a scar on his chest for months after what you’ve done.

“Does. It hurt?!”

Pain explodes across your senses, vibrates every one of your nerves. But it is no more than a tingle.

“No.”

Loki presses harder, squeezes your neck, makes it hard to breathe. This is the last that he has, the utmost he’s willing to do to ensure that you will fight and win and live.

“Does. It. Hurt!”

“No!”

He believes you. He believes you.

Then he kisses you.

Chapter Text

No damns are spared, no cares given that there’s an audience watching. He kisses you desperately, making his apologies known through his lips. He’s bleeding, you're bleeding, he tastes your blood on your lips. Metallic and divine. He almost tells you that, almost breaks in half and spills everything.

But he suddenly remembers, as Hogun whistles, that unworthy eyes are watching, ears are listening. And they are not meant to hear what he burns to say.

So he swallows his confessions down for another day.

“She’s just fighting a little pomf.” Volstagg reasons. “Was all that necessary?”

Yes you echo together.
“That was,” Fandral searches for an adequate word, but Loki’s still pressing you into the dirt with his hips and the warrior feels like he's half a minute away from observing something obscene. “Maybe we should give them some privacy?”

“Aye.”

“Shut up!” Loki rises, falters a bit, but stands. He reaches for you but you're back on your feet under your own power, hand over your midsection.

“I think that's enough for today.”

Sif coughs, as embarrassed as Fandral is, “Enough? Looks like you were only getting started.”

Thor remains unamused. “Have a care next time you go insane. That was my brother you almost killed.”

You meet his eyes and shrink as you wither under them. “I am sorry.”

“Thor stop! She hurt me no more than I did her.”

“Which by lookin’ at you is a whole Hel-uva lot! Come on! Ale will set you two to rights!”

“Volstagg no. I'm sure those two need some eh ‘private time’ to stitch back up, literally.”

Sif’s right, you're both shredded armor and flesh.

Loki doesn't offer goodbyes, he just goes, dragging you with him.

**

He doesn't ask for your help as he hunches over, but you wrap his arm around your shoulders, propping him back up on the long walk back to your chambers.

Looking a little unsteady there Prince.

I'm fine little princess.

I don't believe you.

Then trust me.

He wins that one, and you reward his victory with a kiss. Servants hide snickers in their sleeves as they pass you but you don't notice, nor do you see where they go, to whom they speak. Unworthy eyes that pay a fair bit of coin to know who you’re with, where you are, and what you’re doing with whomever you’re with.

You taste like dirt. But he keeps kissing you. The pleasant feeling of your mouth cancels your unpleasant taste.

Then stop.

No.

Were in the middle of --

“I don't care.” He growls against your mouth.

“I do!” Lord Odin bellows at the head of the hall, a gaggle of councillors and the queen with him. “The Hel do you think you're doing being indecent in my hallways? The palace of Asgard isn't your cheap whorehouse!”

You decide he’s making a general comment about the situation he’s found his son in and not the quality of his company. Otherwise you might get yourself thrown in a dungeon for an even greater ‘indecency’.

“Odin let them be, they were hardly being ‘indecent’ because you already know what that looks like.”

Odin pinks around the whiskers. It's true. In the past, he's caught both of his sons more than once taking liberties with their lovers in places they shouldn't.

Odin pushes the past those uncomfortable memories, looking the two of you up and down. “What the Hel happened to you?”

Loki remembers his bruises from the night before and recalls he has an agenda of enraging his father and embarrassing you. He wraps an amorous arm around your waist and holds you to his chest, daring his father with a grin to say something else untoward. “We had our first fight.”

You roll your eyes as Frigga laughs and push away from him, biting your lip to keep from laughing. Technically, he’s not wrong but-- oh-- is he insufferable.

Odin’s pink tinged ears redden. “And you dare lay a hand on a prince!”

Oh she’s lain more than just hands on me. Loki is bold, rash, sometimes foolish but he’s not stupid. He keeps that one between you two, delighted by the way you bite your lip harder and try to hide your face.

Odin’s in a mood. Maybe it’s about this duel or some other burden of kingship, but you can tell it’s not a time to be defiant like you were the last time you saw him. “The prince was gracious enough to assist with my-- calisthenics for the day.”

You smile, not too wide or too bright, just the right side of pretty and demure. A message lost in your swollen lip and shredded armor.

“And it looks like you nearly killed him!”

“To be perfectly fair, my Lord, he gave as good as he got.” You touch your fingers to your bloody lip, determining, yes, it’s still lightly bleeding.

Frigga makes a noise but restrains herself from knocking her son on the head. She understands everything, even if Odin refuses to acknowledge it.

“My Lord, we best let them get on their way to the infirmary to see about their injuries.”

She hurries her husband away, sparing you a smirk and her son a glare mouthing at him: ‘Don’t you ever do this again’.

Loki grabs you again, kissing the top of your head and winking back.

“Great Stars take me now.” You mutter.

**
He winces as the needle pierces his flesh, black thread following behind into the hole you make. The wave of his hand un-bruises you you and unbreaks bits of him. But the drain on his magic during the fight and the drain on it now leaves him unable to heal you both whole. But you know how to stitch a wound, and you probably owe him this service considering you wounded him thus in the first place. So here he sits, shirtless and cross legged on your bed as you patch him back together.

“I’m surprised you're not angry with me. Ouch!”

Your needle slips, pokes where it shouldn’t. He looks down, you’re still concentrated on your task but there’s a new smile there that wasn’t just seconds before.

“Point literally taken.”

The cut is wide but not deep. He only requires a few stitches in a few places, pale skin crossed with the little black ‘x’s of thread.

“I’m sorry.” He adds.

“Stop talking.” You correct him.

“But it’s too quiet-- ouch! Mercy! I thought we were done fighting!”

“Shh!”

He shuts his mouth making his teeth click.

This is easy for you, easier than it was stitching up Fa’Rey. You loathe to remember her fondly. You wish you could erase every moment your cousin made you smile. It’s easier to hate someone when all they’ve done is hurt you. But you can’t ignore decades of friendship and closeness--yes all of that was undone the moment she slid a sword between your ribs--but it’s not easily forgotten.

He watches your smile whiter and wonders the cause.

What are you thinking?

“About Fa’Rey.”

I’m sorry. That was cruel of me.

“No it wasn’t that. It was a happy memory. As happy as they can be nowadays.”

Tell me?

You pull the thread through another stitch. His cut shallows then deepens again on his belly, he’ll require a few more stitches there.

“A raiding party came into our lands. Manmae and Uncle Fa’Dan dispatched us to deal with it. We took a few of our soldiers, our favorites, figuring taking care of some horse thieves would be simple. We treated it like it was a vacation. We were young, command was new.”

I can guess what happened next.

“We were routed, forced to flee. I think it was the most shameful defeat of my life. Thank the Great Stars no one died. But we were hurt pretty badly. I had to..”

You giggle, it makes your hands shake, you poke Loki in the chest with your needle.

“Ouch!”

“I’m sorry. It’s just that---it makes this easier that you’re much much paler than me…”

“What of it?”

You laugh again. A traitorous tear escapes the confines of your will and your lashes. Loki wipes it away, before you can.

“Tell me.”

“I had to stitch Fa’Rey up in the dark. And the thread was black like this and I could hardly see what I was doing. She goes, ‘I’m glad it’s me mi’isah with the with the wound. If it were you, the stitches would get lost.’ And...and it’s funny because I had to remind her we’re just about the same shade. And we just laughed and laughed and it stopped mattering that we almost died.”

“Do you miss her?”

“I don’t know.”

“Regardless, I too am glad it is me with the stitches.” He takes the spool of black thread spinning it around his fingers and yours. They wouldn’t be lost on you, but on him there is no mistaking. He kisses your threaded fingers. “Wouldn’t want yours to get lost.”

You smile at him, returning to your work. Your fingers are on his chest, they move nimbly. You are practiced at this. He appreciates the care you take with him when you pierce the flesh and tie the knot. This is your power too but a sweeter kind, the kind that makes one whole. And not only because you are literally piecing him whole again.

“Leave the rest.” He says when you tie off the latest row.

“You still need--”

“I said leave it.”

He kisses you before you can protest again, pushing against your shoulders, pushing you into the bed. Here the unworthy ears can’t hear. Eyes can’t watch. He has one perfect moment right now. One he means to seize as the battle’s high sloughs off him, leaving him clearheaded and painfully aware of how hard his heart beats when you’re so close

Niti opens the door to your chambers, freezes, and immediately stands in front of Se’risa, shielding her. From what, nobody knows. You both are decent for the most part outside the blood and the dirt.

“Oh ho hey yo. Okay. C’mon kid, we gotta find a place to chill for a minute...hour.”

Loki groans, gritting his teeth as he rises, his plans for you thwarted. “The rest of your natural lives if you can manage it.”

“Be nice.” You gently scold him. “Stop pretending you hate them so much.”

“Feelings mutual!” Se’risa shouts from underneath the protective but wholly unnecessary hand Niti’s placed over her eyes.

“C’mon kiddo, let's give the adults some private time. Hang a scarf over the door or something next time, give us some warning. It’s gonna take days for my eyes to adjust after all this brightness.”

Niti, with her free hand, shades her eyes, squinting at the shirtless and injured prince.

“Niti!” You reach for something to throw but she’s already gone, ushering Se’risa away with a teasing laugh.

And they do stay gone for the rest of the day, not that you needed the privacy. After dutifully finishing his stitches and a bath that was more a business transaction between you, the water, and a hefty amount of soap, you both collapse into sleep.

Dreamless and sweet, wrapped around each other like black thread.

Chapter Text

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?”

“No.”

“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.

“Again!”

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.

But.

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!”

“He won’t.”

“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.

Perfect.

Moment.

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.

Chapter Text

 

His fear is still there, omnipresent and omnipotent, able to delicately detach his heart from the moorings in his mind and lodge it in his throat. Loki is still afraid, will always be afraid, because he loves you.

 

He’s not compelled by any need to tell you as you walk away. You’re a smart girl, he trusts that you know. Trusts that you can hear the message implicit as he yells after you:

 

“Make this quick little princess!”

 

He holds tight to the dagger you left him with. “And you’re not getting this back!” He shouts, loud enough to disturb the moment taking place a few feet and an entire paradigm away.

 

Lady Astrid’s mother holds desperately to her daughter, clutching her youngest to her breast and weeping softly. Astrid herself is blank faced, either wholly unconcerned or so utterly gripped by fear that it’s stripped the senses from her.

 

He has the room for this, he approaches and interrupts.

 

“Fight well girl, and don’t worry. It will be over sooner than you think.”

 

The mother babbles prayers, ignoring him, but Astrid nods to the prince, a gesture of gratitude he's not sure how to return.

 

So he doesn't.

 

He returns to his seat in the royal box large enough to fit his family and more.

 

Thor is there, as is his retinue, mother, father, the little filly, and the servant. The aristocracy fill the seats around the royal box. The red haired oaf is here, and so is Lady Ylva. She smiles at him and mouths another thank you that he doesn’t return.

 

He just sits, cold and silent, his trust and your power soften the edge on his fear but it can't take away the chill.

 

He does not pray, to the stars or otherwise. Instead he thinks of Hel and opens his mind to Death.

 

Stay away from her.

 

**

You are in a wide ring encircled by stone hewn risers, every inch filled with the curious and the vulgar. Eager to see the spectacle or sate themselves on the violence.

 

You ignore the incantations of the priests, play deaf to their entreats to the Valkyries. You gaze up at the yellow sky, shrouded with clouds that hang so low they press heavy on your shoulders. You apologize to the winged women in advance, the request of their presence is a false alarm. Their services are unnecessary today.

 

Your spear is a bit longer, heavier too, made of quality steel instead of reforged scrap like your blunted practice weapon. That spear was a bruiser of men, this is a killer of one.

 

You walk the spear in the dirt, testing how the blade parts the hard packed ground. This place isn’t sandy like most arenas.

 

Good.

 

Horses can't get good speeds on shifting and giving ground and nor can you.

 

You think this makes for a good spectacle, the warrior assessing the lay off the land before battle. But while you have every intention of landing no more than 5 solid strikes hard enough to bring any little girl to heel, part of you must admit this needs to be done. The Captain in you demands it.

 

And while you test the ground, your opponent stands stock still, shifting back and forth on the balls of her feet. She's clad in an ill-fitting breastplate, far too large, and greaves two sizes too big that are strapped so tightly to her legs it’s a wonder she can walk or stand at all.

 

You’ve killed people in your armor, you’ve trampled them on Cephalus, you’ve skewered them with your halberd. You’ve sentenced captives and criminals and cowards to die while wearing this, washed the blood--yours and others--from this. In your armor you look like the warrior you are.

 

Astrid looks like a girl in a breastplate, who’s never killed for her supper let alone for her life.

 

You are glad then, when the priests remind everyone that death is not a requirement today.

 

“Shout ‘yield’ and the duel is over. Die and the duel is over. Great stars, bear witness and let the battle begin!”

 

The crowd cheers. For a moment you think the sky has split open and the roaring in your ears is a torrent of rain but the ground is still dry, you’re still dry. Astrid is on the other side, rooted motionless to the ground in fear.

 

He can’t reach you, you’re so focused that your mind is closed to him. So he has to watch like a common man, watch you walk toward the girl.

 

He repeats his prayer to Death. Just to be sure.

 

“Lady Astrid.” You bow, a dip of the head--nothing more--because even here manners are paramount.

 

Astrid grunts through gritted teeth. “Do you still want to do this? You know we don’t have to.”

 

“Cut the shit girl.” You spin the spear in your hand, making it twirl in a wide circle. Casual and lazy, but the blade sings as it slices the air every time it comes around. “Are you sure you wanna do this?”

 

Astrid gulps but holds tight to her false confidence. “Unlike you, I have my honor. And a family’s honor to uphold. Whore .”

 

You’ve been called worse by better, the epithet slides off you, a drop of rainwater off polished leather.

 

Your spear spins, you increase the speed. The crowd cries out and Astrid flinches. Elsewhere a mother shouts and wails, screams when your blade stops spinning. You grip it with two hands and lunge in a diagonal arc across Astrid’s chest, but at the last possible moment, you spin the spear in your hands, the blade facing your chest, and strike her with the wooden handle.

 

Astrid staggers back. Trips into the dirt, unable to hold her feet with the ill fitting and heavy armor. You attack again, it’s very awkward holding the blade near your body and attacking with the handle end, you have to compensate, hold your arms awkwardly and unnaturally to keep yourself from getting cut. Your strikes can’t fall with the same power as they would if you were allowed to use your spear as it was meant to be but, you can tell by the crack of teeth when you hit her face that it still really hurts.

 

Astrid scrambles from you, blood pouring from her mouth. Learned that from you . You think to yourself. You don’t reach for him, you don’t want the distraction, but as the girl struggles to find her feet you look for the Royal Box, you cue into him, sight like an arrow’s perfect flight.

 

I love you. You think. And when this is over you’ll tell him.

 

So let’s finish this quickly.

 

Astrid makes it back to her feet, holding her sword out in front of her, the tip of the blade trembling. You still hold your spear, handle first, blade hugged to your body. You don’t swing it, you stab it. Short little jabs to test her maneuverability, she tries to swat the spear away with her sword and she’s far too slow. But you’re just feinting, testing.

 

Toying Loki thinks with a grin. Arrogance is something he didn’t think you had in you.

 

It’s not.

 

Astrid yelps, the butt of your spear striking her at the highest point of her breastplate, right where her two collarbones meet. She starts to cough, air forced out of her, bent over. You flip your spear and strike again, the broad head of the blade smacking against her cheek like an open palmed slap. Enough to hurt and humiliate, you even hear laughter from the crowd.

 

You withdraw to a healthy distance instead of following up that blow with another. You don’t want to make a fool of this girl, you just want to make her quit. Astrid screams and tears after you, hurling more insults as she swings her sword. Too much follow through, she wields the weapon like a club, tip hitting the dirt after every strike. It’s a matter of a side step here and a quick jump back there to avoid her.

 

You’re not angry anymore, you’re embarrassed, for yourself and for her. Blade still under your arm, you stop toying with her, dancing around her. You plant your feet, end up eating a few bits of sword--the iron glances off your vambraces, digs into your armor but doesn’t tear it. You strike her across the face, then again across the other cheek.

 

“Yield girl!”

 

You sweep the haft under her feet and she falls on her back into the dirt. You drive the butt of your spear into her chest and Astrid makes an awful groaning noise that makes even your heat twist in guilt.

 

“Yield!”

 

You let her rise to her knees. She spits out a glob of blood, wipes her mouth, and stares at her hand. Astrid rises to her feet, heavy greaves clunking as she moves, breastplate shifting. Astrid reaches her hand for the straps and tightens them. The armor fits a little better than it did before.

 

She looks into the crowd, searches for a face. Her mother sobs for her, continuously, prays for her with words that don’t sound like coherent language anymore. She passes her eyes from her mother’s face and finds Lady Ylva.

 

This has gone on long enough. It is time to end this. Lady Ylva nods.

 

Astrid is calm and firm when she answers you but it is not the answer you expect. “No.” 


The girl grips her sword like it was meant to be held, it slides into her hand, fits there naturally.

 

She attacks.

Chapter Text

She’s so fast you flinch. You startle backwards, your spear blade jamming into your ribs. When her sword comes for you, it does not thud into the dirt. Her form is perfect and practiced, she follows through, reverses direction and sends the blade right back.

 

Aiming for your head.

 

It’s more than a side step or a jump back now to avoid it, you fall all the way over, striking your head on the ground. The crowd whistles and cheers. It’s a real fight now.

 

Niti is the first to her feet, cursing, not bothering to cover Se’risa’s ears. “Did you see that?! Like how?! What the..”

 

“It was a lucky hit, that’s all.” Thor sounds like he believes his words, he nods, convincing himself he does. Loki holds onto his trust for now and believes his brother.

 

Astrid doesn’t let you get back to your feet, she’s driving her blade for your heart. You roll away and vault to your feet.

 

And you flip the blade around to face your enemy.

 

It’s a real fight now.

 

You don’t know if you’ve been tricked or if the girl got lucky. Even a weak horse can still kick. But you decide it’s best to stop the games you weren’t really playing and treat this girl like she wants to kill you because judging from the snarl in her face she does. If you have to hurt her truly, if you have to maim her irreparably, you will. You still won’t kill her. You don’t believe it’ll get to that.

 

You refuse to.

 

Astrid tests you, now she feints towards you. The tips of your weapons clash, iron striking iron. Her hits have far more power behind them, more confidence. She’s poking you to see where you’re softest.

 

And she finds it.

 

Your left side.

 

Astrid drives for it, there’s a scar there that she’ll either tear open or gift you with a matching one. You block the blow with your spear, finding it takes considerably more power from you to deflect her strike. Like she’s gotten stronger, heavier in the span of minutes. When she moves, her greaves don’t clunk, they fit. Her breastplate isn’t two sizes too big but it fits like it was smithy made for her. She’s grown without growing, managed to learn or remember years of training in seconds.

 

She’s inside your guard space and you can’t step back, you have to twist away, stretching your body in ways you weren’t quite ready to stretch.

 

You don’t know who the crowd is cheering for, you can’t tell what they’re shouting, if they’re calling for her head or yours or for the fight to end. You hear no familiar voices shouting your name, can’t hear the cries of an anguished mother. All you hear is your blood in your ears, your heart pounding a frantic beat in your temples and neck and in your hands as you grip your spear tightly, arcing it around your body to fend off Astrid’s attacks.

 

You two circle each other, you’re far more mobile but she just hits harder . She doesn’t run to chase you, she takes long strides to close the distance you try to keep between you two. When her sword hits the dirt it cleaves a rock in two and that’s all you need to remind you don’t let this girl hit you.

 

Keep moving.

 

So you twist and twirl, you have to flip. Keep your spear moving with the momentum of your body. You have to block, put all your strength into every parry until your upper arms start to shake.

 

She’s indefatigable.

 

You’re not.

 

Stitches start lacing up your side. They don’t hurt. They can’t hurt, if they hurt, you slow down, you stop. And you have to…

 

Keep moving!

 

He’s sitting all the way forward in his seat, knuckles white against the armrests. It’s not a fight anymore it’s a chase. Astrid chases you around the ring, each sword strike hard enough to hear even this high up with the screams of thousands in his ears.

 

How has this happened? Astrid could barely hold a sword without toppling over before. This can’t be that same girl, who now screams like she’s two feet taller and ages older. Like she’s been fighting all her life.

 

You keep away from her. You take a blow from that sword and she’ll likely cut you in half. Fear destroys his trust. Shreds it to pieces, and swallows it down. Consumes it and grows stronger.

 

This is your fault.

 

All your fault.

 

She’ll die. And it’s all your fault.

 

He remembers no lies are greater than the ones he tells himself. He ignores The Voice like he always has, tries to push it down but it resurges, just like you do in the arena below--slicing across the back of Astrid’s calf, hoping to hamstring her, slow her down.

 

Who told her that sob story of the little girl who could barely stand?

 

Who told her that death wasn’t necessary?

 

If it weren’t for you, this fight would be over, the Princess would have her head by now.

 

But you, Liesmith, weakling, Loki the Softhearted, told her to spare the girl. This is your fault!

 

“No.”

 

Every other word from Niti is a curse. Sif echoes her sentiments. Se’risa grabs for Loki’s hand, not knowing what else to do.

 

Loki abhors children as a rule.

 

But he tightens his hand around hers.

 

The crowd boos when you narrowly avoid having your arm sliced off at the elbow. They cheer when the butt of Astrid’s sword catches you in the mouth. They cheer again when you twist behind her and draw a long red stripe of pain across her back. They want blood, they don’t care how they get it.

 

The stitches in your sides start to burn.

 

Then you start to bleed.

 

You tear your first scar open, the one under your breast, the blood feels cool on your hot skin. The sensation distracts you, it tickles, makes you favor that side of your body. Astrid sees this, and lunges, and for the first time, you’re too slow to twist or block. Her sword slices in a long draw right against the bone.

 

“Fuck!”

 

“Do you yield now Princess?” Astrid laughs.

 

You let it go, you’ve earned that one.

 

She lunges for you again, when you twist your body away that tear stretches, ripping open more of your flesh. You fall mid-flight, your knees buckle, and you hit the dirt.

 

Your vambraces save your life. You throw your arm up and her sword slices it instead of your head. The metal tears like tissue, she cuts down to the bone again.

 

You scream again.

 

The crowd cheers again.

 

Niti curses again, Se’risa cries again. Frigga gasps, hand over her mouth and Odin remains silent.

 

With one arm instead of two you stab forward, the blow glances off her side but it’s enough to open some space between you two. You make it to your feet again, plant the butt of your spear in the dirt and swing around it like a ribbon on a pole, your feet striking Astrid in the face.

 

Playing the long game won’t help, she’ll win it. Your strength will bleed out as you do. Pain will seize you until you can hardly move, the longer this goes on the less likely you’ll win. So you have to burn hot and bright right now, like the stars to stay alive. Pour every bit of all you have into every blow. Be savage and wild and unpredictable, use all your tricks now and hope they pay off.

 

It's agony to move so much but you keep it locked behind your teeth. You use all of your body and all of the spear to attack. You spin and twist around her, dancing like your father taught you hoping your quick movements will confuse her. She moves like she's big and slow, your speed conveys an advantage. At your healthiest, this fight would be a breeze but all your scars that are now torn open and bleeding again remind you that your aren't. That Fa’rey’s treachery might still end up killing you.

 

Your berzerker strategy seems to work,  Astrid can't follow the arc of your spear. It tears her breastplate, her thighs, you get behind her and try to cut the tendons in her legs again but that damn sword comes around and you're forced away.

 

He can tell this new strength is born of desperation. That it won't last. He can't sit anymore and watch. He won't.

 

“Where are you going?” Ylva asks him,  her hands clasped under her chin in prayer.

 

“To end this.”

 

“My Lord, you can't.”

 

He glares at the woman. “I dare you to tell me again, Duchess, what a Prince can't do.”

 

She can't, but a King…

 

Odin thumps his fist against his seat and Loki’s knees buckle.

 

“Father!”

 

“Odin!”

 

“Enough!” He looks pained, like this hurts him. “I do not want to watch this anymore than you do.”

 

“So don't!” Niti cries.

 

“Speak out of turn again servant!” Odin threatens and Frigga has to shake her head to stop Niti from testing that threat. “But I will not bend the laws for some and not others.

 

“She is a Princess!”

 

“And all are equal under my laws! If the Fates mean for her to live, she will.”

 

He can't move. Odin’s magic has him chained. He can't move. Can't turn his head. Can't speak, can't cry or scream.

 

But he can watch.

 

Odin makes him watch.

 

Frigga intercedes. “Husband please, don't.”

 

Odin waves his hand. “I do not want to hear it.”

 

“How can you be this cruel?”

 

“Justice is still justice.”

 

“What justice is it to make your son watch the woman as he loves is killed?!”

 

Odin turns his face from his wife and back to the fight.

 

Astrid is just as bloody as you are now. There's a cut above her eye that pours blood, blinds her. Thank the stars for the smaller miracles. You can swing at her right side now, the bloody eye makes her slower, more cautious. That's good for you, you can be utterly reckless, stabbing and slashing blindly hoping one of those strikes pierces her chest or severs her head or…

 

Makes her yield.

 

Astrid’s arm goes up, raises it high. And everything stops. That's the warrior's code for surrender, your body remembers it before your mind can question how Astrid would know it.

 

You stop. Your spear stops, blade in the dirt.

 

“Look! Look! She surrenders!”

 

“No! She has to say it! That's the rules!”

 

Oh no.

 

You remember your rules too late, you stopped moving.

 

You remedy this, you try before it's too late. Your spear is in the air again but that moment of deception is enough to give Astrid the time she needs. She catches your spear, wraps a hand around the haft long before the blade could be a threat. She brings her sword arm down and breaks your spear in half. Splinters it, leaving you with a useless pole barely longer than your arm.

 

The fight is over.

 

Not because it ends, but because now it ceases to be a fight. And becomes a beating.

 

Your arrogance did this. Your pride did this. It's not your fault, she challenged you, she wanted this. And you let pride cloud your reason.  

 

Pain clouds it now. When you twist away to escape, Astrid grabs your ankle and slams you into the dirt like you're a ragdoll, like you weigh nothing.

 

She hovers over you, tip of her sword aiming for your head.

 

The word comes to you unbidden.

 

Yield.

 

You were beaten by a little girl. Can you suffer the humiliation? The shame?

 

For your life?

 

Yes.

 

You have Se’risa and Cephalus and Niti to look after. You have Thor and Sif and Hogun, Volstagg, and Fandral to look after you.

 

You have a Prince to love.

 

And none of those require honor.

 

But they do require your life.

 

“I yield!”

 

You don't shout it. Your pride dampens the volume. Astrid stops.

 

Smiles.

 

And then plunges her sword for your head.

 

Your vambraces save your life again, the armor knocking the blade away giving you precious time to roll, screaming--

 

“Yield! I ..”

 

Astrid boots you in the chest forcing the air from you. She’s not going to let you yield.

 

Loki! I yield! You open your mind reaching for help. But wherever he is, he's dark and unresponsive, cut off, shrouded from you. Loki! Help me! Please!

 

He hears you. He knows. He feels your terror. But he’s trapped on the other side of a locked and barred door.

 

Helpless. And made to watch.

 

“Okay kiddo,” Niti chokes. “Let’s go. We should...you shouldn’t..”

 

“No! No please! Princess! Princess!”

 

Se’risa screams, fights, bites Niti as the woman picks her up and bodily carries her away.

 

“I don't understand why won't she yield?” Edvard asks.

 

“Poor Princess,” Ylva sniffs eyes wet. “Her pride won't let her. Oh this is horrible.”

 

They can't hear her like he can.

 

Loki please! She won't stop, I can't...I can't .

 

Astrid jams a foot into your ribs ensuring the only sound you can make is a scream. She has what she needs, but there's a part of the contract yet unfilled. But the plan will fail if someone manages to hear your surrender so Astrid kneels and wraps her fingers around your throat to prevent any last second shouting.

 

It works, you can't make a sound other than a gurgle while the cries in your mind go on unanswered.

 

Loki please. Loki.  Loki…I can't...I'm sorry...I'm sor...

 

Odin will die for this. Not today, not tomorrow, maybe in a decade or a millennia hence. But Loki swears on the dying corpse of his honor, his trust, and his love that Odin will die for this.

 

He loves his brother, his mother, and stars above he loves you, but his father…

 

Loki!

 

Mother!

 

I cannot counter Odin’s magic but I can weaken it. Can you help her? It must be quick!

 

He can see you feet kicking weakly. Your arms beat on Astrid’s and they're getting weaker too, weaker until they fall still.

 

Death feels the same. The same darkness and pain, the same silence save for a ringing buzz in your ears.

 

You stop hurting because you stop moving. You fall still. You try yielding again begging for your life with your last gasps. Astrid hears and squeezes harder until you go blind.

 

Loki…

 

You thought you would call for you mother or your father. But the dead will have you soon, so let your last thoughts be of the living.

 

I’m sorry. I won’t be able to...I should have told you...Keep the dagger. It’s yours now.

 

Do it Mother! Now!

 

You let go.

 

As magic floods you.

 

Princess!

 

Your whole body jerks, like the last spasm of the dying and your hand feels like it lights on fire.

 

Princess keep moving!

 

That fire in your hand cools, feels heavy and familiar. You don't know what's happening but you obey your prince, you use the last of everything to keep moving.

 

Your arm jerks,

 

And you bury your father's dagger in the soft flesh of Astrid’s neck.

Chapter Text

You very nearly choke on Astrid’s blood. You hit the artery so you get a face full of it, so much it drowns you. Astrid goes rigid above you, her hands dislodge from your neck and reach for her own. She’s gurgling, strangling but you roll out from underneath her and away, retching as you try to breathe air instead of her hot and sticky blood.

You dry heave, you spit up, your blood and hers. Fear makes you turn to face your opponent, to assess if the threat remains. But Astrid lies in the dirt, hands weakening as they try to pull a knife out of her neck. Then they stop.

When was the last time you took a life?

Ok so those bandits don't count, they were trying to kill you.

Ok.

So.

Astrid was too.

But she's somehow different. She feels different. Killing her feels wrong, and for however much your heart knows you did the right thing, you don't feel that you did.

She made a mistake. Why was her life the consequence? You’ve made fatal mistakes and lived through them, why couldn’t she? You tried, you know you tried everything to stop this from getting this far.

But looking at her body in the dirt--

You didn't try hard enough.

You should have never accepted this. Should have never let your damnable pride override your reason. You're older, (somewhat) smarter. More to the point you've seen war, you've fought, you've watched loved ones die, and you've taken loved ones from others. Made many a widow and orphan. Nameless and faceless, you've cut them down all the same.  

 

Astrid was not nameless nor was she faceless, but you still cut her down.

You could have stopped this before it began. You should have.

Odin was right, you're a damn fool.

You scream as the crowd screams. You wail, tears mixing with the blood on your face, streaking messy lines down from your eyes, painting on you a ghoulish mask of suffering. You don't know what to feel, ripped into tiny pieces of relief, shame, guilt, joy, and pain.

Priests appear, they try to lift you from the ground, heralding your victory.

"Get off me! Get off! Let go! Don't touch me!"

**

 

Odin releases him, suspecting nothing of the clandestine magical trickery between his wife and son. The Allfather suspends his magic the moment the priests declare your victory.

“Go.” He tells him, as if Loki would wait for the permission. His voice is devoid of anger and tinged with what would sound like shame if Loki remained long enough to hear it.

But the minute the magic shackles on him are released, he blinks out of existence and reappears inside the ring.

They reach for you, unfamiliar arms grabbing you, hands curled like claws for an attack.

"Let her go!"

And they cease.

There are thousands of people in this arena, including his mother and his father and his brother and a woman who looks like a friend but is far from it. You both make them all watch, no damns spared or cares given, you make them watch as you launch yourself into his open arms.

Nothing is forgotten, nothing melts away. Thousands of people are still watching and yelling and cheering, (some of them sighing happily or wistfully but those noises get lost in the din). They are still there watching you both, but they don't matter, buzzing insects on a hot summer day, the background noise to the magic of you two together again.

 

"Stop shaking," He tells you, imperiously, commanding it away like his words contain the power to do so. "I'm here."

"You cheated." You reply, stammering from behind a shaking jaw. There's more you want to say, need to, but that's the first thing you can think of. That dagger in your hand was nothing but his magic.

"What did I tell you Princess?" He lifts your chin out of his shoulder, thousands still watching. "Not every fight is fair."

"But."

"No. Be quiet. You would have died in this fight, and I would break every rule, forswear every vow in these realms to prevent that. Now come, you’re a mess.”

"My Lord." One of those wistful sighs came from a priest, inching closer to eavesdrop for juicy gossip later with the temple virgins, but something makes him break his silence.

 

Loki’s half-turned, walking away, you sheltered in the arc of his arm around your shoulder.

 

“My Lord! Wait!”

 

“Speak again and I'll --”

 

“The Lady Astrid! She’s…”

 

Both of you, both defensive, ready to begin the fight again but...it’s not Astrid you’d fight.

 

The body in the dirt stretches, elongates. The bones in the legs pop when knees displace, shifting lower as the thighs and calves lengthen, the greaves filling out to proper proportions. The chest swells, big enough to fit the breastplate strapped to it like it was indeed smithy made. Thin willowy limbs thicken into arms that have held swords and killed men before. Astrid’s fine features harden, then change completely.

 

Into someone decidedly not Astrid.

 

“That’s the instructor.” Loki recognizes the face that stares glassy eyed into the sky, unseeing, as her blood pools and dries around her neck. “The one teaching Astrid how to fight.”

 

“Treason! Treachery!” An elder priest shouts. “Seize everyone! Have them brought before the king!”

 

The priests don’t wait, nor do the soldiers. His father’s personal guard comes, appearing from thin air, Heimdall at their head, ready to escort you to the foot of the King’s throne. He approaches with iron shackles dangling from his hands.

 

Loki throws an arm in front of you. “Do you plan on making this messy Lord Heimdall? You will not take her.”

 

“Taking her, my Lord, implies that she will go where you cannot follow. The cry of treason is a serious one. All are called into question so rest assured, you two will not be separated.”

 

Heimdall reveals a second pair of shackles, golden, a consideration of the prince’s rank.

 

“Do you plan on making this messy Lord Loki?” Heimdall asks with an unsmiling face, his humor as dry as the dust beneath him.

 

**

 

When the priests called for everyone, they meant everyone. Niti and Se’risa. Thor, Sif, Volstagg, Hogun, Fandral. Lady Ylva. Astrid’s mother and brother. Everyone who had the slimmest hand in or proximity to this duel are brought to the throne room before a seated Frigga and a livid Odin.

 

You, of course, are shoved to the fore with Loki. And you’re pretty sure Lord Heimdall would have forced you to kneel if not for Frigga.

 

“Really Odin?”


The Allfather bristles, it’s rare for the Allmother to be so casual for so serious a matter. Her tone sounds like a censure and he takes it as one.

 

“I see you’re going with the ‘arrest them all and let Fate sort them out’ approach.”

 

“Watch your…”

 

Watch my what?

 

Odin’s retort dissolves on his tongue, melted away by his wife’s acid stare.

 

“Fate’s not sorting anything out. I am. Princess.”

 

He levels his one eyed molten gaze at you. “Explain yourself.”

 

Frigga’s eyes are sympathetic, soothing. Your injuries feel lessened in her stare, a steady ‘Answer him child’ implicit in her gaze. Loki is unhelpful, glaring at his father. You can’t see Se’risa or Niti and you do not want to look Astrid’s mother in the eye. The woman gains no comfort in knowing that wasn’t her child dead in the dirt, and won’t gain any comfort at all until she’s safe in her arms again.

 

You are alone, tired, bleeding, and exceedingly done with today. Odin demands an explanation, you give him one.

 

“You wanted a fight. I fought.”

 

Half the assembly laughs, none louder than Loki by your side, his contempt for his father dripping from the silver tones of his laughter.

 

“Indeed!” Odin huffs. He concedes the general point, acknowledging his hardline stance on the idea that you were going to participate in this duel. “But you didn’t kill who you were supposed to.”

 

“And where is she?” You rattle your iron fetters. “Find her! Put her in chains not me! All I know was that I was fighting for my life when I didn’t think I had to!”

 

“And why is that? Did you collude with Astrid beforehand? Make this some kind of joke!”

 

“No. Lord Odin… I…”

 

“It was me.” A voice comes to your aid, timid and trembling. “Please. Don’t blame the Princess. This is all my fault.”

 

Ylva. She steps from the crowd, releasing Astrid’s mother’s hand, patting it gently. She submits herself before the monarchs, her bow low and sustained, like a supplicant before gods.

 

Odin peers down at the Duchess. “You did this?”

 

Ylva nods turning to you. She wipes her eyes and sniffs. “Princess. I’m so sorry, please. I really, really am. None of this was supposed to happen.”

 

You don’t know her that well, having only met her twice but both times the Duchess left an impression upon you. She’s a noblewoman without peer, one who seemed the closest to your friendship. Someone who cared.

 

So her confession hurts. “Ylva...why?”

 

“Astrid is my friend, and you are too. I just wanted this to end with everybody alive and well but…”

 

Ylva fidgets, wringing her hands. “I saw Astrid struggling to hold a sword and her mother was in tears about all this. So I thought maybe I could come up with some clever plan to satisfy everyone. That’s why I asked Lord Loki to convince you to make the fight quick and relatively painless. I had no idea she would do this. I...”

 

“Wait,” Frigga holds up a hand for silence. “What exactly are you confessing to?”

 

“It was my idea that the Princess fight only to a draw. It was clear Astrid couldn’t hold a sword much less use it. If you two were fighting for real you’d win handily. Astrid knew this too. So she must have convinced Mistress Tarth to stand in for her and cast some kind of spell to disguise Mistress Tarth as herself. That way you'd be convinced you were fighting someone who didn’t know a sword from a kitchen knife, someone you had already been told not to take as a threat.

I tried being clever, I thought I was helping, and…” Ylva stutters, gasping on a moan. “It cost a life, almost two!”

 

Ylva takes your hands and folds them between your own. “Princess I am so so sorry.”

 

She knows she plys dangerous waters. The Prince of Lies stands but a few feet from her. A word from him and her Great Game is done. She gives an equally penitent glance to the Prince feeling funny when she does, a mix of irritation and relief. He gives no cares or spares no damns for her or her tearful ‘confession’, his green eyes are firmly fixed upon you . Gauging your reaction, assessing your feelings. It rankles her that you are afforded such attention and she is not. He can’t see through her lies because he doesn’t see her at all.

 

And neither can you or anyone else for that matter.

 

One day, she will make them see her.

 

“She tricked you too then?” Damn Astrid, damn her for this. One life lost and many others damaged and for what?

 

Ylva nods tearfully, gratefully. “There's nothing I can say to undo what’s been done. And I’m so sorry I had an unwitting hand in your hurt.”

 

“It’s okay. I forgive you.”

 

**

 

Odin had already sent his scouts and soldiers out to scour the Palace and beyond for the Lady Astrid. You’re unchained with the Allfather’s apologies and dismissed but you’re surprised when you can’t make it out of the throne room before a cadre of troops return with a length of silk tied in a loop and piece of parchment.

 

--The depths of my shame and deception will be soon discovered. And rather than subject my honored family to such torments, I would rather end my life. I regret the loss of Lady Tarth. I regret the sadness my death will bring my family.

 

However, I do not regret an ounce of suffering or pain inflicted upon the Traitor. May the Lord Odin in his Wisdom one day see her for what she is and strike her existence from all Nine Realms--

 

“She was not hard to find. In her room.” Heimdall lays the cord of silk at Odin’s feet and says nothing more.

 

Astrid’s mother floods the chamber with moans of her grief. The scrap of joy at the knowledge her child did not die in the ring disintegrates. She collapses, has to lean on her last living child to remain on her feet. “No! Why! My child! Astrid darling no!”

 

Frigga has to dab her eyes with her sleeve, too moved by a mother’s sympathy to notice the covetous glances cast upon her throne from someone for whom there is no too high a price to pay for it.

 

That Someone cries too, opening her arms for the mother of the girl she murdered the moment Mistress Tarth fell--a liability better removed than discovered.

 

But her tears, while genuine, are only of relief.

Chapter Text

You withdraw from court, you figure you have to. After the duel you sequester yourself in your quarters, refusing all company. Politely declining Ylva’s valiant attempts to cheer you up with visits and the latest gossip.

You don't want to hear it, suspecting most of it is about you.

“What do they call me Niti?”

“I don't know why you think they're calling you anything. Unlike you pampered princesses, us maids got better things to do than gossipmonger.”

Niti occupies herself with a duster. Niti never dusts. (Se’risa usually has to and even then only your collection of bracelets, wiping away the thin but accumulating layer that's starting to settle on them. You haven't left your rooms since the fight so you've no reason to wear them.)

You let Niti’s lie stand, proof positive the servants are talking about you. And given Niti’s steadfast refusal to admit the truth, what they say must not be too kindly.

“The Bloody Princess.”

Serisa answers your question, too shamed to meet your eye, taking your new epithet as a personal affront.

“And how do you know?”

“The students with Master Mimir. They whisper about you between lessons.”

“Well they get no points for creativity!” Niti hollers tossing her dusting aside finally abandoning the farce. Since the battle, she’s been your constant companion, much to Loki’s chagrin, keeping him out from underfoot.

“No no no no no!” Niti pushes the prince out of your room. “Girl time now. Begone! Your particular brand of convalescence would have her tear those stitches open rather than let her rest. Shoo!”

She manages to keep him away from you. But she pays for it. She can’t prevent him from sending notes, addressed to her no less, filled with all the lurid things he intends to do to you once he gets past:

Your troublesome Gatekeeper, you will be all mine Princess.

Niti burns every letter as they come but the Prince has taken to paying pages obscene amounts of gold to recite them aloud from memory, faces reddening as they get to the explicit bits.

Their antics are a nice diversion, but can only keep you distracted for so long. And they can’t stop the nightmares you have, where your face is permanently stained with blood from all the people you’ve killed. You have to check your face in the mirror sometimes, making sure that sticky feeling is just a bit of missed jam or whatever of what little you eat, and not actually blood.

Your guilt sticks to you, like the blood does. You haven’t committed Astrid’s suicide note to memory but you remember the important bits.

However, I do not regret an ounce of suffering or pain inflicted upon the Traitor. May the Lord Odin in his Wisdom one day see her for what she is and strike her existence from all Nine Realms--

Her last action was to curse you. She hated you so much and for what? You barely knew her and an errant word from you was enough for her to conspire to kill you? It doesn’t make sense. It’ll never make sense. But it doesn’t have to to hurt.

“Do they say anything mean about you?” You’ll take their sneers, as far as you’re concerned you’ve earned them, but you won’t tolerate any abuse to Se’risa.

“No.”

“Good. Then don't worry about what they say about me.”

“But I can’t just let them talk about my Princess like that!”

“Yes you can. Let me worry about that.”

“But you're not!”

“You're right. I'm not. Princess do not concern themselves with such trivialities.” You lift her chin from her chest and the girl smiles for you. It’s a distraction, like Niti and Loki, sweet enough to mask the prickle of hurt in your heart.

**

You've never been to the funeral of someone you've killed. In battle, you and your mother always allowed the bodies of the defeated to be returned home, to be buried to whatever customs the conquered observed. Even if they sometimes pile them in large pits and light them afire.

You figure it’d be inappropriate for you to attend Astrid’s service --conducted a few days ago-- considering how much she hated you. You also really don’t want to encounter her family and inflict anymore damage upon them with your mere existence. It’s your favor to the living and the dead that you weren’t there.

But Lady Tarth, to hear from Niti, was a warrior, tried and true. She was a career mercenary, her lifetime of service paid for by Odin long ago, this duel her final job. You hold no grudges, she was but her Mistresses sword and as a Captain and leader of soldiers you can respect that. Enough to break your seclusion to appear at her funeral.

It is sparsely attended. She has no family. No commanding officer, no colleagues, or subordinates.

Sparsely attended as it is, you feel like you’re the only one on the jetty given how far away everyone else stands from you. Priests give you a wide berth as do the only other attendants: two soldiers, fighters who’d served with Lady Tarth before--a youngish looking boy who’s life she saved and an older, haggard man missing his right hand.

“Who stands to see Lady Tarth to Vallhalla?” The priests holds aloft a bow and a flaming arrow. Tradition mandates family be the one to shoot the boat stuffed with kindling and the body of the deceased but she had no family.

The one handed man shakes his head. So it falls to the boy.

Who is no good at archery.

The Priests make increasingly distressed noises as the boy tries and fails and fails and keeps failing to nock the damn arrow. The boat is nearly out of range, cut from its moorings to float down the wide river near the Palace. And the soul of an unburned body claimed by the water is not sent to Paradise.

Stars above forgive me.

“Give it to me.” You command the boy. He sniffs and hands over the bow, even if he could nock the arrow he couldn’t shoot it, eyes clouded by tears.

You nock the arrow and loose it. It flies in a pretty arc, flames rippling in the air, and comes to rest dead center of the boat. Fire consumes instantly it in a bright flash, proof of the Fate’s favor and the soul’s rest.

A bit of your guilt burns away with the boat.

Chapter Text

The servants and the courtiers and the guards give her a wide berth too as she walks alone down the corridors back to her rooms. Her head down, bracelet jangling on her wrist.

 

She’s not the Bloody Princess but they treat her like she is, whispering mean things as she passes.

 

“Savages. Both of them, the princess and that one too!”

 

“Odin should turn them away! They’re Lowlanders anyway.”

 

“But isn’t Lord Heimdall…?”

 

“Don’t be silly he’s one of the good ones.”

 

Se’risa blocks them out as best she can, remembering what you told her about princesses. And since you said she’s one now too, she should try her very best.

 

Especially after failing so spectacularly.

 

“You can’t sit near me.” The boy says. “I don’t want to be next to the friends of whores.”

 

She lies when she tells Master Mimir that she didn’t mean to do it. But she meant every blow she inflicted upon that d’resh s’natha and wished she could do more.

 

Master Mimir is sympathetic, he simply sends her back to her rooms early and with extra homework, cautioning her against fighting again.

 

“You are bright Se’risa. One of the brightest.” He tells her as he sees her off. “Bright enough, then, to figure out how to fight without your fists.” Master Mimir smiles at the girl and closes the door, returning to his students.

 

She takes the long way back to her rooms, hoping to avoid Niti who will fuss and loudly proclaim that they find the boy that insulted the Princess and fight him again. But she runs into someone else she doesn’t wish to see instead.

 

“You! Girl! YOU!”

 

Se’risa turns to the voice to see the blackened and swollen eyes of the boy she thrashed and his red faced father.

 

“I have a name.” She stands taller, like a princess should and repeats the words she hears you so often tell Loki whenever he calls you ‘little princess’.

 

“I don’t care what it is you little beast. Look what you did to Sigmund.” He pushes the boy in her face. He’s unafraid, he looks angry even, eager and better prepared for a second round.

 

“I saw it already.” She challenges, equally ready.

 

“I demand an apology!”

 

“I did that already too.” Se’ria crosses her arms. She issued her formal apology at Master Mimir’s request, both to the boy and the entire class for interrupting learning.

 

“Did she?” The father questions and Se’risa expects the boy to lie which would mean being forced into another embarrassing apology but he nods--still glaring at you.

 

“Oh...well…” A crowd trickles by, servants shuffling onto their various tasks stopping long enough to observe and potentially report to various masters later. Others plain stop and gawk. “Well you didn’t do it good enough!”

 

The boy fidgets, clearly far more embarrassed by his father’s behavior than the showcasing of his loss to a girl.

 

“How do you know, you weren’t there.”

 

“You think a sorry is enough for this?”

 

“No. That’s why I also said I wouldn’t do it again. Besides, he started it.”

 

“How dare you lie! You filth! My son would never!”

 

“Papa.” Sigmund interrupts. “I told you. I called her Princess a whore and she got me good. I’ll get her back though.”

 

“You’ll do no such thing!” The father shakes his son by the arm. “In fact, you’ll never see this little monster again if I have anything to do with it! You’ll never step foot in Master Mimir’s classroom after this. Had no business there in the first place, child of servants as you are.”

 

“I’m a princess!” She shouts, drawing derisive giggles from the watchers. She sounds like what she is, a child playing pretend. Se’risa starts to breathe hard, feels tears sting. She doesn’t want to rub her eyes and give herself away but if she lets them fall she’ll be exposed anyway. She remains deadly still, fists balled, ready to launch herself at the father and fight. But you told her princesses don’t care about such trivialities. She tries not to care. She really tries.

 

But.

 

“A useless title granted from someone else with an equally useless title!”

 

“And…” A cool voice calls. “What titles do you have?”

 

The father drops, everybody drops. It’s the Prince, they have to.

 

He smirks, their obeisance is tiresome but it does still please him. Except for the little filly, she remains upright and only gives the slightest of dips. Good girl, he thinks, you must have taught her something of royal etiquette.

 

She is a princess after all.

 

“Well?” He intends to have his question addressed even if he knows the answer. “What titles do you have?”

 

“N...none my lord.” The father stammers.

 

“None.” He repeats, then cups his hands to his mouth and shouts for those further removed from the action.

 

“If you didn't hear, this man and his son have no title! Tell me something boy,” Sigmund snaps to attention.

 

“Yes my lord?”

 

“Does Master Mimir teach you mathematics?”

 

“Yes.”

 

“Lets test, then, your learning. There are two hungry men, starving nigh unto death. One man has a rotten apple. Another man has no apple. Who lives?”

 

Sigmund replies with barely a beat between the prince’s question and his answer. “The man with the rotting apple.”

 

“And why?”

 

“Because even though the apple's not very good, it's something. But the other man has nothing at all.”

 

“Well done. Very smart. You've a talent for logic.” Loki ruffles the boy’s hair then wipes his hand on his pants. Children are gross. “Next time use it and you'll realize it is very ill ogical to gravely insult the dear friend of someone smarter and stronger than you are.”

 

“Yes my lord!”

 

“Now apologize.” Loki commands.

 

Sigmund obeys. “I'm sorry.”

 

“Not to me child.”

 

Sigmund turns an earnest face to Se’risa. Only one other person has ever told him he has a talent for anything and it is not his father. “I'm sorry. Your Princess is not a whore.” He adds after.

 

Se’risa nods. “I'm sorry I punched you.”

 

Sigmund extends a hand. “Friends? You have a nasty right hook. Will you teach me?” It disturbs him how quickly the little filly agrees, correctly suspecting you wouldn’t be very pleased to see this. But, nevertheless, he himself is pleased that at least the children are reconciled.

 

Now for the adult.

 

Loki turns to the horrified father. “Apologize.”

 

“For what? My son is the one assaulted!”

 

“Your son said a nasty thing, where he learned such language we can only guess.” Loki’s tone suggests there is no guesswork involved in where a boy learned to call women whores. His tone is sinisterly low and the hand Loki’s placed on his shoulder is not a companionable gesture but a threat.

 

“But he apologized for saying a nasty thing because it's the right thing to do. He's clearly demonstrating for your edification that when one says nasty things about little girls one should apologize.

 

“Now follow your sons enlightened behavior.” Loki squeezes the hand on the father’s shoulder. He doesn’t make it hurt, but the next one might.

 

“I'm sorry.” Sigmund’s father mumbles.

 

“Ah ah,” Loki wags his finger. “Remember your courtesies.”

 

“I’m sorry princess .”

 

“Louder.”

 

“I'm sorry princess!”

 

“Get closer, she's a child remember, much shorter than you, she may not hear.”

 

Serisa giggles.

 

So does Sigmund.

 

The father gets closer, standing before Se’risa.

 

“Closer.”

 

More laughter.

 

“My Lord... I don't…”

 

“Dad, he probably wants you to kneel,” Sigmund whispers.

 

“Very good Sigmund!” Loki claps and the boy beams at him.

 

The father kneels and shouts as loud as he can, insurance against another command for ‘louder.’ “I’m sorry princess!”

 

“Very good. You may leave now.” The father has suffered enough of an ego beating, one of Loki’s favorite midday activities that don’t involve you.

 

Sigmund takes his father’s hand, waving goodbye at his classmate, and the two disappear, dispersing the crowd with them.

 

“I didn't need your help.” She’s not your blood but you and the filly could be sisters if stubbornness were the sole indicator of kinship.

 

Loki levels a glare at the girl. “Oh I know. How selfish of you to assume that was about you. That, my dear, was purely for my own enjoyment.”

 

Se’risa snorts and the two unlikely and temporary allies continue their journey to the Princess’s chambers.

 

“This won't stop others you know.  They'll still say mean things about her.”

 

He knows, though he prefers to keep his rancor secret than wear it on his fists like the filly does.

 

“You shouldn't fight little filly, it will upset our mutual friend.”

 

“They called her a whore...implying that she’s your…”

 

“I know what it implies little filly…”

 

“Well then do something about it! You love her don’t you?”

 

He’s quiet, he keeps walking. He doesn’t want to dignify that question with an answer. It should be obvious. He shouldn’t have to say it.


But Se’risa forces it from him, pulls it from him with her jaws locked around his heart. “Don’t you!”

 

“Yes.” He answers through grit teeth.

 

“Well you better because she loves you! And me and Niti. So we have to look out for her the way she looks out for us. She was fighting for both of us when she killed that lady. And herself. Her honor, my honor, and yours. It's important, honor. It’s how we know we’re doing the right thing.”

 

“You both are fools.”

 

Loki opens the door to your chambers making an obnoxious bow, allowing Se’risa in first.


The room is empty to everyone's surprise but there is clothing balled in a far corner, like its been thrown there. All black, and it makes the room smell of wood smoke and incense.

Chapter Text

This spear is no better than the one you fought with before. It’s nothing like your halberd, lacks the red tassel, and is missing the curved hook that juts out from the base of the blade--the perfect accessory for catching ankles and dragging bodies behind horses.

You consider contracting a smithy to make a weapon for you, to your specifications but you wonder seriously if anyone will accept business from The Bloody Princess.

“Money is money m’lady,” the old man rasps from behind a thick white beard. “I dun care who ya are or who ya killed. Feelings got no place in business.”

He snatches the purse of coin from you.

“Apparently manners don’t either.”

“I’ll take your money, and do the job well, I don’t hafta be nice to ya. Let the quality o’ my work speak for me since you don’t like my tone.”

He spits and you’re pretty sure he’s gone beyond a simple attitude problem, venturing into open hostility. But the quality of his work does speak louder than his rudeness, you let the insult stand--what’s one more anyway?

The practice fields are occupied, soldiers and guards training with and against each other. You don’t see Sif or Hogun or Fandral among them, suits you well since you’ve been avoiding them anyway. You don’t want to hear the ‘not your faults’ and the ‘you fought wells’. You know that already.

It occurs to you too late to wear a veil or a hood, something that could possibly conceal your identity, maybe reduce the number of gawking stares you get from your presence.

You jam the butt of your temporary spear into the dirt in front of a stout looking fighter wielding a pair of hammers.

“Do you need help with those sir?”

He looks you up and down. “The Bloody Princess.”

“I had other names before that one. Like Captain of the Royal Cavalry.” You spin your spear in obvious challenge, one the recruit accepts.

He yields rather quickly, but another takes his place, a woman with a bow who sticks you twice with blunted arrows before you can lay a finger on her.

“Well struck.”

She nods. “Thank you Princess.”

The two of you trade tips, and the soldier recommends to you Asgard’s best boyer when another soldier taps you on the shoulder asking you for a few bouts in the practice pitch sans weapons. He’s a larger man, big in the belly, he literally tosses you about before you thump your hand in the dirt in surrender.

You wouldn’t say you’ve made friends, rather just a handful of people you’ve traded blows with who will think a little harder about the rumors of your savagery that they’ll hear.

You stay until nightfall, long after the soldiers have gone for the day. You practice your spear forms, you practice your father’s dancing, spinning and twisting and flipping again and again until muscle memory takes over causing you to jam your blade in Loki’s face when he finds you.

“I searched the Palace for you.” He’s annoyed but he still smiles at you in his own Loki little way, where one corner of his mouth twitches and his eyes light up in the torchlight.

“Next time come here first.”

“You should be in bed, this isn’t how you heal.” He runs a finger down one of the tears in your armor where Lady Tarth split you open.

“I disagree.” You vault backwards, spinning your spear. “This is a better way to heal.”

He considers telling you of the day he had with the little filly, but he decides to keep her secret, knowing she wouldn’t want you to know she was sent home for the day for fighting. Or know that your reputation is starting to negatively affect her.

“Regardless of your silly notions of what the best medicine is, it is late, come to bed. Preferably with me.”

You shake your head. “Not tonight.”

He laughs, he’s not wounded. He’s surprised. “You resist me?” He steps closer a staff forming in his hands, “Do I need to wear you down first?”

He attacks, you parry, the two of you trade blows back and forth for a moment, nothing serious, you aren’t sparring for real. You toy with each other, tease and play.

“Enough Princess. Come to bed.”

“I meant what I said Loki. No. I want to stay for a little while longer.”

“And work yourself to further injury? Don’t be stupid, I know that’s hard for you horse girl but you’ve shown promise before.”

“You don’t take no for an answer do you?”

“Only if it’s coupled with ‘Don’t stop.’”

He’s pleased to see you bite your lip and break eye contact, shows your thinking about it. Him. And all the delightful pleasures he can bring you. But you sigh and twist away from him, bending your body into more formations, like you’re ignoring him.

“The horse girl is stubborn.”

“Determined.” You cry from the middle of a thrust. “Is a better word.”

“Why then. For what purpose!”

You come to rest panting, there’s a pain in your side, where Lady Tarth sliced across your ribs. You’re starting to accept it will always be there, an obstacle to you achieving your full power.

“You told me once what use is there calling anything mine if I can’t defend it. Do you remember that?”

He does. He nods.

“Back then you meant my dagger.” You produce it, make it dance across your fingers before you throw it, making it thud at his feet. “Now it means that, my kingdom, Se’risa’s life, my life.”

“Is your life in danger?”

He doesn’t like the way you laugh, it chills him. “It might be. They call me ‘The Bloody Princess’ now. I don’t know how many new enemies I’ve made. But I can think of at least two people who want me dead right now, who have already come very close to achieving their goal.”

“You are safe here now. You know that.”

“Aye, Yes for now. Anything I have is because your father grants it. What happens when he gets tired of being so generous?”

Loki shrugs. “As if my mother that would ever let that happen. She's loves you as much as I do.”

There's several beats of awkward silence, fringed with your heavy breathing and your thudding heart.

“What?” You’re staring at him, eyes wide like you’re going to start crying at any moment. “Don’t tell me you didn’t know. What happened to all that trust you’re supposed to have for me?”

You knew, or you hoped at least. Still doesn’t change how the words make you feel coming from his mouth with his voice, staring at you with his eyes. Like you could burst into flames or sprout wings and fly. Possibly both. Likely both. “It's...I've never heard you say it before.”

Your prince smirks at you, chiding you with his reply. “Technically I didn't.”

You drop your spear, it takes you two good strides to close the distance between you two and you hate yourself that it takes you that long. You need him, you’ve missed him, you show him with an inelegant and hungry kiss. Your lips smash together, almost painfully. When Loki yelps you seize the moment with his open mouth, pushing your tongue inside. Powerful.

I love you. You tell him.

I know, and I will protect you princess.

Can you? You ask. And for how long? Forever? Can you hide behind him forever? You have long lives, much much longer than the fabled mortals of Midgard. Can he shield you for several of their lifetimes? Do you even want him to?

He is reminded of Se’risa and how the slurs they call you won’t stop no matter what he does. So he’s honest. Heartbreakingly so. In a way he’s never been with anyone, not even himself, before. His love demands that he be this honest. You’re worth that. I can try.

You break your kiss even though it stings to do so.

You’re honest too. Heartbreakingly so. You touch your open palm to his cheek, your hands are dry and rough, calluses like tiny stones dotting your hand. “That’s not good enough anymore.” You hope he understands what you mean.

He does. It sinks like a stone in his gut, understanding makes him heavy. It doesn’t hurt, but he has a feeling it will.

“No. It's not.”

Chapter Text

Damn him. Persuasive little bastard.

You still wake naked in his bed the next morning, your leg thrown over his hips and his face in your neck like the two of you fell asleep mid-coitus.

And you may have.

In addition to being a persuasive little bastard, he's a tenacious little bastard too and you (once again) have more pride than sense answering everyone of his challenges, complicit--eager even--in your own manipulation.

“Is that all you have?” He asks nibbling on your pulse, fingers teasing your soaking cunt as you stare glassy eyed at his ceiling, a fresh climax just squeezed out of you.

“If you haven't the stamina well…” He withdraws his hands from you, and you shout at the indignity...no the sin of it!

“Get back here!” You reach for his wrist, intent on moving those long, fine boned, and strong digits back where you want them.

But Loki...no...it takes him another hour drawing those fingers down and across and circling and pinching and scratching before he's dipping…dipping

“Loki, yes, please!”

**

“Is that all you have?” He asks again, voice sloughing off sleep.

You try to wriggle from him but he laughs into your neck and holds that leg thrown over his hip. And with a little push.

You moan for him, so thick he could swallow it, and hot enough for it to burn through him. He slides his erection against you, hitting those sweet spots that ache from the night before.

You try to think of the soldiers and the training you have to do, of Cephalus, he needs to get back into peak condition. “I have to…”

“You have to do nothing your prince doesn’t command.”

“Loki…” Your protest is half-hearted and half-muffled as your traitorous mouth latches to his earlobe.

“You would begrudge me this.” He teases. “And they say I’m the cruel one.”

“No,” Your traitorous mouth works against you again. “Not anymore.”

That’s enough to dissuade him from his plans for you, the heaviness he felt before returns. He sighs and withdraws earnestly. “So you’re intent on this...whatever ‘this’ is because you haven’t quite told me anything about you’re planning on doing.”

“That’s because I don’t quite know either. I’ve got nothing to recommend me except a name and that’s not going as far as it used to. But I’m good with a halberd and better with a horse. And I do know that being idle isn’t helping me. I’m serious because I have to be.”

“Well,” He rises from his bed, throwing a robe over him, frost in his eyes and his voice. “I will not impede you.”

“Loki...wait…”

He spins around and levels at you a hateful glare. “What?”

You harden your face against it, responding in kind. “Look, I’m not going to apologize for doing what I feel needs to be done for my own survival and Se’risa’s. But no matter what, that doesn’t change how I feel about you.”

Until it does, whispers a traitorous voice, one he lets fester like a corpse rotting in the sun instead of burying it like he does with the rest of the whispers.

“I know.” He answers, convincing the only one he has to: you.

“So you admit then, to being a brat because I won’t sleep in with you?”

“I’m well within my rights.” He grins, his full mouth doesn’t move, but the motions work well enough for you. He watches you relax, mollified for the moment.

He enjoys change, it’s chaotic, he enjoys witnessing upheaval and the mischief such change creates. The status quo is boring, and he will always champion it’s slow and subtle destruction.

You were change, you slowly and subtly upset his status quo. Changed his life into something more than tolerable but enjoyable. Men like his brother and especially his father resist change, hate it.

He can sympathise now.

He’s not listening as you chatter, slipping on your robe, rebraiding your hair flat against your head after he spent a night relishing in undoing every knot. He watches you fearfully, feeling a change coming. That he will somehow lose moments like this, this beautiful status quo.

She’ll leave you behind. She has to. You said yourself you’re not enough…And she knows it too, Loki...

“Loki...aren’t you gonna answer that?”

You’re dressed again, in the leathers you wore yesterday. You look ready to ride for war and he hates it suddenly.

“It’s only a servant,” he ignores the insistent knocking.

“Might be important.” You head to answer the call but Loki cuts you off rudely, interposing himself between you and the door before the servant can see you.

“What!” He shouts, but this is no regular palace page, this is one of his mother’s personal attendants who remains serene in the face of Loki’s ire, well inured to it by now.

“My lady summons you to tea.”

“I will be there shortly,” He sniffs. “I know she must be impatient about planning father’s jubilee.”

“No my lord, I don’t mean you.” Duncan pokes his head to the side and points.

“I mean you Princess.”

**

A summons from the queen shouldn't put you out of sorts. You know this woman, she's helped you on more than one occasion. But you still fidget with your armor, tightening straps and fastening ties as Se’risa and Niti work to buff your iron greaves into a shine.

“Y’all stop that. You’re gonna blind her.”

Niti snorts at you. “‘Y’all’? I hope you remember proper speech when you’re in front of the Queen.”

Se’risa, ever your staunchest protector, whacks Niti in the shoulder. “Leave her alone. Or I’ll tell her what I caught you doing with Samina’s mom.”

Niti’s eyes widen in horror. “You wouldn’t dare! You promised! I bribed you and everything!”

Se’risa giggles before she cools her bright smiling face, imitating Lord Loki’s tone from the day before. “Now apologize.”

“I’m sorry.” Niti corrects, grumbling.

Se’risa giggles again harder. “Not to me.”

“I’m sorry Princess.”

You sigh with a soft laugh, shaking your head at these two ducks. The way they carry on, it’s tiring, but you prefer their incessant bickering to any silence. Their happy laughter reminds you of your duty to them. To protect them. With whatever much or little you have. Se’risa is a child, she needs you, having no one else. Niti though, maybe you can protect at least one of them from a distance.

“Se’risa, can you give me and Niti a moment please?”

“But if you’re gonna murder her I wanna be there to see it.”

You don’t press any further, you just tilt your head to the side and wait patiently. Se’risa snatches a book and retreats to her room, leaving you both behind with a little huff and a teasing tongue poked at Niti.

“Kids, I’ll never see the appeal.” Niti laughs but when you don’t, she stops. She puts her greave to the side, polished into a mirror like shine. “What’s wrong boss?”

“Are you okay?” You ask her, she’s done so much for you and you feel like with all that’s happened you haven’t quite upheld your end of this bargain. Niti serves you, and you lift her as you climb. But you haven’t done any climbing, you’ve only fallen. “Do you need anything?”

“Well yeah, if you’re asking, I could do with a raise.”

“It’s yours then, name whatever price.”

“Princess.” The teasing evaporates from her tone. “I wasn’t serious. I’m well paid, thank you.”

“But you could use more, right?”

“We could all use more, but what’s this about? Really?”

“Niti when you came to me, you came to ‘help me help you.’ You tried, and then I failed. There was first the disaster of meeting Astrid and the rest of the women. Then the disaster of the feast. Then disaster of that damn duel, and now with my new reputation...You’ve helped me navigate all that and I have not helped you in the slightest. I’m the Bloody damn Princess. I can’t imagine then what that makes you.”

“I’m Niti,” She flips her hair for added flourish. “What you are doesn’t change me.”

“I understand that but you said--”

“I know, I know. ‘Your honor is my honor’ and right now in the court of public opinion you’re running on a deficit. And I won’t say this meeting with the Queen doesn’t scare me too. The rumors I hear. Those that put asses on gold thrones may not like you associating with Princes anymore.”

“What are they saying?” You ask in a small voice.

“Shit what are they not saying. They might marry you off, exile you, Frigga might ‘politely’ ask you to never darken her son’s doorway again. Odin may do the same ‘cept not so politely if you catch my meaning.”

“But I didn’t do anything wrong!”

“Nope. And more intelligent minds know that. Doesn’t stop you from being social poison though.”

“Do you want to leave then? Before I poison you?”

Niti nods. “Ahh, I see. That’s why you’re asking.”

Her long black hair is swept into a side braid, a crystal jewel adorning the part in her hair. Her robes mimic the style of other servants in her station, but with the way she arranges them, drapes them across her body, they don’t make her look like servant at all. If anything, to your eyes, she looks like the princess and you--to look at you in the mirror---Nevermind, you washed those bloodstains out even if you still think you can still see them. Thank the stars the leather is black.

“Princess. I know that, if I wanted to, I could at any time leave.”

“And you would be right to.”

Niti sighs and nods, trying to soften the blow but she promised you honesty. “You’re right. But... Damn.”

“What? If you have to go, I understand.”

“It’s not that Princess. I always thought that whoever I managed to stick myself to, whoever I picked to help them help me, I figured I wouldn’t get attached. I’m not supposed to. How the Hel am I supposed to get attached to someone whose moon cloths I wash every month?”

“Niti…” You groan and turn your whole body away in embarrassment.

“Hey, brutal remember? Painful, gut wrenchingly…”

“Okay! I get it.” You fight the laugh, the laughs wins, and Niti smiles at you, her objective met.

“See that’s it. The problem with you Princess is you're so damned honorable and earnest and funny and utterly, bleedingly, pathetically in love with that damn Prince even after I told you you were gonna have a bad time and it looks like not only you’re not having a bad time but having a good time and… ugh!”

Niti throws her hands and groans. “You’re like this helpless but not helpless cute thing that I can’t help but want to keep helping. You’re a good person, and those aren’t that hard to find around here but you’re different. I like you. You make me like you enough to not mind washing your moon cloths. And don’t get me started on that damn kid of yours. I said I’d never see the appeal but she makes me want to.”

“Niti.”

She holds up her hand. “Don’t, please. No hugging. You smell like leather, I hate it.”

“You helped stitch half of this you know!”

“I know, still hate it. You should be wearing silk. What did I tell you? Helpless.”

You sniff and you figure being of rank you can do whatever the Hel you want, so you trap Niti in a hug anyway.

“Ugh! Fine. Hug me. But don’t start crying, you have to see the Queen, and I worked very hard on your battle chic makeup okay?”

You pull away from her, your smile drooping, remembering you still have a summons. “Do you think she’ll send me away?”

“I don’t know, I don’t think so. But if she does, I’ll go with you.”

Chapter Text

Frigga observes as her attendants carefully place the arrangements, she waves away the gold cups and asks for the silver, instructs the maids to bring the tea within moments of her guest’s arrival.

Duncan appears, bowing low before his Queen. “It is done.”

“And where did you find her?”

Duncan blushes. “As you thought, my lady, with the Prince.”

Frigga smiles warmly. “Of course. See that you deliver the rest of the invitations as well. Be sure to follow my exact instructions.”

“As you say my lady.”

Duncan dismisses himself, clear with his orders while Frigga sits, waiting in her private solar. Common eyes can’t see her agitation. She hides it well under soft smiles and kindhearted gestures like this one. A tea party. But she is disquieted, and has been for some time, since the feast actually.

And then after, at the duel.

And then again after Astrid’s betrayal was revealed shortly before Odin’s guards revealed her body.

And then again after consoling Astrid’s mother at the girl’s funeral.

Frigga knows a tea party won’t quell an upset heart, or reveal answers to questions she hasn’t yet formulated but it’s a small start.

Besides, her baby boy has a girlfriend and she hasn’t yet exercised her rights as a mother to thoroughly embarrass him and thoroughly terrify you.

“You waste your time on the girl.” Her husband will not join her for tea, nor does she want him to. She means to simply tease you, Odin might actually literally terrify you.

“She’s harmless, my love.”

“You’ve seen her fight, she is hardly harmless.”

“She only did what she had to, after, I’ll remind, you gave her no other option. Besides, Loki is smitten with the girl and when was the last time you’ve seen him smitten with anything ever?”

“I hadn’t noticed.”

“No, you haven’t. Pay more attention, dear.”

“I have wars to fight woman. I don’t have time to keep track of my sons’ dalliances.”

“If you paid attention, you’d notice this is more than a dalliance.”

Odin coughs and reiterates his point with new emphasis. “Then you both waste your time.”

Frigga narrows her eyes. “I am astounded by your commitment to ensure neither of your sons are happy. You’re a one eyed man, but you can still see. How can you not see this?”

“Because I’m looking in the future, dear heart. And I must do what is best for Asgard.”

“So which excuse will you use, then, to justify your own bitterness? Is it because she’s no longer a Princess? Or because she is a Lowlander.” That one is especially difficult to say aloud, but Odin’s prickly, she wouldn’t put it past him to object on those grounds.

“Why do you think my objection has anything to do with her and not him? You know what he is.”

That surprises her, they haven’t spoken of...The don’t speak of it, ever. But she recovers quickly, still angry. That has nothing to do with anything.

“What, a man in love?”

“Do not insult me by playing stupid!”

“I’m insulting you for being a boor! Treating him less than anything but your full blooded son will bring disaster upon you Odin Allfather, perhaps us all!”

Frigga remembers herself, and lets her rage cool. “You are dismissed.”

“How dare you!” Odin flares. “You forget yourself!”

“I’m not in the mood and I have guests coming. Remove yourself from my presence, please.”

She nods her head in deference and it wounds them both. Odin excuses himself without word just before her guest arrives.

**

The door to the solar cracks open, Duncan appears nodding to the ladies within.
“Your Majesty, The Princess has arrived.”

Frigga has known Sif since she was a little girl, chasing after Thor until she was old enough to realize she could make him chase her, so she’s used to the idea of royal women in armor. But she still wishes you had worn a dress, you were so pretty in the one she had made for you.

But, it does offer a nice contrast to the Lady Ylva, sitting in sumptuous silks right across the table.

Ylva takes too long a sip on her tea, burning her tongue when the servant announces your arrival. She had no idea why the Queen summoned her, taking the invitation as a personal triumph. To be asked to join the Allmother in her private solar for quiet chat is the highest honor a courtier could hope for. This is a win, one to sweeten the bitterness of her recent failings that almost ended in disaster.

And then you arrive, and ruin everything.

But Ylva has a role to maintain and the Allmother is watching. She greets you with the warmest of smiles, faking earnest excitement at your presence even though you look unfit to groom the Queen’s horse let alone sit at her table. But then again, isn’t that what your people do? Groom horses?

You smile at your friend as you settle in your chair, metal greaves tinkling softly. Taking stock of your surroundings, you’re suddenly very self conscious. Ylva, like Niti, looks every bit the Princess you don’t. This place is too fine for your leathers that may or may not have bloodstains on them. You feel like you should be standing at attention, a guard rather than a guest.

“I apologize my Queen, I’d have worn something more formal had I known the occasion and the company.”

Frigga refuses your apology, “No worries my dear, you are fine as you are.”

She’s earnest, she means it. You are. Like Sif, you are as formidable as you are beautiful. In battle dress or a simple dress you command a room. She notes the green and the gold accents in your armor. Frigga rises from her seat to get a better look.

“May I?” She asks you, fingers hovering over the cord of braided leather that fastens your capelet around one shoulder and under your arm.

“And you’ll forgive me Ylva, for a moment’s indulgence won’t you?”

Jealousy burns her tongue hotter than the tea but she smiles anyway. “Of course.”

Frigga admires you, looks at you like you are wearing the finest clothing. “Excellent craftsmanship. The coloring too. Not too subtle, but it suits you.”

You cough to hide a nervous laugh, face warming. You were awkward before, worrying this might be some kind of ambush or gentle exile but Frigga makes you feel foolish for ever thinking such things in the first place.

“Niti thinks she’s funny but, yes, I do like the colors. The green and gold remind me of the grass fields at home--and other things a little bit closer.” You laugh again, still somewhat embarrassed, so you change the topic quickly. “My people are known for their leather works. I wish there was a way I could secure something for you…” You smile sadly at Frigga and Ylva both.

Ylva summons the courage to compliment you. The green and gold does suit you, but how she wishes those colors were red and sticky instead.

She had been working slowly on Prince Loki. Others with sights on a royal bed simply barge in and lie in it, then are confused after a few months when another has taken their place in much the same way. Ylva meant to cultivate the Prince’s interest, put herself on the fringes of his vision, be a constant and familiar presence but never an overbearing or obvious one. She would create her own staying power this way, take herself from companion to consort to queen.

Upon first meeting you, she underestimated you. Mistook your ardent defense of the Prince to Lady Astrid as nothing more than a friendship, how could it be anything more, look at you! She’s seen dogs with more grace and charm than you.

And you, charmless and graceless, took in months what she spent years working toward.

Astrid was a setback, too messy and too public, but she is patient. She will dismantle you and take back what is hers.

 

“Think nothing of it,” Frigga waves off your kind sentiment. “My drawers are stuffed full of furs from your lands. Your mother, or I suspect her attendants, sent me one every year for the King’s Jubilee.”

 

“I understand, but I’d still like to give you something a little more personal. Something to say thank you for everything you’ve done for us, me and Se’risa. You also Ylva, you’ve been a friend when I’ve had none.”

“I’ll be your friend to the end.” She answers, pleasing herself. It is the truth after all. Her eyes rake over you, pleasing herself more with fantasies of her victory and your destruction until they settle on something that threatens to destroy every bit of decorum she’s mustered in your presence so far.

 

“Interesting,” Ylva reaches for your arms and draws her finger along the designs. “This looks like a snake, I thought you were a horse folk.”

“We are.” You turn toward Ylva and flash the broach holding your cape to you, the carven image of an obsidian horse mid gallop inlaid in pearl. You look down at your arms. Having the good sense not to come in full battle dress, you left your metal armguards behind meaning their softer leather underparts could show. “Oh. I never noticed that. Niti did these for me before the duel. Is there some significance to the snake?”

Ylva’s smile brightens, takes up her whole face until it’s at the barest edge of a grimace. How can you not know! How can you not know!

Frigga swallows a happy sigh and answers you while Ylva quietly bursts into flames. “Loki has a well known fondness for serpents. I believe he calls that one Jörmungandr.”

The word startles a memory from the night before.

He is pulling you out of your clothes, stitch by stitch, while you pull apart his own stitching. Suddenly, his fingers on your arms stop, like he’s been shocked. He slides the leather cuff off your arm, marvelling at it.

“Niti made those for me. If you like them, I can ask her to make you....”

“No. You’ll have the only pair of these. Jörmungandr has chosen you and he will have no other.”

“Wha--” He kisses you very hard, stealing your question and your air. Stealing your memory of everything else but him until Frigga, just now, reminds you.

“Right. Jörmungandr. That’s what he called it. Before ahh...nevermind.”

Ylva’s face flashes but Frigga catches the spark before it disappears. She sees the brief moment of pain, notes the bulging jaw where the Duchess’s teeth are clenched. The Queen turns the image over in her head, a burr snagged on her thoughts. But before she can release it, there is a knock on the door.

Duncan again.

“My Lady, the Prince has arrived.”

“Good, see him in.”

“Mother, Princess.”

He has smiles for both of you, gives you one apiece. A gentle smile for her, his mother. Odin thinks he’s a sleeping monster, slave to an immutable nature determined by his birth. But if he just opened his one eye wider and looked, really looked, he’d see this son. This gentle creature who loves love and attention and affection the same way the child of their bodies does.

His smile for you is different, it curls around his face like the serpents on your armguards and pulls tight, playful and dangerous while some sweetness yet remains. If Odin looked, he’d see himself in this smile. The ones he used to give her when they were so much younger.

Loki does not greet the Duchess by name or smile, only by nod. Maybe he’s forgotten her or maybe he’s used up all of his courtesies for you and his mother. Or maybe sometimes he just has to be a rude little churl, Frigga doesn’t know. But she sees something change, the atmosphere in the room shifts so very subtly but the Allmother witnesses it all.

It is not Ylva’s reaction to the prince. It is her reaction to you. Frigga watches her watch you, and the burr on her thoughts pricks harder and harder until it starts to hurt. Until something is wrong here.

Your face lights up as hers darkens. You open your hand to accept his courtly kiss. Her’s clench. When you giggle. Frigga hears the sound of a fleeting growl.

“Lok, don’t be rude. You know Ylva.” You throw your head in her direction, indicating the prince has forgotten his manners again, smiling at your friend.

And she does not return it.

But…

She’s within her rights, the Prince was rude to her. Insufferably so. Anyone would be upset, especially a lady of rank.

Frigga overthinks, seeing too much.

And yet the Allmother decides to keep watching as the four of you sit for tea.

Chapter Text

He is unforgivably bored, the women making small talk while he sits in silence. He has too much buzzing about his head, thoughts he has to weed out of the noise of the duchess’s laughter, the quiet scrape of your leather, and his mother’s tinkling silverware, to offer much in the way conversation. He chooses you and filters the rest, listening to the sounds your words make rather than the words themselves. He hears them, he can answer a question if asked, but he mostly cues into timber and tempo trying to decide if he’s still angry with you from before.

You have the incredible power to rule his thoughts and he doesn’t like that he doesn’t mind it as much as he expected. No person before you has ever commanded his heart like this and it is infuriating that you don’t know it, the power you have.

Every lover who came before latched to him like a leech but it was Loki who drew the power until they fell from him discarded, their purposes fulfilled. Used until he no longer needed them, regardless of if they still needed him.

You don’t need him. He knows you love him, but you don’t need him, and that unsettles him.

He wants you to need him, to be desperate for him. He craves that kind devotion, required it from everyone else and now he wants it only from you.

But instead of falling under his spell you are withdrawing from it, from him.

Which means you’ll be able to walk away, and he’ll be the one discarded.

That’s the heaviness that sinks in him whenever he looks at you, compelling him to either grab you and hold you close like he did last night, or tear away from you, a bandage from a wound like he did this morning. He hates this confusion and uncertainty, ironic given his penchant for chaos. He prefers to inflict it on others not suffer it himself.

“Trust me,” The duchess says. “I’ll make sure the Princess is well taken care of in time for the jubilee.”

Trust, that’s what he’s supposed to be doing. Trusting you. You’re not supposed to hurt him, you’re the good one. In every children’s tale he’s ever deigned to read, it is the dark prince inflicts the pain and the heartache, not the noble princess. Not you.

So he’ll trust you. Trust that you won’t leave him. You’ve already asked that of him and while trust isn’t an emotion he has much faith in (faith itself being another one of those dubious emotions), he’ll try.

For you. Because he loves you.

Because he needs you.

Damn you horsegirl. He thinks with a wry smile. I’ll make you pay for this.

**

She should receive an award. The Valkyries, the Fates, the bloody Stars should come down from the sky and bless her for having the patience to deal with you. Your simpering, your sniveling, your saccharine smiles that ooze all over your face like weeping sores. Ylva hates it, wonders how the Prince can even stomach you, wonders if there’s some redeeming quality about you she just hasn’t seen yet, or if the spell you cast from between your legs is just better than most.

She finds it increasingly difficult to smile at you but puts forth her best efforts anyway. “Trust me,” Ylva says. “I’ll make sure the Princess is well taken care of in time for the jubilee.”

That wins her a smile from you, one of those really ugly ones where too much of your teeth show just like a damned horse. Too focused on your faults, she misses how the prince’s eyes soften, misses how the corner of his mouth twitches up as he watches you smile.

Frigga does not.

Ylva is jealous. That much is clear now. The Queen sees it in the cut of her eyes and in the slant of her lips. Hardly surprising, Frigga’s spent a long life as a queen holding court. She’s watched people tear each other apart for lesser prizes--to say nothing of the rivalries her sons have sparked (sometimes at their own provocation when they were younger and more foolish than the mundane foolish they are now). She can remember too, being young and smitten with valiant and handsome princes that seemed to catch the attention of everyone in her circle of friends but her. She harbored her envies in private and public as much as anyone else would, and it seems like Ylva is doing the same.

She’s not sure if it merits a private conversation with you, common sentiment as it is. But for her jealousies, Ylva seems a good friend to you and Frigga would rather not tarnish that, you have so few. And now you have dire need of them. As many people who can watch out for you as you can get.

But.

A mother’s instinct is as powerful as her love. She will at least devote better vigilance to the duchess, hoping it will be a waste of time.

“I could chat with you all for at least another hour or more but small talk is not why I’ve called you here. We’ve had some time to recover and recuperate from past tragedies and I must ask how you all are faring.”

Ylva relaxes, thankful the conversation has finally diverted from vague but pointed references to your relationship with the prince.

“Well enough,” Ylva bows her head, looking pained by the memory.

You reach for her shoulder. “Astrid was your friend. I’m so sorry.”

Ylva is pained, though not from any loss of life. She pats your hand. “You musn’t be too hard on yourself. It isn’t your fault. I daresay it’s mine. I’m the one who asked Lord Loki to intercede on her behalf.”

Loki knows none of this is the Duchess’s fault, but he still harbors righteous anger, his vengeance stolen with Astrid’s death. He lets himself sneer at the woman, “You did. And she almost died.”

Ylva sniffs, lamenting the almost. “I know. I feel awful.”

“Don’t.” You flash Loki a glare, one that he simply shrugs off with a flippant ‘allow me this one indulgence’ smirk. “You were only looking out for your friend. If it wasn’t for me none of this would have happened anyway.”

There is some part of her that experiences shame. That even though she has actively worked for your demise and still is, you still defend her. It's a very small part though, one she squashes with fantasies of crowns and thrones. It’s enough to assuage most of her moral objections in the rare cases they appear.

“Hindsight being what it is, you still shouldn’t blame yourself. Lady Tarth was a hired killer who took advantage of your good heart, whom you triumphed over anyway. And Astrid is dead. But no one put that noose around her neck but her. It is over, best to let the whole sad business rest.”

“I wish I could.” You admit.

“So do I.” Frigga announces. “But we can’t.”

Chapter Text

Ylva puts her tea down. “Why ever not?”

“I am disturbed. And it maybe nothing but my concern for the Princess overreacting, but I think we are missing something.”

“Like?” Ylva asks, hand to her heart, willing it to slow.

Frigga turns to you, “You only had one interaction with Astrid yes?”

“Yes. The day I met you, Ylva. You remember what happened right?”

Ylva nods, answering slowly. “Yes.”

“Well after that I never spoke or saw her again until the night of the feast.”

“Where she said those awful things about you.” Loki remembers. Unlike the women, he feels no lingering grief for the girl. She tried to cheat someone who loved a better cheater.

“Right. I meant to talk to her, to apologize. But I never got the chance.” Your shoulders droop as you recount this. “If I had been more diligent, maybe I could have stopped all this.”

“Oh...how misfortunate.” Ylva grieves with you but only to shovel more guilt on your shoulders. “A simple apology and maybe all this could have been....”

“The right word could have ended this,” The Queen interrupts, grave with her words, they’re heavy and you feel them press on your heart, leadening your already heavy guilt. “But did the wrong word start this?”

“What do you mean Mother?”

“I believe there is another who is involved with this.” You shouldn’t be happy, the idea that another may be involved shouldn’t make you happy. That’s one more enemy you don’t know about. But, if it will alleviate a bit of the blame, you’ll take it.

“Who?” You lean forward in your chair.

“I do not yet know.”

Frigga wouldn’t bring her here if she suspected any of her dealings with Astrid or Tarth. And even if she did, revealing her suspicions like this would only warn the Duchess. Ylva takes a deep breath, stops grinding her teeth. Acting like the Princess’s best friend is working, nobody should suspect her, she tied up those loose ends with a noose knot.

“But who else would be involved? Why?” Ylva asks. It would still be best to try and kill the Queen’s inklings at the root. As an extra measure.

“There could be any reason why. But I know my children.” Frigga recalls her husband’s words when she looks at her son. Her son . No circumstance of birth will change how much she loves him, nor will it change the surety of her faith in his good heart. “As Astrid’s mother knew her daughter. And therefore knew Astrid had no magical talent to cast such an illusion.”

Ylva curses in her mind and digs her fingernails into her palm. It’s true, Astrid lacked any kind of talent with sedir. “That poor woman...” She pulls arguments from the air and weaves them out of wishes. “Stooping to such lies.”

“But why lie?” You ask. “The family honor is already ruined. What does it serve to lie about that?” Oh she could kill you. She will, but right now the desire is hottest.

“Maybe she’s not lying, maybe she really doesn’t know. How many secrets did you keep from your mother Princess?”

Ylva enjoys the grimace you make. “Too many I wish I hadn’t.”

“Besides, the inclusion of this nebulous third party might somehow save the family from complete disgrace, deflect some of the guilt from Astrid and onto another. But that would mean there’s someone else who would wish you harm who knew Astrid hated you. Forgive me for being frank, but of the people you know in this kingdom, there aren’t very many outside this room. You don’t know enough people for them to hate you.”

“She knows you.” Loki quirks his eyebrow, considering this possibility as he says it

Ylva laughs and squeezes your hand. “Yes she does, I’m one of the rare friends she has…”

“Ylva. Do you have some talent with sedir?” The Queen interrupts and you let go of her hand. The dynamics of the table change, suddenly it’s her against the three of you, she feels under attack. Her confidence melts like honey in hot tea.

She almost lies out of hand, it is her first instinct of self-preservation. But lying and later being caught would be an assured indictment of guilt. Telling the truth isn’t appealing to her either but she might be able to at least mitigate any damage to her character. She has done nothing to suggest the Princess is her enemy nor does she have an easily discernable motive.

You’re a blind nag, the Prince is a besotted fool, and the Queen is an eminently reasonable woman. The truth of her magical talents in light of every other act of the devoted friend she has performed isn’t enough to cast suspicion upon much less condemn her.

Still, she’s unnerved by the Queen’s patient gaze as she waits for her answer.

“Only a little. But I haven’t the power of the likes of you my Queen or the Lord Loki. I can barely light a fire.” A guilty woman would laugh away her lack of talents so Ylva makes herself frown. “I wish I did have more, maybe I could have detected something.”

“Neither my mother nor I noticed anything amiss. Whoever this magic wielder is, they are powerful and cunning. Enough to make us miss their abilities.”

Like Frigga missed Ylva’s.

She can forgive a quiet jealousy, one the girl tries hard to push aside for sake of her friend. But this new information sours the Queen, puts her on edge. It’s not enough to make her holler for guards, but it is enough to make her rescind her complete trust.

She considers warning you, but even then that might be a bridge too far. Jealousy can be a powerful motivator but is it enough to murder one good friend and desire to murder another?

Yes.

Does she believe Ylva capable?

Capable of murder? Well everyone is capable of murder. It’s a serious accusation, one she cannot make without proof which she does not have and likely will not get. If’s she’s proven this cunning to orchestrate all this, then she is cunning enough to eliminate any evidence. Astrid would have been her evidence and Astrid is conveniently dead.

And if she is this ‘nebulous third party’ Frigga has just warned her that eyes are watching. She balls her hands into fists, sick with unsettling doubt and mistrust. Her face resembles her hands, hardened, pulled tight.

“Then what should we do my lady?” You ask.

“Take care of yourself, sweetheart. And be comforted in the knowledge that you are well loved.” The apples of your cheeks start to burn and you murmur a quiet ‘thank you’.

“Yes,” Ylva chimes in. “I will--”

“And,” The Queen interrupts, cuts clear across Ylva’s platitudes. “Know that I will unleash the wrath of Hel when I find the conspirator.”

Loki chuckles. “Save some for me dear mother.”

“I will.” She says, taking a moment, just a tiny second, to flick her gaze at Ylva looking for the spark of something to prove guilt or innocence, seeing nothing.

Chapter Text

You leave Frigga’s presence with an affectionate hug and a reminder, “Do not be afraid, I will not allow anything to happen to you or your loved ones.”

You awkwardly try to thank her, humbled by her passion but she doesn’t let you speak, she shoos you away.

“Go make yourself smile.” As if she already sees the frown lines calcifying in your face. “My son could help you with that.”

The furnace in your face ignites, flaming an unbearable heat in your cheeks, but Frigga lands a finger on your nose. “Not that one, I have need of that one for a moment or two yet. My other son should be somewhere in the palace with a tankard of ale in his hands. See that he shares.”

“You’re saying I should go have a drink with Thor?”

“Yes. And why not? He already thinks of you like a sister.”

The furnace fires.

Again.

“Yes, that one I meant for you to blush for.” Frigga laughs and it sparks your own. “Go. I promise not to keep the other one for too long.”

Faced with the burden of a queenly command, you affect your deepest bow laughing all the way. “As my lady wishes.”

**

You don’t wander long or far before you find Thor, deep what looks to be serious conversation with Volstagg.

Then someone belches, someone else laughs, the entire hall cheers, and another cask is broken open.

Sif sees you first, and runs to you. “Save me Princess.” You’re surprised given the pained desperation on her face that she doesn’t beg on bended knee. “They are insufferable.”

“That’s not what my last lover said!” Volstagg protests with an offended pout that fails to engender anything but laughter in his comrades. “Said I was very tolerable.”

“Somehow my friend I don’t think that’s a compliment.” Hogun sympathies.

“It’s not supposed to be! Just a simple refutation of my ‘insufferableness’. To wit, I am very ‘sufferable’.”

Fandral groans. “Someone gag him, he shouldn’t speak when he’s in his cups.”

“I’ll speak in your cups!” Volstagg reaches for his friend’s ale but misses, ends up spilling half a tankard down Fandral’s shirt.

Half the hall cheers again, wolf whistling and howling.

“See?” Sif points accusatory fingers. “See what I deal with!? Please!” She pulls on your arm and you go willingly, fulfilling your duty to the queen. Or at least part of it. You’ve found the son, now you have to work on the smiling.

The wolf whistles fill the room, a fever pitch of shrieking cresting when Fandral begins removing layers of clothing soaked by spilled ale. Not to be outdone, Volstagg removes his shirt which means patient Hogun is honor bound to join them.

“Do they always remove their shirts?” You ask, you’re not horrified, the show could be worse, but then Thor starts to peel away layers and you’re concerned this might turn from a drinking party to an orgy.

You like Thor and his friends.

But not that much.

Sif passes you a tankard of ale Cephalus could fit his whole hoof in and thrice as deep.

“Not always, today must be a special occasion. Drinking helps.”

“The Princess is here!” Thor raises his fist in salute. “She was victorious in sacred combat. Reason enough!”

So soon after the discussion with Frigga, the mention of your battle against Astrid’s proxy should be enough to make you leave, or at least harden some of those lines in your face. But Thor’s earnestness and eagerness as he tries to impress you with his manly prowess makes you smile.

Then laugh.

You take the offered ale from Sif. It tastes like horse piss, but you quickly suppress the memory of how you can make that comparison. You choke, gagging on the acrid taste, while Thor and his friends gasp ready to be mock scandalized if you can’t finish. But Sif places a warm hand on your back and whispers: “Just lie back and think of Asgard.”

Which does absolutely nothing to encourage you.

You spit your ale out in what is like to be your most graceless moment of your life wiping your mouth as you howl.

“You’re supposed to be helping me!”

“I couldn’t let you drink this swill in good faith. It’s awful, I don’t know how they stand it.” She replaces your ale with something far more palatable and this you drink down grateful it’s not so bilious that you think it’ll crawl back up your throat.

Hogun and Fandral hook arms under yours and lift you to stand on the table with the Prince. He raises your hand, a conquering heroine celebrating victory and the room cheers for you, thumping horns on tables and striking feet to stone.

This may be a little too much, too many eyes on you. Some you see whisper in the back of the hall, and you imagine ‘Bloody Princess’ is being said behind their hands. Thor feels your wrist slip from his hand.

“Do not overthink. Not tonight. Tonight we celebrate your victory over death. Nothing more. Celebrate your life Princess. As we do. More ale!”

“Prince Thor,”

“Call me Thor or brother. Nothing else will do!” He thumps his fist on your chest, he knocks the wind out of you. He reminds you of the soldiers you once had, old and grizzled men who treated you like a daughter or a sister in addition to being their Captain and Princess. Not all were so warm, the old guard can have problems taking orders from a woman younger than some of the wars they fought, but Thor reminds you of the best of them.

He swallows more ale before you snatch the horn and drain the rest.

“Your mother said share.” You answer smiling, foam drying in the corner of your mouth.

Chapter Text

She supposes she should discuss the business of the Lord Odin’s jubilee. It’s a ways away still, but it’s a very large number, punctuated by a ‘zero’ so such celebrations must be budgeted and planned well in advance.

But thoughts of her husband leave her cold, so she ignores her plans, puts them off for another time and thinks of happier things.

Like her son and his delightful Princess.

“You don’t seem surprised by this revelation.”

“I don’t care.” He flicks his reply off his tongue like dirt from his fingernails.

When his mother’s eyebrows touch her hairline he qualifies. “It doesn’t matter how many people want her dead, hiding in whatever shadows. Nothing will befall her.”

He’s flippant, nonchalant. Like the situation warrants only the barest concern. “You’re confident.”

“Determined is a better word.”

“You love the girl?”

He doesn’t answer, making her laugh. “Let me rephrase then. ‘You love her.’ Statement, not a question. Now. What do you intend to do about it?”

Her son glares, considers leaving this question unanswered as well but he’d like to know his mother’s thoughts. Intrigued by where this line of conversation might go.

“I wasn't aware that at our current state I was required to do anything.”

Frigga sighs and shakes her head. “Foolish boy. Be comfortable but never complacent.”

“Are you saying I'm boring? Are you spying on me mother?” He fakes shock, knowing she is and isn’t spying on him. She knows enough to know the basics, but not enough to pry. And he appreciates the cunning of some of the servant-spies she employs, more than a few of them also work for him. He’ll engage them once he’s done here to ferret out whoever this new enemy is.

“You can be dull.” She pokes at the pride of her dour son. His pout amuses her and she’s rewarded with it.

He bristles. “And what you would have me do?”

“I can't tell you that.”

“Of course not.” He yawns. “That'd be too explicit and ever must one's parents remain vague.”

Frigga huffs with a little flare of her nose that Loki finds too cute to mock.

“Am I proving too exasperating for you? Do you need the fainting couch?” He snaps his fingers and furniture rearranges in her solar. Her tea table dissolves and the ornate high back chair disappears, replaced with a reclining chaise stuffed with pillows.

One she magicks into the air and launches at her son’s head.

“Since the great Loki requires hints, unable to figure things out for himself.” She laughs over his groan. “Se’risa tells me it is the Princess’s birthday soon. Do something sweet for her. Please her.”

“I hardly need your advice in pleasing a woman.” Redness bleeds into the shells of his ears. Loki’s blush is a rare sight and a rich reward.

“I’d agree, and loath would I be in offering such advice. But you and I both know she is no ordinary. Especially not to you.”

He quiets again, the blush on his ears mutes and he turns his back to his mother. But she knows her children.

“You don't like being reminded you have a soft spot.”

She pokes his side as she often did when he was a child. But he doesn't laugh with a child’s laughter, he winces.

“Soft spots are weaknesses.”

“They don’t have to be, you understand. They can also be your greatest source of power. But you, dear boy,” She pokes him again, winning a smile from him. “Have to let them.”

**
He wanders when he leaves his mother, right into your chambers. But for a change, he’s not looking for you.

When asked, neither the little filly nor the servant can tell him what your favorite things are.

“Manmae made her favorite pastries. Cephalus is her favorite pet. You’re her favorite person, but only after me.”

“I don’t rank second to a child!”

“You will after the present I get her.” Se’risa teases.

He leaves after that, unwilling to endure anymore taunting from a little girl. It’s likely also his ego and the fact that he’ll never suffer to ask you himself, to even admit out loud that he might be in a competition with a child for the greatest share of your affection. And knowing you like he does, you’d only say something sweet but trite about caring about them both equally.

He is not the filly’s equal damnit.

He’ll have to work for the information, work it out of you perhaps. Maybe he’ll disguise himself as a servant come on Frigga’s behalf and interrogate you that way. Or maybe he’ll tease it out of you with the most mind bending pleasure you’ve ever experienced.

“You could just ask her you know?” Thor offers. “She’s very straightforward.”

“You know this how?”

“I spent the night drinking with her. Girl can hold her ale!”

Thor recounts the previous night, sparing no detail, delighting in how his brother’s face sours as the story goes on. He knows it’s not out of any anger at you but jealousy that he missed the spectacle.

“She what!”

“Well we were all shirtless, even Sif. Down to the wraps and naught else! It was only fair.”

The blush in his ears is his brother’s only tell, Thor knows the man is sorely disappointed he missed that.

The Lighting Prince thuds Loki’s shoulder, “Worry not, behind closed doors you’ll have more oppor--”

“Stop!” A flash of magic mutes him. “I know what you’re going to say. Don’t.”

Thor laughs even though it doesn’t make a sound and Loki leaves him like this the rest of the day. Even when their Father summons them to his study, but after the news they hear, Loki becomes just as mute.

“Did either of you hear me? Thor summon your commanders and have them muster two legions worth of infantry. Loki, have your sorcerers prepare whatever materials they’ll need in the field. More barbarians are threatening our northern borders and I mean to march in a week.”

The Prince enjoys war, both do. Loki excels at warfare, his corps of sorcerers are the most feared contingent of his father’s army. Not Thor and his Warriors 3. Not Heimdal and his father’s Honor Guard.

His soldiers.

War is the only time Odin thinks anything of him that’s not disdain, the only time he’s Thor’s equal in their father’s eyes. When the years of peace stretch into intolerable boredom he wishes for conflict. But now he only stares at his father and wishes this weren’t true. It’s enough to release the charm on Thor’s throat as Odin barks again.

“See it done!”

The brothers exchange a worried look. Then they both put their hands over their chests. “Yes Father.”

Chapter Text

He spends the rest of the day barking orders, sending his sorcerers fleeing to brew the potions and scribe the runes they’ll need for battle. He shuffles, drags his feet back to his quarters, his exhaustion making him forget that he’s thought of you all day and how he’ll tell you that he’s riding for war in a week.

 

You remind him by being in his room when he gets there.

 

“Loki.”

 

He ignores you, keeps shuffling past you, bits and pieces of his armor magically melting off him as he passes by.

 

“Loki,” you call again. “Talk to me.”

 

He doesn’t. He disappears into his marble and gold bathing chamber, dropping a curtain behind him, knowing, expecting, (hoping), you’ll charge in after him.

 

“Damnit Loki talk to me!”

 

You do, silly girl.

 

“What?” He addresses you stitchless, half a leg into the bath. Your heart speeds up, tearing your mind in two. Of whether you wish to give him a little privacy or…

 

No. Don’t let him intimidate you. Not this time.

 

So instead of asking, you tell him.

 

“I’m going with you.”

 

He pulls that foot out of the tub and assaults you with his full attention. “Say that again.”

 

“I’m going with you. If you think I’m letting the war party ride without me…”

 

The mute spell is his favorite today, he uses it again on you.

 

“First: how do you know?”

 

You answer him without a voice, giving him a flat expression, he doesn’t even need to read your lips. “Of course she would tell you. Well, regardless of what you think, you’re not.”

 

I am!

 

Don’t make me.

 

Make you what!

 

To keep you here, I’m not above injuring you.

 

You’ll have to kill me.

 

He stops himself before he replies with a canned and pre-planned ‘I will’.

 

“Don’t be foolish.”

 

He gives you your voice back. “I’m not.”

 

“We don’t need you.”

 

“The Hel you don’t! Did you forget what I was before here?”

 

The puts his finger to his chin. “An ill tempered, violent, ill humored…”

 

“A cavalry commander! Idiot.”

 

“And we already have a cavalry and a commander.”

 

You laugh so incredibly hard it embarasses the prince, makes him defend his father’s army out of hand on pride alone.

 

His pitiful defenses make you laugh harder, doubling over, embarrassing him enough to forget how pretty he thinks your laughs are.

 

He switches tactics from practicality to guilt, invoking Niti, Se’risa, his “poor, lonely mother”.

 

You stop laughing, face twisting up in a memory that gets easier to bear the less you have to remember it. Today it pricks sharp, stinging enough to draw blood from your heart.

 

You remember the last time you left a mother alone.

 

“Let me put it to you like this then: the last time those I loved rode for war without me, they didn’t come back. You won’t stop me because I’m not letting that happen again.”

 

Loki sneers, he's not wholly moved by your passion, or at the very least he's not letting his overflowing heart show on his face. He resigns to your obstinance with little more than a heavy sigh. Then he magicks your clothes away so he can pull you into his bath, into his arms, into him, into bliss.

 

“So be it horse girl.”

 

**

You petition the King the next day, kneeling before him, offering to the King your shiny new spear commissioned from the rude smithy.

 

The princes are there with their mother, flanking the throne. You're hoping it's for support, hoping Loki hasn't convinced them to form a last second coup against you.

 

You ask the king from your bended knee to join him. You offer him your spear, letting it rest in your open hands for him to take. He lets it remain there, untouched making the gesture awkward and increasingly uncomfortable. Making you also awkward and increasingly uncomfortable.

 

“Are you even well? Not to long ago you were almost killed.”

 

You glare at the King’s feet, not daring to meet his eye for whatever impertinence he might see in yours. You place your spear to the side but remain bowed on the marble floor. Deference is not humility and you let the king know that in your tone.

 

“Less to do with my ability and more with my perception. If I'd known my life was on the line from the start that fight would have ended the same but earlier.”

 

Odin leans on his throne, elbow digging into the red armrests. “Your arrogance isn't injured that's for sure.”

 

Loki huffs but keeps silent. Anything he has to say wouldn't help you, coming from him it'd be more likely to damn you in his father's eye. But you don't require his help.

 

“It's only arrogance if I do it. Were it either of your sons or your lords you'd praise them for confidence.”

 

He feels your grin, your face is turned from his, yet he feels it all the same. He adds his own, especially when his father starts shouting. You two are almost nothing alike, yet you take joy in similar things.

 

Angering those who underestimate you?

 

Highest on the list of pleasures.

 

“Are you here to petition me girl or anger me?”

 

“Are they mutually exclusive? I have a talent you need and…”

 

Stars he's tired of you. He shouts over your argument.

 

“I already have mounted troops with a commander!”

 

“I know, it explains why you came to my mother whenever you needed a true cavalry.”

 

The thought stops you.  

 

“Will you….be calling on Fa’D... them ?”

 

“No. The southern barbarians are not yet fully pacified. Your uncle will guard that front lest Asgard be open to attack. The horses I take will be my own.”

 

You let that breath go, grateful for the good news. Fa’Dan or Fa’Rey’s presence wouldn't be enough to deter you,  but you're glad you don't have to learn how to play nice with them just yet.  “Then let me accompany them.”

 

Odin’s mouth opens to deny you even though knows he you'd be a valuable addition. He wouldn't protest so much if it weren’t for the looks Loki’s giving you, giving him. Like he'd love nothing more than to reverse your places, to make him the beggar and you the queen.

 

“Do you know what you're asking for Princess?” Frigga understands your urgency, and while she'd rather keep you here, she also understands a battlefield might be a safer place for you. You'd be away from Ylva, although… if she's wrong about her,  you'd now also be in the perfect place for a staged murder.

 

“My Lady Frigga forgets, and perhaps the Lord Odin as well, but I've been in war before. Were it not my mother's intervention and insistence I would have ridden with you in the last one.”

 

And your life would have taken a very different turn. You break your gaze from the clawed foot of the King’s throne and dare to steal a glance at your prince.

 

You don't know how to rationalize these feelings. You regret and you don't regret.

 

You would rather have your mother and your home. Always.

 

But you're glad of what losing both has brought you.

 

Gifts you won't leave unprotected.

 

“My own two hands and four hooves could have prevented her death, and nothing anyone tells me can convince me otherwise. Her best were not there for her. Her best would not have failed her. There's only one of me but I am still your best on four hooves and I will not fail you .”

 

Odin shifts again, uncomfortable. He looks like a man who already made his decision before you ever spoke. But now, to hear you speak, that decision grows harder and harder to justify. “Princess your devotion is appreciated but…”

 

“My Lord Odin, I'm not asking for a command. You don't even have to put me with the cavalry, I’ll shovel the horse shit if it please you. All I'm asking is not to be left behind again.”

 

He has a soft spot for warriors and his wife, both of which suffer assaults as he recalls your mother’s fierceness in your voice and as Frigga’s own voice screeches across his consciousness.

 

If you don’t let this girl fight I swear to you---!

 

Fine fine!


“Commander Torbjorn is getting old.” Odin huffs thoughtfully, saving as much of his face as he can. “Fine. Report to him. Distinguish yourself and the appointment may be made permanent. Will you be ready in time?”

Chapter Text

You are.

 

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.

 

He nods.

 

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.

Chapter Text

“Commander Torbjorn.” You salute with a fist touched to your shoulder.

 

The grey bearded man has to look up to you. Most in the cavalry do. Cephalus is at least 2 hands taller than the next horse putting you six inches to a foot taller than the tallest rider.

 

He’s old, so much so that it looks like all his emotions have withered down into one universal constant: weariness.

 

He grunts at you, flicking his eyes up and down, evaluating and judging, finding you wanting.

 

“Get to the back with you lass, with the rest of the recruits.”

 

Torbjorn knows who you are, he knows your people. He fought with your mother and uncle the last time Odin rode for war and tried his damndest to learn everything he could from you horsefolk.

 

He knows you have better skills contained in your left arm than what he has in the whole of his cavalry, but he’s a commander still. Neophytes travel in the back, no exceptions granted to title or skill.

 

You know it too. So his gruffness doesn’t bother you much.

 

You nod and pull on your reins, slowing your mount until you fall in step with the last of the trail, lining up with a familiar (somewhat) face.

 

“Princess!”

 

Edvard’s eyes widen before he turns his head way, remembering too late the impropriety of staring.

 

You nod to your new travelling companion. “Sir.” He looks familiar but his name is unplacable.

 

“You may call me Edvard, my lady.”

 

Oh nine torments! Edvard curses himself for sounding so stupid, hearing phantom teasings from his companions further up the ranks.

 

She can call you whatever she wants I bet!

 

Yeah, you’d let her Red!

 

That’s not all you’d let her do!

 

He watched you tame your incredible horse, watched you fight and win in the arena, and now you’re here, next to him, in the brown skinned flesh his fingers itch to touch. He balls those fingers into a fist on his reins and clamps his teeth down on his tongue. He really doesn’t want to make himself look or sound anymore like a fool so he keeps quiet.

 

The entire march.

 

You’re awkward. You’re not used to travelling in complete silence. On campaigns with your cavalry, your soldiers, when stealth wasn’t required, used to fill the hours with singing and jokes and tales of encounters with lovers or rivals. Odin’s army is much more disciplined for sure, but you can hear snatches of conversations here and there. These riders may not be as close knit as you’re used to but they are all friendly at the very least. You know in order to fight effectively you must have the trust of the soldier and the horse on your left and right and at your back.  But whenever you try to breach conversation by stealing a glance at Ed..vard he keeps his face straight ahead, eyes locked on a distant target. The man won’t even spare you a smile.

 

He must be one of them, of those that call you by your epithet now. You wonder if he thinks you might kill him in his sleep or if you’re the kind of fighter that would abandon him to death if it saved your skin. That might explain the chill that emanates from him. It definitely explains the cool reception you’ve gotten from the Commander and the rest of the unit.

 

You try to reassure him, talk to him somehow, but he stiffens when you address him, pulling so hard on his reins his poor horse snorts in affront.

 

So you say nothing more and let your thoughts turn inward.

 

You’re so...he can’t find words for you so he just sighs and keeps his mouth shut and his eyes forward so he doesn’t say anything stupid or get caught staring again . You are blindingly pretty with your intricate armor and the braided leather headband you have tied around your forehead. You sit astride your horse as though you command the world and the spear you have attached to your back looks fearsome enough to cleave that world in two.

 

He sighs again.

 

And it makes you consider pulling Cephalus back a few strides in order to give the poor man some respite from you.

 

**

At the end of the day's march, the cavalry rests in an open field, concentric rings of tents centered on a roaring fire. You pitch your tent on the lagging tail of the outermost ring far away from the nearest horse and rider.

 

She must want to be left alone, Edvard sighs, shoulders slumping as watches you brush down your horse. He won’t disturb your peace, so he leaves you to your silence.

 

Everyone does.

 

The Royal Cavalry was your second family, its members your cousins and brothers and sisters and uncles though not one drop of blood united you with anyone else. The isolation hurts, digs deep to get at the roots of your memories and supplants them. This is your reality now, your cavalry family is lost to you. You’ll sing alone songs nobody recognizes. At least the horse is here, nickering softly, tossing his mane across his neck urging you to brush again that one spot again that makes his skin vibrate with pleasure.

 

“Good boy. Good boy.”

 

Grazed, brushed, and watered, now that Cephalus is tended you turn to yourself. The cookfires are further inside the rings, you have to pass the entire unit to reach them. Conversation hushes when you pass, but whispers hiss louder.

 

Suddenly you miss Loki and his reassuring presence at your side. You wish you could care so little for your reputation as he does. Ignore the glares and disregard the snickering but they are hard to throw away.

 

You should be home, a march like this is the closest to home you’ve gotten in a year. You should feel like your old self or very near it. You’re not a commander anymore and these people don’t speak your language or sing your songs but they know war and horses. They certainly have more in common with you than Ylva or Niti or Queen Frigga and yet…

 

You return to your tent alone, a lukewarm bowl of stew rapidly chilling in your hands, blown cold by night winds come down from the mountains on the horizon. Your eyes catch the glimmer of grander fires.

 

The vanguard.

 

Your heart twists, knots up and tangles in your ribs, your loneliness growing as the night wanes.

 

**

 

If he’s not riding, he’s in a war council. If he’s not in a war council, he’s riding. When he’s finally found a moment of neither he’s so exhausted he collapses.

 

But he can’t sleep. He’s too fine a Prince for the rustic comforts of the war party, even the princely rustic comforts of the war party. His tent is larger and his food is better. He sleeps on cushions that keep him off the cold ground but still he can find no comfort.

 

It’s selfish how much he wants you near, so your strong arms can hold him. So your eyes can distract him. So the deep sigh of your breath can calm him. So the twist and roll and slide of your body against his can tire him enough to sleep soundly. All the ways he misses you aggravates him to restlessness.

 

You’d come if he called. He’s never taken advantage of you, ill used you. But if he asked, you’d fly. He considers then, for a moment, asking.

 

Knowing exactly what it would mean to have you here.

 

He’s in the vanguard, the tip of his father’s sword, the sharpest yet most fragile part of his army. Loki has too much skill and confidence to ever fear for his personal safety, the worst he’s ever suffered was broken pride, but the fighters in his cabal of sedir soldiers…

 

He’s burned quite a few.

 

As has his brother burned more than his share of simple infantry.

 

Your presence in the vanguard drastically reduces your safety. And while he has every confidence in your ability to protect yourself…

 

For sake of simple pleasures, is that something he’d risk?

 

You’d come if he called. Stars knows you’re as desperate for him as he is for you. All you need is the excuse.

 

From smoke and memory he procures an inky black raven, a messenger. He rises from his cold and comfortless pallet to write a message.

Chapter Text

No one has asked you to draw for the night watch, allowing you an uninterrupted night of sleep.

 

Dubious privilege.

 

It means they don’t trust you to stand guard while they sleep.

 

A soldier without trust fights alone and by the bloody stars are you tired of fighting alone.

 

So you watch. Spear in hand you pace the perimeter of the camp, nodding at any soldier who casts a quizzical glance your way.

 

The first two hours of your self assigned watch, you pace. Stopping at the part of the camp that brings you closest to the lights in the east where you know the vanguard sleeps. He’s sound asleep, your prince, or reading in bed as he is fond of. When you spent nights with him, you would often wake at the smallest hours of the night to find him reading in bed, candle flame dancing on his fingers as his magic turned the pages for him.

 

“Did I wake you?” He would ask. He is his sweetest in the dark, when no eyes but yours can see. He smiles at you, touching his magic fire to your cheeks. You’ve never flinched and the fire never burns.

 

“No.”

 

He would then close his book and extinguish the light, smirking as he turned attention toward you.

 

“Then let me put you back to sleep.”

 

You spend the next two hours in a tree, the whole of the camp below you, the actual night watch soldier sitting in the roots of your perch dozing off.

 

Fa’Rey was terrible at night watch, you always caught her dozing or worse yet snoring. But she still always volunteered, and never were you ambushed.

 

But tonight, you are.

 

You hear a screech and the flap of wings. You brandish your dagger and build air in your chest for the shout of alarm but swallow it when a single bird lands on one of the branches you’ve nestled between.

 

Birds are the herald of death. A vulture is the mortal enemy of the Crimson Rabbit, and birds are often the villains in the stories your people tell their children, the kind you tell Se’risa when memories of her mother keep her awake at night.

 

“Shoo helbeast.” The bird doesn’t scatter when you wave your arm. Instead it draws closer, cocking it’s head to the side, beady eyes flickering from the fire below.

 

“Go! Get gone.”

 

It remains, bold enough to hop onto your foot and…

 

“Eaahh!”

 

You kick and shake but the bird digs its claws into your boots and remains. When you stab for it, it still remains, the blade passing through feathers and flesh made of smoke.

 

“Magic!”

 

It caws, tone reminiscent of a very familiar laugh.

 

“Loki?”

 

The bird caws again and bobs its head.

 

“Is that you?”

 

The raven titters, a censure hidden in another laugh. ‘Stupid horsegirl,’ it seems to convey. It shakes. ‘No.’

 

You reach to stroke its head but the beast snaps at you, cawing again, devilry glittering in its eyes.

 

“Fine! Get to your master’s business quickly then!”

 

You allow it to hop up your leg and perch on your bent knee, bringing your eye to its, seeing them whorled in green mist.

 

“Whatever you’re here for, when you go back tell your master I miss him.”

 

The bird cocks it’s head to the side, a beak has no lips but you still think you see it smile.

 

Then it vomits in your lap.

 

You clamp your hand over your mouth before the scream can wake the camp. It doesn’t cough up the remnants of worms or mice but smoke that curls in your lap and leaves no trace, hardening into something pale and solid.

 

A sealed roll of parchment.

 

The bird hops back and sits as much as a bird can on a thinner branch, waiting.

 

“There are pigeons and owls that do the same with much less fanfare you know.”

 

The bird titters again and flaps its wings, shrugging as much as a magical bird can.

 

You crack the green wax, breaking apart the sigil of a coiled snake that matches the design on your vambraces.

 

Don’t mind the bird, that’s Munin, he thinks he has a sense of humor .

 

The parchment is filled to the edges with Loki’s pretentious script, embellished in every space there’s room for embellishment. Curled tails of letter, needlessly fancy crossed ‘T’s and dotted ‘I’s. Largely illegible, but when you try to read, you hear his voice break across your mind. It stops when you stop, and resumes when you resume reading.

 

The sound of his voice is magic, it warms you. He thought enough of you to cut off pieces of himself, for what else could magic be, and send them to you.

 

I can’t sleep. And since because I can’t, that means I can’t let you sleep either hence the bird. He’s under orders to wake you should he find you sleeping, but I have the notion you aren’t.

 

As for my insomnia, don’t worry your pretty little head about it, my horsegirl. My reasons are my own and my reasons miss that delightful little panacea of yours that always manages to help me find my rest.

 

He finishes the sentence with a lazy looping tail that threads back on itself, like a loose knot. You ponder a moment what he means before the imagery makes it very plain. The warmth in your body spikes igniting an ache.

 

“Damn you.”

 

You hear his teasing chuckle as you read on.

 

The vanguard is has the very best, me, so I expect this campaign won’t last the whole season. We should return to Asgard by the FirstFrost Festival, the celebration of my father’s victory over the Frost Giants.

 

You know of the Jotun, the fearsome and monstrous creatures of legend. You’ve never seen one but your mother, whenever she told the stories of her travels in Jotunheim with Lord Odin, respected them.

 

“They fought for their home as our people did. Never begrudge an enemy that fights for their home.”

 

And since we’ve all the talent we need, stay with the cavalry, Princess. I have no use for you here.

 

His words harden, in tone and penmanship. Less flourish, less mischief.

 

Almost sorrowful.

 

Write me, if your mother ever taught you how, and Munin will relay the message. He is to accompany your Jörmungandr and keep an eye on you since I cannot myself.

 

I...

 

He pauses in your head as the words drop off, parchment blotted with ink, obscuring whatever word he wrote next.

 

I... am insufferably bored so ensure whatever you reply isn’t drivel.

Prince Loki Odinson




**

Loki,

I hate your bird. He’s disgusting, magic or no. I hate birds, but since he’s yours I suppose I can learn to tolerate them. As I write this I can see the fires of the vanguard in the distance. You’re within my sight and yet not within my reach. I did not expect how sad that would make me.

 

A frown creases his forehead, he’s dressed and it wouldn’t take him long to find you but he remains. Stamping out selfish desire until only the coals remain, smoldering, ready to catch flame the more he reads. You’ve no magic, so your words don’t sound in his head but your power makes him hear your voice anyway.

 

You were right, I wasn’t asleep. My unit doesn’t much care for me, Blood Princess as I am so I must earn their trust. In the Royal Cavalry,  you are only as good as the spear on either side and if I have no spears I’m as good as dead. So I stayed awake, keeping watch all night though no one asked. Bad news for me, I dozed in my saddle the next morning but another recruit, Edvard, kept me from falling off the horse.

 

I think I must be warming up to them because I swear he hated me the day before.

 

I look forward to fighting if only to be done with it. I wish to see you again and the sooner we’re done, the sooner my wish is granted.

 

Give Sif and Thor my greetings.

I’ll close this letter with a salutation from my country:

 

May Crimson Rabbit bear you safely and swiftly back to me

Princess –

Chapter Text

You have no magic, so when he reads your letter your voice doesn’t burst across his senses like a sweet fruit on a parched tongue. He has to read the old-fashioned way, eyes scraping every bit of you he can off the parchment, digging up your sentences, looking for pieces of you in the hard lines of your script. You write like a soldier, small letters drawn with quick strokes. You don’t waste the paper, squeezing what would take him two pages into half of one, leaving him bereft.

So your Prince occupies his time with his father’s war, seeing to his lieutenants and dispatching his enemies with a ruthlessness that gives even Thor pause.

“Pent up aggression, brother?” Thor teases after another band of enemy scouts are obliterated by the Princes’ vanguard.

Loki glares, unanswering, letting the blood on his staff sizzle away.

“You should do something about that. You’re scaring your men.”

Loki’s detachment of sedir fighters are more fiercely devoted to their craft than they are to him. But so long as Loki held the keys to their kingdom, granting his soldiers access to Asgard’s treasury of arcana--the fuel feeding their desire for greater power, their loyalties--rather their leashes--are firmly in hand.

“Better to be feared than loved.”

Thor gives his brother a skeptical look. “You and I both know that right now, you prefer the latter.”

Loki scoffs, as he always does when his brother is right.

“Why don’t you take a break, clean yourself up, go spend some quality alone time behind a tree somewhere thinking of your Princess.”

Thor laughs turning from him to join his Warriors 3 for a celebratory post-slaughter horn of ale. There is no intentional cruelty in his tone but it cuts anyway. Loki misses you very acutely and his brother’s crude jest only makes his ache sting worse.

It’s not that he hasn’t tried to soothe himself with your memory and the knowledge that the sooner this conflict is done, the sooner you can return to him--it accounts for most of his ferocity in battle. Let the enemy see Loki the Demon and tremble in fear of him. But even your memory is not enough, especially when your written word is such a poor substitute for you.

--believe the other new recruit, Edvard, has been tasked with my inevitable humiliation. To give me some sort of false sense of security before playing some cruel joke on me at the rest of the unit’s behest. There’s no other way to account for his sudden about face towards me. He’s now very warm and helpful, offering to saddle Cephalus and brush him down for the night. He’s eager to learn about the Lowlands, asks me about my language and customs. While it is a bit refreshing at times, it’s exhausting. There’s only so much of his silly doe-eyed face that I can take.

Munin is shaping up to be a comfort. An affectionate bird, he eats grain from my hand though he pecks a bit to hard. Excuse the bloodstain.

I suspect your mother has been misusing military resources for personal use. I received a package today from Niti and Se’risa--

He crinkles your letter, unashamed at ruining it since this is his third reading. He takes his brother’s suggestion detaching from the vanguard, and finds a tree as lonely looking as he feels.

**

You don’t remember the last time you’ve been this saddle sore, unable to remedy your hurts with the concoction of vanilla and tree nut oil native to your homeland. You’ve been unable to fight, leaving the skirmishes you hear about to the infantry units and the all-important vanguard. The terrain is mostly trees and forests, hills and mountains, unconducive to heavy cavalry. You’ve been ordered to wait, circling the same dry patch of forest for a week or more as the vanguard and the rest pull on ahead, very close to engaging the bulk of the enemy’s army in the field.

You can’t see the vanguard’s fires anymore at night even though you still look, hoping against good sense that they’ll rout the enemy in a surprise attack and return sooner than expected. Or if not that, looking for the single torch of a courier come to tell Commander Torbjorn that Odin finally has need of his horses. Anything to break the monotony of Edvard’s unsettling smile and the crippling isolation you feel as the most hated woman in the unit.

If your life depends on the spear on either side of you, you are a dead woman.

Or maybe just a bit too maudlin this night.

It is your birthday.

And while the sudden arrival of gifts from the Queen, Niti, and Se’risa go very far to assure you this isn’t the worst birthday you’ve ever had.

It still might be.

You were always a soldier first, a commander second, and a princess last to your mother’s eternal heartbreak, but you allowed yourself only one vanity: your birthday.

A national holiday declared in your honor, the only day you allowed yourself to be the dress wearing, frivolous princess your mother wanted you to be. You kept your ego in line by saying it was all for her, for her joy, but it was yours too.

You wonder if there will there be a feast this year? Will they still hold celebrations and simply wipe your name from it, the way religion eases the heart of the converts by slapping new names over old traditions?

Or will it just disappear?

Like you have.

Ignoring Edvard’s invitation to share dinner, you find tree and make your nest. Munin keeps his distance, sensing you aren’t in the mood for his peckish displays of affection.

Sleep claims you more out of exhaustion than any ability to meaningfully rest.

And when you wake in the middle of the night, startled by forgotten nightmares, your Prince is there to greet you, standing perfectly balanced on a branch before you.

“Come with me.”

Of course you do.

Chapter Text

He leads you further and further from where you’ve camped, not bothering to ask you saddle Cephalus or bring anything else with you.

“Only you will do.” He remarks coolly, pulling you to your feet with his offered hand.

“Where are we going?”

“You will see.”

“I’m on watch.”

“Not anymore.”

“Loki.”

The rage in his eyes doesn’t match his teasing tone until you realize that’s not rage but hunger. “The first you’ve seen me in what feels like an age and you complain?”

You answer him as you keep walking, following along, smile growing alongside his with every step.

“I take my orders seriously unlike some of us. Desertion of one’s post usually means a month’s worth of hard labor.”

“You aren’t abandoning your post Princess, but you’re like to be exhausted from hard labor all the same.”

Your temper flash boils your blood. “You come to me for only that? You gripe about my complaints yet you’ve barely spoken to me before you want to bend me over behind a tree! Is that all I’m--”

You blink and when you open your eyes again the world has changed, just like that, heralded only by a snap of Loki’s fingers.

The trees now grow with tiny golden lights instead of leaves, with one large queenly willow in the center of a clearing, her thin vine-like leaves hanging from their branches in a thick curtain of light.

The grass is the greenest you’ve ever seen it, blades more like slivers of jewels than plants. Gold in the branches, emeralds at your feet, and your Prince in the middle of it all, staring at you, waiting eagerly for you to swallow that misplaced anger with a gulp of humility.

“What is this place?” You’re breathless. The hand over your heart and mouth agape kind. Only Valhalla has a right to be this beautiful and you’re pretty sure you are not yet dead.

A wave of his hand parts the golden curtain revealing another Loki cradled in the roots of the tree, sleeping.

“A gift.”

When your fear startles you, the Loki holding your hand morphs into a bird, a raven, black as the night he was summoned from.

Munin caws a laugh and alights on his master’s shoulder, waking him.

“You’re here.” he smiles.

“Where is here?”

“Somewhere between my heart and yours.”

He’s always sweetest when no one’s watching, it’s a vehicle for his greed. Your blushes become his alone to witness.

“A dream?”

His arrogance, though, is no respecter of time or place.

“Very good Princess, put that brain to use.”

The moment your mind register’s your heart’s desire to throw something at him, it appears in your hand, a rock that dissolves into a cloud of dust as it hits him in the chin, making him cough and sneeze through his laughter.

You have no magic and yet again you’ve surprised him, bending this dreamspace to your will mere moments after realizing it was a dream at all.

You blink and the world changes again. You’ve moved without moving to under the many arms of the tree, nestled between Loki’s two. When your eyes focus on a twinkle of light it shimmers for you, like a wink ringed in a halo of gold.

“You’ve had this magic all along? I never knew.”

“It is a great drain to share the dreams of another. I hope to improve this power over time, but right now, the strain is worth it.”

“Does this hurt you? Or weaken you in some way?”

“No.”

“Are you lying to me?”

“Always.”

“Loki.”

“Complain complain complain. So ungrateful for your birthday gift.”

He loves the startled noise you make.

You don’t.

“How did you know, I didn’t mention it in my letter.”

“You don’t mention much at all in your letters, quite infuriating in fact, birthing desperate actions such as these.”

You squeeze him, finding more comfort in the crook of his neck than in any pillow. “You missed me that much?”

“Didn’t you?”

You sigh with your nod.

“Good. I was thinking with what you talking about this Edvard so much you’d forgotten about me.”

There’s sincerity hidden under his snark, easily detectable and accentuated with his tightened grip around your waist.

“I’d never.” He hears you, whispered as that was.

“Good.”

“How long do we have?”

“Until the morning.”

That bothers you, makes you fidget in his embrace to press your hands to the sides of his face. He’s forced to meet your eyes not that he’d stray from them. “Do not endanger yourself for me. This is enough.”

You kiss him, press him back against the great tree, giving him no other option but submission. He parts his mouth to you, breathing you and the sounds you make when your tongues meet--old lovers reunited.

He knows what you’re thinking when you pull away from him. You’re looking at him, eyes scanning every plane of his face to add to your memory, a gift to sustain you in the battles to come. He knows you think he’ll disappear at your request, return to his lonely, inadequate, dark dreams.

“I do as I please.”

He remains firm, as firm as he can in the dreamspace, smirking as the scowl on your face deepens.

“Loki…”

“Complain.”

He punctuates his words with a short, sharp kiss, more teeth than lip, nipping at your mouth to silence you.

“Complain.”

Again.

“Complain.”

And again.

Reunions like this were meant to be soft, but you defy that expectation. You growl at him in a tone he’s never heard. Snarl at him with a face he’s never seen outside of battle, eyes trained on him and set to deadly purpose.

You seize his shoulders and capture him again in a kiss that burns, surprising him, making the lights in the tree shimmer and dim from interrupted focus. When you sigh and trail kisses from his mouth to the the ripe patch of flesh behind his ear, when you bite, those lights wink out into darkness.

There is no need for light.

You navigate his body by touch and sound, guiding him where you want him by the pitch of his moan and the jangle of buckles and the whispered sigh of loosened ties. You cannot see the red furrows you rake across his chest but do you really need to?

For as much of him as you can feel him-- he’s hot in your hands, hard and heavy and beautiful-- you know this isn’t real. That knowledge feeds your desperation. Makes you ache when his mouth latches to your nipples. Makes you delight in the almost pained grunts he makes when you return the favor.

“Princess.” He hisses. You can’t leave a mark and that hurts worse than the stinging pain of your bite.

“Prince.” You answer back rolling your body against his, building the slick of your desire higher and higher so that when you take him.

When you--

Take him--

He fits home to you so good you make him scream.

And make the lights on the outside trees fall like jeweled rain.

Chapter Text

He still feels you, the phantom heat of your skin pressed to his chest, when he wakes. But rather than wake with the bittersweet memory of your night together, he wakes in anger because he wakes alone. Anger distracts, obscures his dream of you so he can’t feel the ache.

He spends this day stewing in it, his foul expression enough to warn his brother away, making him pull back with Sif and the rest to crack jokes and lament the monotony of the journey.

Anger distracts Loki from noticing how the terrain changes. Fists of rock push away the forest in favor of rocky hills that funnel him and his soldiers between two steep gorges.

Anger obscures the scout’s words as they tumble from him in a panicked shout.

“The enemy is here! We’re surrounded.”

The vanguard has ambushed an ambush, battle erupting amidst confused shouts and conflicting orders.

Attack!

Retreat!

We must act!

Wipe them out before help can arrive!

Protect the weapons!

Activate it! Now!

Both brothers hear and feel the ground shake, like giants rumbling beneath the earth, pounding at their prison to set themselves free. Thor feels the lighting. Loki feels the magic. And both brothers see blinding red light come down like a curtain of blood from the sky.

Cutting their forces neatly in half.

Thor on the outside, struggling with his soldiers, Sif, and Fandral against an amorphous horde of enemies.

Loki on the inside with his own troops, trapped between a malignant wall of red light, the swords of his enemies and two sheer cliffs of rock.

“Shit! Loki!” Thor hurls Mjolnir at the barrier, the great hammer sinks into the magic before it is repelled with a spark of red lightning that strikes Thor in the chest. Wounded in the pride, the Lightning Prince regains his footing and hammers the barrier again, suffering another numbing strike of magic.

Storm clouds gather as Thor’s ire rises. He levels a thunderbolt at the red wall, but the barrier eats it whole and grows, it’s color glowing brighter.

“Loki!”

His shout doesn’t carry, nor can he hear the grunts and screams of the dying on just the other side. They’re cut off completely.

Thor screams for his brother again, sound cut short by a shield bash to the back. There are enemies on this side that demand attention, stealing it from his brother’s plight. He dispatches a few, caving in skulls and chests with one sweeping arc but five more take their place. He hears Sif’s high pitched scream and turns in time to see her kill her assailant and avenge her injury.

“We have to retreat!” She shouts above the sound of her sword slicing through a neck. “There’s too many. We can return with Lord Odin’s army!”

“My brother’s trapped, I won’t leave him!”

They aren’t allowed to argue further, more enemies come between them.

“The Princes are here! Kill them! Activate the weapon!”

Thunder Thor hasn’t summoned booms tearing fissures in the clouds. Darkness falls obscuring the sun, the sky illuminated by crackles of angry red lighting.

More thunder shakes the earth, jarring loose slabs of rock that fall on both sides of the barrier crushing friend and foe alike.

“The weapon works! The weapon--”

The captain’s glee is shortened by Fandral’s sword.

“Thor! There’s a weapon somewhere, we must find it and stop it!”

“Where?!”

“I don’t know! But we--”

A bolt of the red lighting stabs the earth, sizzling the skin of those fortunate enough to not be incinerated outright. Forks of them spear the earth, haphazard at first, killing indiscriminately before bolts seek and strike only Odin’s soldiers.

They are controlled.

“We’ll be destroyed like this!” Sif tries to keep one eye skyward and other looking for swords or spears in the back. She rolls to dodge another bolt, escaping with a burn across her back. “Thor, look! Up above!”

Towers sit high above the gorge, topped with red light looking like claws tipped in blood. Six from what Thor can see, possibly more, three on each side. Webs of red magic strung between them and over the roof of the gorge raining destruction on all those trapped on either side of the barrier.

“We’ve sprung their trap too soon. They meant to catch the whole army in there!”

“And if we don’t do something, they’ll slaughter us with enough time to reset the snare! We must withdraw. The army is days behind us, help isn’t coming!”

“You withdraw! I will not leave without Loki!”

Thor spins his hammer then throws it, the force propelling him into the air. He gets high enough to see the towers criss cross the entire length of the gorge, red magic fed by the tallest spire that pulses into the sky.

“There! It’s--” The prince can go no further, struck from the sky by another bolt. He crashes, cracking the ground when he lands, his armor smoking and his body still.

**

Loki’s anger does not abate when he realizes he’s trapped. It ignites into a fury he unleashes as a storm of force around him, cracking rocks and the skulls of the men coming to kill him.

He feels arcana lace the air, tendrils of magic breaking and weaving together, oppressing his senses.

“Thor!”

His brother doesn’t heed, caught on the opposite side of the barrier and completely cut off from him. He sees Thor wrestle futilely with the barrier, neither force nor Mjolnir’s magic enough to shatter it.

“Fool!” He wings his owns spells at it, but the wall holds. It cannot be taken down from here.

Loki traces ley lines up the walls of the gorge, into the sky, in time to see lighting spider across the gap.

Then strike down upon him.

The bolts stab the earth, men fall into the fissures left behind, gaping wounds scored in the ground while others merely burn.

On this side, the enemy is more coordinated, their captain arranging them in a line of spears and shields that close in on the vanguard like a crushing fist.

Stuck, no way to advance or retreat. Escape is only up but Loki can’t fly.

Teleportation though, might just work.

“Up!”

Some of his magic wielders have already tried, blinking upwards to escape the carnage below only to have their smoking or arrow struck bodies fall back into the gorge, dead before they hit the ground.

Whatever is up there is important enough to be defended. Likely important enough to turn the tide of this battle if he can gain control of it.

“They’ll slaughter us up there!”

“I...I don’t have the energy…I can’t--!”

“Lord Loki use your magic to save us, please!”

He is not concerned for his life--or theirs-- he’ll escape before he dies for any of them, loyalty or not. But it clear that this was an attack meant for the greater portion of his father’s army.

For you.

“Those of you with magic follow me and any cowards I’ll kill myself.”

Chapter Text

Cephalus warns you before you long before any earthquake, before the sky ever darkens or turns red. He’s not a skittish horse, warhorses can’t be. He’s solid and strong and steady, more like a sphinx than a steed, but he stomps and snorts and bucks during his morning brush down, large chestnut eyes looking straight at you as he does.

Mistress! Danger!

The Princess of your legends could speak to her Crimson Rabbit. As could their children, and grandchildren and descendants until somewhere somewhen the talent was lost before it could be birthed in you.

Cephalus can’t speak to you, and you can’t hear him, but you know when to heed him.

“Sir,” You conceal your yawn as you address Commander Torbjorn. You’re not sleepy as much as you are tired out from the night before.

Your commanding officer barely acknowledges you with a glare, his mare discomfit beneath him by Cephalus’s continued fit.

We’re wasting time!

“Calm your mount before you address me! What do you want?”

“I seek--Cephalus please--permission to ride ahead. Something has him spooked, I’d like to see what that is.”

“Denied. Fall back in line.”

“Sir!”

You pull harder than you need to on your reins, censure for the horse.

“Ok, you heard him. Now calm down Cephy, you’re making me look like a fool. AH!”

Cephalus rears and bucks so hard a lesser rider would be thrown. You upset the line of riders as they trot pass causing everyone to give you the widest berth.

“Cephalus!”

“Look everyone! A horse princess who can’t control her horse!”

Laughter ripples up and down the line, but Edvard remains silent. He steers his gelding toward you and reaches a soothing hand for Cephalus’s neck.

“Is everything alright?”

“I don’t know what’s gotten into him.”

“Maybe he needs a good rut.” Edvard suggests as casually as he can without blushing. The horse disagrees, swinging his head around to bite at Edvard’s hand.

“Or not! Bullheaded nag!”

“Easy boy! Cursed stars, I think something’s wrong.”

“Like what?” He asks too eagerly. “You can tell me. You can trust me.”

Ignoring Cephalus for the moment, you focus attention back to Edvard. Your skepticism concerning his intentions has eased somewhat, he seems too fragile for that kind of guile. But remnants of discomfort still nag at you.

You’re just unsure of him, unsettled by his closeness.

“It’s been my experience that those who say ‘you can trust me’ are always the least wor--.”

The ground heaves, knocking the most surefooted of horses to the ground. Cephalus remains upright, Edvard barely so.

“An earthquake?” Someone asks.

“Likely. Hold tight. There’ll probably be aftershocks.”

Cephalus, your steadiest friend, loses his mind.

Mistress heed me!

Sure enough, aftershocks ripple the earth accompanied by distant booming thunder and finally you feel something stab at your heart.

Something really is wrong.

“That’s not natural is it Cephalus?”

The horse tosses his head.

No!

“Where?”

He takes two solid strides forward.

Ahead!

“The Vanguard’s that way.”

Yes! Mistress your mate is in danger.

Horse and rider move together. Cephalus finally yields to your reins, the two of you united in purpose.

“Commander! The Vanguard is in danger.”

Torborjn is still in the middle of calming his mare as the aftershocks roll in a continuous wave.

“They’ll suffer no danger from an earthquake.”

“That’s no earthquake sir!”

“Oh really? And what does the Horse Princess know of these hills? Is your stable nearby?”

His lieutenants snicker behind him, but you ignore the jab.

“At least send scouts ahead to--”

“Answer my question girl! How do you know?”

The cavalry has stopped, those closest to the Commander watch and wait for your answer.

Shame burns in your face but fear ices it quickly.

“I have a feeling.”

“A feeling...you want me to risk scouts on a feeling?”

“Then send me! I’m the fastest, I can go and return within the hour.”

“No! You will remain to teach you humility.”

“Sir please!”

His sword slides free and presses to your neck. “Give me a reason Lowlander. You’ll not usurp my command.”

A fork of lightning splits the sky above you, cutting off your retort, and you swear it’s tinged red with blood.

You give your commander your humblest bow, fist to shoulder, head down, eyes penitent.

Apologizing not for what you’ve done, but what you’re about to do.

“Cephalus,” you whisper. “Can you hear me?”

He snorts and stamps a hoof. Yes.

“Can you make them follow?”

He tosses his head. Yes!

Your spear is tied to your back, in a matter of gestures you free it, swinging the haft all the way around to cuff your commander in the mouth with the butt.

He flies free of his saddle and hits the dirt, knocked completely out.

His lieutenants spur their horses toward you, readying arrows and swords to cut you down for treason, but Cephalus--heir to Crimson Rabbit, The Lord of Horses--gallops out of reach and screams as he races up and down the line of soldiers.

Brothers! Sisters! Run! Follow me! Put aside fear and weak reins and follow me!

You don’t understand him, you probably never will, that birthright is long lost to you. But his isn’t.

Some soldiers fall off, but most hold on for dear life as their steeds mutiny under them. Each and every mount bucks the command of their rider and follows their master and the Princess upon him as the sky turns red above them all.

**

The cowards die before he has the chance to kill them. These towers are indeed heavily guarded. Six in total including the largest spire that powers the rest, Loki’s lost most of his guard by the time he’s destroyed five.

And it’s getting harder to keep up this fight.

An arrow slays the boy fighting next to him, cutting his remaining forces down by a fifth. Loki knows his name but can’t recall it now to shout to him. Shouting takes precious energy he needs to funnel elsewhere. So does recalling. So does walking, moving, and breathing.

He’s running on nothing and fighting with less.

Loki regrets, not his night with you but that he didn’t heed you. He would have the magic to keep going if he had. He chuckles to himself as a sluggish misstep earns him a bolt of fire to the side.

“I will listen to you next time Princess.” He thinks, though he knows there won’t be.

“Get the Prince. Kill him! Send his head back to his father!”

His last thoughts are not of you. No flashes of your time together, or a stream of images chronicling the hows and the whys a Prince of Asgard fell in love with a Princess of Nothing.

Even in death Loki is not sentimental.

Chapter Text

The longer Thor lays in this crater, the more he is assured it will be his grave. He feels the ground rumble and heave as it rises to entomb him, but before rock can blot out the red sky the body of a leaping horse does so instead.

“For Asgard!” He hears.

“The cavalry! Praise the stars, it’s the cavalry!”

The joyous news is not enough to move him, his body still paralyzed by the red lightning that knocked him out of the sky.

From his hole, he hears the sounds of a battle renewed, of neighing horses and screaming enemies and the distinct thump of horse hooves crushing bone.

“Do not let them escape! Run them down! Every one!”

Your voice thunders clear and commanding above the rest, though sharpened by a note of panic.

“And find the Princes, ensure their safety!”

No soldier’s life is above another’s, prince or not, but he’s glad you’re searching for him. He’s imagined better deaths than this one for himself, Loki would never let him hear the end of it.

Loki!

Concern compels him to move, but fear for his brother’s life doesn’t do much to reanimate deadened limbs. He’s stuck, trapped in a hole he punctured in the ground when he fell like a stone from the sky. Not his proudest moment and like to be his worst ever if he finds his brother has died while he was laid out on his back.

“To me! To me!” Thor hollers. His cries make it out of the rock but get lost in battle’s din.

**

Leaderless, the cavalry looks to you when your fears are confirmed. At the end of your frantic gallop you find a slaughter, ground as red as the sky.

“What do we do horse mistress?” One of Torbjorn’s lieutenant pulls on her reins so hard her hands shake and her mare is ready to mutiny again. She’s young, fresh faced, her armor looking as soft as it did the day the leather was skinned from the boar. You look around and notice all Tobjorn’s lieutenants have that same look, chosen for their eagerness to follow, not their talent for leading.

“Trust your horse and your training.”

The words that spill without thought are Fa’Dan’s not yours, first spoken to you on the eve of your first true battle. He was nestled between his daughter--Fa’Rey-- and you --his niece-- one hand on each of your shoulders. Uncle Fa’Dan rode with his greataxe in both hands and his reins between his teeth, something your mother always scolded him for, lamenting that he’d never find a new wife if he kept ripping out his teeth. He kept riding that way, for spite of her, his mouth, and the idea he’d ever wed another. Fa’Rey is his second greatest love and now his only.

When that first battle ended, Fa’Dan raised you both in his arms and praised you both to the stars. His arms could carry anything and everything including two half grown girls who were that day closer than sisters.

You hate how quickly they come to memory now and how your bittersweet nostalgia for them stings worse than their betrayal.

But the lieutenant nods, comforted by Fa’Dan’s stolen words, and wrings her hands, stilling the shaking in her grip.

“For Asgard!” She cries as she spurs her horse.

**

You don’t see either prince in the carnage and it makes you an ineffective fighter. You dance Cephalus over bodies afraid to crush and smash as you’re trained to do, terrified you’ll find a green cloak under your horse’s hooves. You can’t fight if you’re looking and you can’t look if you fight.

You need to do both and you’re going to get yourself killed trying to do both, because looking for Loki makes you blind to the spear coming for your back.

“Princess!”

A thrown shield deflects the deadly path of the weapon making it graze your thigh and Cephalus’s hindquarters instead of stick in your liver.

“Sif!”

“You have no idea how glad I am to see you!”

“What is going--”

You feel the hairs on the back of your arms and neck rise and taste the metallic acrid air on the tip of your tongue.

You pull and Cephalus pulls with you, toppling over in time to miss being ashed by a bolt of red lightning. It burns though, air hot enough to ignite, flames erupting on horse and rider’s side.

“Get up get up get up getupgetup!”

Cephalus’s legs kick uselessly, running on air to outrun the flames that aren’t behind him but a part of him.

Run! Run! Run!

“Getup!GetupGETUP!”

You’re going to burn alive, half crushed under your horse except the world smothers, turns black, and smells like horse piss.

“Don’t worry princess, I’ll save you.”

You’d groan to hear Edvard if you weren’t screaming.

**
Edvard’s horse blanket smothered the fire and he and Sif get you and Cephalus back to your feet and hooves.

You feel the sharp edges of bone poking the meat of your right thigh and smell the patches of burned flesh on your left. Cephalus fares a bit better but you can trace the branching paths of the fork of lightning that nearly struck you both in his flesh. Etched there by sizzling away whole swathes of skin

“Here, lean on me.” Edvard offers. “We have to get you out of this storm.”

“It follows us!” Sif cries, keeping her eyes up to watch for anymore more aimed strikes.

“Magic?”

“Yes!”

“Where are the princes? Where are Loki and his soldiers? He could stop this!”

“I don’t--!”

“Wha...AH!”

Edvard nearly falls into a gouge in the earth, an impact crater ringed by black scorch marks.

“To me! To me!”

“Thor!”

Sif falls to her knees, clawing at the loosened rocks, breaking nails off to free the prince. “Thor!”

“Sif! I’m here! I’m here!”

You can’t help, so you watch with Edvard, spear in hand, injured and angry, severing head from body in a clean sweep the first enemy that approaches to take you all unawares.

You hear the horseman’s low whistle, the sucked in breath that either signifies awe or fear.

Around you, the cavalry tramples anyone left fighting while the lightning strikes and thunder rumbles decrease in frequency.

Sif and Edvard pull Thor from the rubble.

And only Thor.

“Where is--”

“My brother, we have to aid him!” Thor points to the sky, now stained red by a few drops of paint instead of colored by a bucket of it. “Towers, up there, they feed the magic barrier that separated us, the lighting, and the earthquakes. We have to destroy the towers. If I know my brother, he’s already up there, and if not, destroying the towers is the easiest way to aid him.”

You’re halfway on your horse before Thor finishes.

“Can you do it boy?”

His foreleg trembles when he paws at the ground, but your mighty horse still tosses his head in a decided ‘Yes!’

A pale hand seizes your reins. Edvard.

“Princess, your leg.”

“I only need one to ride!”

“Stay here. You’ve done your duty. We wouldn’t be here if not for you and this would all be so much worse. Let me--err--us do the rest.”

“He’s right. My brother would literally kill me if I put you in harm’s way.”

“He has to be alive first!”

“He is. I think you and I would both know. Stay with Sif and the rest, aid the injured and interrogate the captured. I’ll go.”

Sif knows better than to protest, and would be a hypocrite if she did, though she feels the words tug at her tongue anyway.

You’re wild with anger, ready to strike. Edvard keeps his distance but Sif steps closer, her hand wraps around yours, tightens the grip on your spear.

I understand, her hands tell you. Fight for what’s yours.

“No! Unless you intend to climb, you’re not getting up there without my help and Cephalus bears no one but me. We waste time.”

More bones in your injured leg splinter further when you leap into the saddle. Thor groans, frustrated with you and with needing Sif to help his stiff and sluggish limbs onto Cephalus’s back.

After helping Thor, her hands find yours again and squeeze one more time. "Bring them both back."

Now you nod, understanding. "On my honor and my life."

Chapter Text

Cephalus gallops up the side of a mountain, leaping up switchback paths the most daring goat would reconsider. Thor is audibly ill behind you, groaning whenever a hoof slips on a rock.

“You are afraid of heights? Don’t you fly with the aid of your hammer?”

“I’m not afraid of heights Princess. I’m afraid of falling from them and dying.”

He holds tighter to your waist as he makes the ill considered choice to peek over the back of Cephalus’s hindquarters to see the near sheer drop, the craggy rocks looking more like fangs ready to chew and pulp his flesh.

“And I don’t think I could save us if we fell.”

“We won’t. Cephalus won’t let us.”

The horse vaults over a wide chasm in the path making Thor groan again.

“I pray you’re right.”

“You don’t have to.”

**

As below, so above.

At the top of the gorge, the bodies are as numerous as the rocks. You guide your horse towards the closest tower, the last one still flashing red lightning at the soldiers trapped in the valley below. One guarded by a ring of archers.

“There is the source! Loki must have taken out the others, he may be inside!”

You charge full tilt at their arrows, hooked spear at the ready, an executioner’s axe ready to take more heads. Some flee, diving left and too far to the right sending them over the lip of the cliff. Others stand their ground, firing until their quivers run empty, unawares that an arrow or two will not deter you from your purpose.

Fear makes them miss, luck lands only one in your shoulder.

“Princess easy!”

Behind your, Thor charges and fires pure lightning from his Mjolnir, incinerating anyone not run down or run away.

“Loki!” You shout after the bodies fall smoking into the dirt, shouting at the tower hoping he’ll answer.

Cephalus must be your legs and he cannot fit inside that tiny entrance. You scream for him again when Thor stops you.

“Don't, enemies may still be inside.”

“My leg is broken, I--”

“Just stay out here then,” Thor instructs. “Continue to look for him and any other survivors. I’ll go inside and shut the last tower down.”

You hold his forearm as he dismounts. “Thor, I am beholden to a promise…” You start.

“Princess,” he answers sincerely, knowing exactly to whom such promises were made. “I’ll not disappoint either of you. I promise.”

You don’t wait for Thor to disappear inside the tower before you spur your horse up and down the plateau screaming for your prince, the constant bright flashes of magic rendering you nightblind. You can’t tell a green cloak from black one when they’re lying in the dirt. And one pale face smudged with filth and blood looks just the same as the rest.

“Loki! Please answer me!”

There is a trail of bodies, enemy and Asgardian starting from the furthest tower leading right up to the tallest one. The dead hold spears and swords, some hold staves, carved in familiar shapes and gilded gold.

The weapons of Loki’s personal guard.

You scream for him again but thunder eats your cry. The ground churns and splits, shockwaves emanating from the tower, red and white lightning sparking from the top of the spire, mixing and clashing before exploding.

“Thor!”

Cephalus screams in protest, far too tired to charge like you want him too.

“Please, give me a little more comrade!”

He snuffs, rears, and does as you ask. You don’t know how you’ll aid Thor, hobbled as you are, but pride again outweighs your sense, you’ll crawl and fight if you have to.

But the top of the tower splits apart, sound booming then buzzing in your ears until you hear nothing but your own internal screaming and the thud of your heart. Thank the stars for your horse, he has more sense than you have pride. He pulls up short, goes no further, sensing it is not safe for you inside.

“Thor! Damn you Cephalus. Move!”

The stubborn horse no longer heeds your kick as chunks of masonry rains.

Mistress no!

You fall gracelessly out of your saddle propping yourself up on the butt of your spear using it as crutch to drag you towards the ruined tower.

Above you, the red sky bleeds away until it is blue again and sunlight returns. You detect the faint noise of cheering below as the barrier dissolves, cavalry and vanguard rushing in to aid those once trapped behind a wall of death.

You drag yourself to the tower but you don’t make it past the threshold.

There’s a body in your way.

Two.

One in the arms of another.

Thor looks helpless. The future King of Asgard, ages old, looks helpless, face twisted in childlike impotence.

“I found him...I tried to....He won’t wake up.” Even his voice betrays him, a child once again on the cusp of adulthood forced there too quickly by things he can’t understand. “He won’t wake up Princess.”

Loki looks asleep save the stillness of his chest. You can tell from the frown in his mouth and his scrunched black brows. Sleep softens the hardest lines, but not his. His softness is deliberate, chosen with care and displayed especially for you. Little gifts for you.

The Prince of Mischief gives no gifts in death.

He only takes, air from lungs and hearts from chests.

“No.”

Grief sucks away the last dregs of strength from your sole working leg. You don’t collapse but slide to your knees, your grip on your spear slipping down the haft.

Thor makes it a step, two, before he falls as well, laying your Prince’s body before you.

The scorch marks are invisible on black leather but you can see the gouges clearly, the sword slashes and arrow holes in his armor and the pale flesh beneath. His wounds tell the rest of the story. Of how he came here with his guard to destroy these towers and break the trap set for his father’s army. Of how he fell here minutes and more soldiers away from his goal.

You bend, crushed under grief the way a blade of grass is crushed under foot. You put your forehead to his and sob softly.

Chapter Text

Not every fight is fair. This he knows.

“I will listen to you next time Princess.”

But he learns not every fight is winnable either. That captain was a painful amateur, even at his angriest and most powerful, channeling the raw magic of the tower right into his body, thinking it would be enough to stop a god.

“Get the Prince. Kill him! Send his head back to his father!”

Fool.

The overload destroyed him, his soldiers, and gave Loki a powerful kick to the chest.

He’d be humbled by his luck, if he were awake.

He’s not inside when he comes back to consciousness, and he can no longer feel the oppressive force of the magic towers leaking malignant energy like a broken ale cask.

The sun’s out, the sky’s clear, and the sound of victory is a woman’s sorrowful voice sobbing ‘I’m sorry’ and ‘I love you’ in turn.

He’s angry in that moment. You’ve put yourself in danger, evidenced by the arrow in your shoulder and the blood streaking your face and the way your hands shake as you hold your spear to keep weight off what looks to be an injured leg. He’s angry because you’re in tears and he doesn’t know why.

But you’re here. By what magic he doesn’t know. But you’re here.

And his anger flees him.

Loki blinks under the harsh assault of the cheery sun, his brother coming into focus with a tear and mud streaked face, staring blankly down at him like the imbecile he always is.

Oh.

They think he’s dead.

His elder brother’s blue eyes widen very slowly, the realization of his survival still swimming through a thick haze of grief to reach his brain.

Equally slowly, Loki raises a single finger halfway to his lips, eyes narrowing into an evil glare.

‘Shh.’

Even in ‘death’, the God of Mischief has time for cruel jokes.

You’re babbling softly, prayers for the dead that break away into more sobs every time you have to say his name. It’s sweet, he admits, mildly touched that his life means so much to you. But your tears are bothersome to the parts of his heart he keeps soft for you. They are unnecessary, there’s no reason to waste anymore time on them.

You give him a ‘final’ kiss, a chaste and boring thing, too short and salted with your tears, so Loki improves it--

With a hand on the back of your neck.

Your scream parts your mouth for him, allowing him a better, deeper kiss. You try to pull away to scream in earnest, but he has both hands on you now holding you still, kissing you, making it known he is very much alive and has no more patience for grief.

“Dry your eyes my princess. Are you really so foolish to think these peons could kill me?”

They almost did, but of course you don’t need to know that.

You stammer and stutter, flexing your hands open and closed, torn between using them to remove teeth or pull him back for another kiss.
Thor, however, snapping out of his daze, robs you of the choice. He tackles his brother into the dirt punches him once (and half heartedly at that) before embracing him.

“Don’t you ever scare me like that again!”

**

On Cephalus you return to the army below, Loki’s arms wrapped around your middle and Thor flying down with a mighty throw from Mjolnir.

Sif doesn’t let her joy override her decorum. It’s no secret but it’s a secret kept all the same.

She hugs you when you hobble down from Cephalus, your spear a crutch for your broken leg.

“Thank you,” she whispers as she squeezes you tighter.

“Hey! Save room for me!” Volstagg shouts, squeezing himself between you and Sif and giving you a hug on the painful side of tight.

They cheer for you, the cavalry and the vanguard. Your intuition saved their lives and the lives of their countrymen and comrades.

They shout your name, from hated to hero in a matter of decisions. But your name doesn’t change, you still are the Bloody Princess but it becomes a title of honor now and no longer an epithet.

Edvard is the first to kneel, fist to shoulder, before the rest of the cavalry follow suit--Torbjorn’s lieutenants fighting for position to be the closest to you, the first to offer fealty.

Loki seeths, keeps a protective, possessive arm around your hips.

“Sycophants.” He growls in your ear.

“Be nice.”

“How nice were they to you before you proved useful to them?”

“You’re jealous.”

He is, too jealous to even deflect your assessment with a lie.

You’re mine. He thinks to himself, and holds you closer as he does, reminding himself to trust you. He relaxes when you lean into him, tiredly nuzzling his neck with your nose. The affection discomfits him, he usually chooses such public displays but this assures him, quiets the monster in his heart that wants keep you captive there.

“Is it over?” You ask.

But war horns drown out his answer.

“Traitor!” A voice bellows above the sound of drums and marching. “Traitor! Usurper!”

Flashes of lighting and fire light up the sky, making Mjolnir’s magic look like a guttering candle. Only one person can summon a storm like this, the violence enough to make the oldest soldiers kneel in anticipation. They know not to gaze upon Odin in his wrath.

Odin’s Honor Guard, Heimdal first among them, herald the arrival of their lord, appearing in bright gold smoke, weapons flashing and pointing at you.

“Princess I’ve come--.”

“Traitor!”

Heimdall is interrupted by an old man charging through the brush screaming as though mortally wounded though he’s only mortally offended: Commander Torbjorn.

“Usurper! Seize her head!”

“You will do no such--!”

“Silence Prince Loki, you do not command me.” Heimdall the Watcher turns back to you.

“Princess.”

“Lord Heimdall, let me explain.” You start.

A bolt of lightning crackles so close to you, you scream as though struck, going blind, deaf, and dumb for two heartbeats.

When your senses return, the entire field of soldiers, the Princes too, is on their knees but no longer for you.

“Yes child,” Odin’s one-eyed glare is enough to scare the pain out of you. “Explain.”

Chapter Text

It is not easy to stare down a God and a King and not sweat. You’re tired and very injured, the strength in your arms waver, overused from keeping yourself propped up and off your broken leg. There’s half an arrow haft poking from your shoulder, an injury you forgot about because you can’t feel it anymore, sensation numbed and gone.

“Asgard does not suffer traitors! Take her head.”

“I am Asgard, never presume to order me Torbjorn. Silence!”

The cavalry commander stops the anxious pacing of his horse and does as bid. He slides his sword from the scabbard, making it plain when the order comes for your head, he wants to be the one to take it.

“Father please.” Loki starts, rising to his feet.

“I said silence. You are not addressed. Remain as you were.”

“Father.” Thor joins him in rebellion.

“SILENCE!” Odin bellows, magic surging from him, buckling the two princes back into obedience.

“I want to hear it from her and only her. Did you disobey a direct order from your superior?”

You don't dare look to Loki for help, and even if you could, what use would it be?

“Yes…”

Odin’s eyebrows rise and you stutter to correct yourself.

“Yes my Lord .”

“Did you attack him?”

“Yes my Lord.”

“Did you insert yourself as commander of the cavalry and direct them to do as you bid?”

“Yes my Lord. But please understand...”

His raised finger silences you from any further protest.

“Why?”

“The vanguard was in danger.”

“And how did you know this?”

“See! She colludes with the enemy! She lost her throne now she has designs on--”

A thunderbolt knocks Torbjorn from his horse and into the mud. He’s not dead, but the pain makes him wish he was.

“How did you know?” Lord Odin asks again.”What intelligence did you have to suggest such?”

“None my Lord, just a feeling.”

“A feeling.”

He wraps his lips around the words, repeating them so you can hear how foolish they sound out loud. “Do you understand how this looks to me, girl?”

You flinch. Girl in his mouth is the cruelest slur you’ve ever heard. “Yes my Lord.”

“Explain. It. So all can hear.”

He doesn’t mean all, and Loki knows it. He tries to lift his eyes from the dirt to glare death at his father but he’s paralyzed. Last time, it took the intervention of his mother’s more powerful magic to break Odin’s spell. She’s not here, and he doesn’t have the power.

He will one day.

And Odin will rue it, regret every second of his miserable life especially if you come to more harm behind this.

“It looks like I betrayed the vanguard’s position, allowing them to be ambushed. Then, I betrayed my allies, taking command of the cavalry to come to the rescue just in time.”

Your voice breaks, how could you be so naive? You thought that no matter the consequences of your actions, their results would vindicate you. Look at the lives you saved!

But you’ve been damned for doing like you would have been damned for not.

“I’ll ask again, child, and your answer determines how I deal with you. How did you know?”

Lie Princess , he begs even though he can’t reach you. You can lie about a scout informing you, one Loki can bribe then later kill. Lie. Please .

But you are a terrible liar.

So you tell the truth. You fix your eyes on Odin’s and stare down a God.

“I don’t have any reports, no messages. Nothing. My horse and my heart told me the Princes were in danger. That’s all I have.”

“Your horse?”

“Yes.”

“And your heart?”

He attacks the consonants, makes them click with his teeth sounding like the crunch of breaking bone.

“Yes.”

“I assume that means my younger son?”

You square your shoulders and double down on your truth.

“Yes.”

Odin’s laugh terrifies you because you don’t know what it means. Did you say something funny or does he delight in pronouncements of death?

“I believed you when you said ‘your horse’, child. I remember your mother. The bond she had with her steed was unlike any magic I’ve ever seen. She once stopped an ambush of Frost Giants, said the beast ‘told her--’”

“‘She could smell them coming.’” You finish for him, fondly recalling the lost days of when she told you that story at bedtime.

“True true!” Odin laughs again and releases the spell that trapped his sons, allowing them to rise back to their feet.

“Does this mean I won’t be punished?”

“Of course not, a reward is more appropriate. You have saved my vanguard and my sons. I owe you a debt that I intend to pay. Look for my summons. For now, rest. You have done well. You do you mother proud, Princess.”

**

Odin leaves the bulk of his army to guard the gorge and the area surrounding it, scouring the land for trace of the rest of the enemy. But with the vanguard injured along with the two princes, Odin leaves his best in command and retires from the field.

“Your mother would have my hide if I kept on with you two like you are. We’ll return home, rest up, and take up arms again after First Frost. With any luck Baldur and the army I’ve left him with will destroy our enemies before then.”

Thor grunts his agreement.

“Where is Loki? Why is he not here as commanded?”

Thor pinks about the ears, stealing a glance at Sif looking for an excuse to offer.

“He is recovering,” Sif supplies coolly. “His sedir is very drained from all the fighting.”

That’s only half true... the latter half. The activities he’s engaged in now--

“Shout for me little princess! Shout!”

Is more like to injure him further rather than recover him.

You too. But you can’t (nor do you desire to) deny such a vigorous celebration of life.

“Yes, stars Loki, yes!”

During a lull (because he’s made it clear he won’t ever be done with you) he pulls you into his chest and asks you questions, murmuring into your hair. He loops the tight twists around his fingers and watches with delight as they spring back into form when he lets them go.

He wonders if his hair could keep such shape, or whose hair their imagined children would inherit. Your kinks or his lank? Would they have your richness or his pallor or some mixture of both?

“Did you mean it?”

“Mean what?”

“What you said back then. ”

“About wanting to try that thing with my…?”

“No fool, about your horse? Did you lie to my father?”

“Why would I...are you asking if I planned…” You rise from him, shock on your face. “Loki how…”

“Shh. It’s an ingenious plan. I applaud you for it. Even if Torbjorn keeps his command, you’ll be the real power now.”

“Loki I would never…”

“That’s a shame. I would. Use that power to make a play for the throne. You could make yourself Queen of Asgard. After Mother of course. But Queen Dowager is still a fine title for…”

You smother his mouth with your hand. “Quiet! If your father hears you, idle speak as it is--!”

He kisses the inside of your palm before biting it, getting you to release him.

“I don’t need to usurp, that throne will be mine. Thor will prove himself too foolish for it one day and my father’s kingdom will go to me. But why wait if a fitting Queen shows herself first?”

“You’d suffer a traitor?”

“As long as she never betrayed me.” He grins as he kisses your knuckles.

You shake your head before kissing him. “Never.”

“Hmm...” he licks his lips, unsatisfied. “I don’t believe you.”

“Loki.”

“Make me believe it Princess.”

You make your kiss short and perfunctory, knowing he's just being greedy. “Never.”

“I'm still unconvinced.”

This one is longer, hotter. “Never.”

“Hmmm…”

“Never...never….never….never.”

Chapter Text

Odin has one eye and yet he watches. Heimdall has two and Odin makes him watch as well.

Together they watch.

They watch Loki act like a gentleman helping you down from your horse at the end of every day as the remnants of the army march home to Asgard.

They witness the peculiarity of his unguarded smiles and hear heretofore unknown warmth saturate his laughter.

They observe you with equal scrutiny, the curl of your fingertips in Loki’s hand and how you’re never more than a kiss away from him.

“They are in love,” Odin declares, as though his observation alone could make such real. “She is good. Honorable and kind like her mother.”

Heimdall offers no judgement of your character, it is not his place. But if his Lord asked him, he would agree. He sees your heart, even the parts you keep in Loki’s oft times twisted hands, and can offer no reproach.

He sees his Lord’s heart too. “And yet you are troubled.”

“Aye.”

Heimdall forgets himself, he questions his Lord though that is also not his place. “Why?”

Heimdall watches Odin sigh and remembers his Lord must shoulder the burdens of Fatherhood along with those of Kingship.

And that one must always come before the other.

“Heimdall you know why.”

The Watcher nods, hard stare softening with sorrow.

**
Se’risa claims you first, pays no mind to your splinted leg and vaults into your arms. You never needed to return a hero for her to treat you like one. You’ve always been hers, and so the shouts for you from the rest of Asgard, from people lining the streets to watch the Royal Procession and you with the place of honor between the two princes, could never mean as much to you as hers do.

You never needed to earn Se’risa’s love, it was always yours.

“Whatcha bring me?” Niti asks, hand open with an expectant smile on her face. You shake her hand returning her jest.

“Your employer.”

“I could have found another one you know!” She pouts, grinning, hugging you as well.

Ylva stands among the rest of the nobility outside the palace, come to receive the heroes return from war.

“Welcome back Princess.” She had hope you would have ended your life with an arrow in your heart or a sword in your back or your head sliced off or any number of gruesome ways she imagined before bed at night. Makes for good dreaming. But here you are, which isn’t so bad.

The pleasure of killing you will remain with her.

“It is good to see you Ylva.”

Her smile is genuine when she replies. “You too Princess.”

Frigga holds tightly to her boys--one for each arm and each half of her heart.

“Mother don’t cry, you’re embarrassing us.” Thor fidgets in his mother’s embrace but can’t quite break from her ironclad grip.

“And you will suffer it!” Odin sent word ahead detailing the events of the ambush and your heroic ride to their rescue. “I almost lost you both, my foolish sons.”

Loki concedes to his mother’s kiss first and Thor follows, both blushing furiously as Frigga Allmother smears lipstick and tears on their cheeks.

“And were it not for you,” The Princes stand aside, you behind them, eyes lowered in customary deference. Frigga lifts your gaze so that you witness her deference as she bows to you. “I would have.”

She cannot bother with her lingering suspicions of Ylva nor pay mind to her husband’s sullen mood despite his victory. Her only concern after her sons is you. “Princess, daughter mine, thank you.”

“You shouldn’t fret so much,” Loki wipes his face and shoots his mother the most imperious of grins, payment for his embarrassment. “You’ll start to look your age. Besides she’s only making up for the many times this family has saved her life. It’s only fair she return the favor, earn her keep around here.”

You hide a gasp in your hand and Thor bursts into laughter. Frigga’s face, though, never falters as she thanks you again. “Thank you, daughter mine. For returning my son to me so that I may kill him myself!”

**

There are banquets to throw, celebrations to attend, you the guest of honor at them all. You are gifted with silks and furs and fine trips to villas owned by noble people who once only said your name with a sneer.

“My lady.”

You start from your writing desk, in the middle of penning another thank you note. Niti never addresses you so formally, especially not in your own chambers. Se’risa gapes too, putting her book away eager to hear what’s caused such a change.

“Niti?” She hands you a parchment marked with three interlocking triangles. “What is this?”

“Whatever it is, that’s Lord Odin’s personal bloody seal.”

“So this is serious?”

“Serious.” She confirms. “Drape-you-in-every-jewel-you-own-serious.”

Wary, you break the red wax and read. “It is his summons, he wants me to come before the throne. He has a gift for me.”

**

The hall is empty as you enter, draped in every jewel you own--the prizes Hava saved for you the night you fled your home. There weren’t many, an arm cuff and your braided leather and gold crown. You allow yourself only one bracelet from Loki, one of your favorites, green gems inset a gold band. You hope it’s enough, that you look worthy enough to be in this gilded hall.

Frigga’s throne is empty, as are the chairs for each of his sons, Thor at the right hand, Loki at his left.

It is only you and your King.

It’s still a minor struggle to kneel with your healing leg but you manage. You hate that almost every time you must present yourself to Odin you are injured in some way. A theme you hope you don’t have to keep repeating.

“My Lord.”

“Princess.”

His voice is heavy, burdened. Had you any rapport with him like you do with those who occupy the empty seats next to him, you’d ask what troubles him. But you keep silent and wait.

“I promised you a reward for your services to me, for saving my sons. I mean to honor that promise now with something I believe will satisfy the desires of your heart. ”

That heart races, kicks in your chest like a horse breaking from the stables. What could he give you that requires such formality? What does Lord Odin, a man who barely notices you on the best of days, think is your heart’s desire? Replete with possibilities, your mind abruptly halts, stilled with sudden perfect clarity.

Odin hears your soft gasp and does not take offense when your eyes rise to meet his. Your hands nervously twist a bangle on your wrist, studded with pale green jewels, peridot and tourmaline. Green suits you, he thinks.

“Hear me now Princess and receive my decree.”

“My Lord!” Your eyes snap down and your body trembles on the blade’s edge of anticipation, anxiety ready to cut.

“You are a Princess, but for too long that title has been without worth.”

Your head is swimming with the possibilities, dizzied by them, you’re sick with them but you can’t help but smile.

“You are a leader, but for too long you have had no one to command. Today I remedy this.”

Odin rises from his throne and lifts you to your feet, your smile making him pause for a breath before he can continue. This was how you won him, how you thawed what Odin always believed was a frozen heart.

“Child. I give you 200 of my best horses and riders for your new Royal Cavalry. You will be given 30 of my best captains and commanders and a portion of empty land south of the capital. There you will set camp where I will allow you to recruit and train and supply two legions worth of soldiers. I give you command of an army Princess so that you may return home and make yourself a Queen.”

Chapter Text

Your smile wavers for a moment, Odin has your hands in his and you let yours slide from his grip, gone slack at the pronouncement.

 

“My Lord?”

 

Your heart’s desire he promised, you had no idea that you had two.

 

“Asgard will supply your soldiers with equipment and incomes. Two legions should be enough to pacify whatever standing army your uncle and cousin can muster against you.”

 

If the numbers still stand from when your mother commanded them, two legions would eclipse Fa’Dan and Fa’Rey’s force twice, nearly three times over.

 

“Too much.” You answer, meaning more than just the number.

 

“Aye it is. Your country is small and prosperous and has been for ages. With this army, I mean for you to win back your kingdom then grow it.”

 

You break from him fully, taking an unsteady step back. The gold in your crown triples its weight in an instant, making heavy the head that wears it.  “It is too much!”


“It is enough, Princess. You’ve earned it. Don’t you want to go home?”

 

“Yes,” you answer without thinking, surprised you never thought you’d be asked that question.

 

Yes. Yes. Yes! You want to go home and tear the hearts out of your uncle and cousin and destroy the army that murdered a palace worth of innocents. You want your throne, your rooms, your clothes and trinkets. You want your fields of gold wheat and green sweet grass where wild teams of horses run free. You want to visit the tomb of your mother, or make one if its not already there. Place her ashes in the crypt next to father and tell them ‘I am home’.

 

You want to bring Hava home and place her ashes among those of your country's greatest heroes.

 

You want to give Niti command of your palace, servant to no master but herself.

 

You want to take Se’risa home. Watch her play with your people and speak your language without fear of ridicule. You want to make her the Princess to your Queen.

 

And Loki.

 

Loki you would make your King.

 

It would take some getting used to. Your lands don’t have the wealth of Asgard’s. He’d complain of drafty halls made of stone and wood instead of marble and gold. About how he could fit the whole of his apartments in the whole of your palace and how your shared bed was lined with linen and furs instead of silks and satins.

 

He’d call you ‘horse girl’ during royal affairs and ‘queen’ when no one watches. He would insult or disappoint or scandalize, be the most offensive king your land has ever known but he would be your king , and for love of you he would also be the best King.

 

“What say you Princess?” Odin’s bark snatches you from the reverie of solemn ceremonies and matched crowns.

 

“I accept!” Happy tears water down your voice. “I accept! Lord Odin, thank you!”

 

Your joy is plain on your face and plainly felt in his heart. You break all decorum and wrap your arms around his neck. “Thank you!”

 

He peels away from your embrace. “It is nothing, child.”

 

“It is everything! Everything my Lord. You’ve given me something I never thought I’d have again.”

 

“And what is that?”

 

“Hope.”

 

The Lord of Asgard mutters gruff assent, makes non-committal noises of approval while you roughly outline your plan for the coming months.

 

“I will defer to your judgement on the commanders I am to use but I would like to meet with them first. Perhaps as a war council with the Prices and Lady Sif and--”

 

“Princess.”

 

“My Lord?”

 

“Before we can begin, there is one thing I must ask before I bestow upon you everything I’ve offered.”

 

“Of course. Name it!”

 

You should not be so eager, he thinks. He wishes you weren’t. This would be easier if you were wary and guarded like you should be. But Odin in his long long life has never shied from the difficult choices so he won’t now.

 

“I require an oath, sworn upon your honor.”

 

You tip your head and cross your arm over your heart, it is supposed to be serious, your people hold vows of honor more sacred than written law or blood relation. The contract that binds your kingdom to Asgard was made upon such a solemn vow. But you bounce on your heels like a child eager and excited to begin your work. He’d laugh if he thought he were capable of happiness in this moment.

 

“Name it! And after I will ask of you something too!”

 

Odin sees your heart’s desire as though your thoughts were written on your flesh. He knows what you mean to ask.

 

“Swear then Princess, upon your honor, that once you take command of your army you will give up my son forever.”

 

There, there it goes. Your heart knocks in your chest, heaves against your ribs so hard it makes you lightheaded. It pulls free and flees you, snatched and thrown upon the ground.

 

“What?”

 

“You will never darken his doorway or his chambers again, or be in his presence for anything except the most formal of occasions. Whatever you have with him, you will dissolve. You will forswear him utterly. This is the oath I ask, swear it, and your kingdom will be yours again.”

 

His boot is on your heart now, heel smearing that desire into the dirt. You actually reach for your chest, hand over the place where that heart once beat, it’s still there of course, but you feel so much pain you can’t believe the organ still functions.

 

“And if I can’t swear this?”

 

“You will.”

 

“If I can’t?” You press, you’re still shaking but the joy has fled you.

 

“You will.” He affirms again, confident you will. You are your mother’s child and no amount of love for foreign prince will change that.

 

“I won’t!”

 

“You will.”

 

“I. Won’t!”

 

“You! Will!” He bellows back.

 

“Why? Why ask me this? How could you ask me this? Do you not know how much I love your son?”

 

Loki is the Liesmith but Odin is the Father of All including lies. It slips easily from him. “I do. And your relationship is inappropriate. It is time to end it.”

 

Frigga challenged him once about this, and it is technically not a lie. You are a Princess, yes, but of a Kingdom of leather and horseflesh. You have little wealth and even less prestige. Loki is a Prince of Asgard, his Queen should bring glory to his Kingdom. You wouldn’t, you’re a Lowlander, such a union would be considered an insult.

 

But that’s not why he’ll make you swear this, give you one desire while ripping away another.

 

And it has nothing to do with you at all.

 

Odin knows what his ‘son’ is, what evil he is capable of, written into icy blue-black blood. No amount of love from a mother or father or brother or even you can change that. A kingdom is what he wants and you would give it to him. That truth was written so plainly in your smile that it made the old man’s heart ache to watch you, reminding him of a time when he was not so old and his heart’s desire was a woman with pale blonde gold curls and sapphires for eyes.




But a simple leather and gold crown would never be enough to satisfy Loki as Jotunheim wasn’t enough for his father before him. Only Asgard...only all of the Nine Realms would sate the lust born into him.

 

Odin has kept his allies close and he means to keep the son of his greatest enemy even closer. Loki can never be a king of anything for peace to remain as Odin’s made it.

 

And you, while you must have some magic in your heart and smile to soothe the savagery of his younger son, you are the daughter of one of his greatest friends and allies. What must she think of him to allow her beloved daughter to fall so far in love with a Frost Giant, monsters she herself aided him in defeating?

 

It is cruel, he knows it, it brings him no joy to do it.

 

But it must be done, for sake of all.

 

“Inappropriate.” You whisper. “Is it because my kingdom is small? Or is my wealth lacking? Does my color offend you? What reason will you choose Odin Allfather!”

 

“All.” He lies. “All.”

 

“If I refuse to make this oath--”


“That you keep asking ‘if’ means you will still make it. But deny my oath and see my offer rescinded. You will remain here as a worthless dependant, Princess in name only, beholden to my good will and however long you think you can command my son and wife’s heart. Try you to recruit an army without my permission and I will see you imprisoned for treason. Both the girl and your servant sent to the scullery.”

 

Again he’s snared you, leveraging Niti and Se’risa against you.

 

“I need time to think.”

 

“You have until my next audience arrives to make your choice. And they will be here soon.”

 

You cry, given wholly over to tears. “Why do you hate me so much?”

 

“It isn’t about hate, Princess. It is about what is best for Asgard.” Your tears break his heart so he offers you this little truth. It does not assuage his guilt but at least he’s given you as much as he dares. But with the way your face floods with new tears, he wishes he never said it.

 

“Why can’t you let him choose?”

 

“I am his father. I make his choices. Make yours, now.”

 

You can’t, you can’t. You cannot.

 

“Please. Don’t ask me this.”

 

“Choose.” His heart hardens against your begging.

 

Guide me stars. Tell me what to do. Manmae, Danda, Hava tell me what to do. But the hall is closed and quiet and empty and dark. You cannot see the sky or the stars beyond. Your mother and father’s ghosts remain silent as they’ve always been waiting for you to choose between your home and your heart.

 

And Odin is right, you are your mother’s child, a Princess born to be a Queen.

 

“I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.”

 

“What? Speak up.”

 

“I swear.”

 

“Speak up!”

 

“I SAID I SWEAR!”

 

“Say it. Confirm what you swear!”

 

“Is this not enough Odin!”

 

He ignores your disrespect and pushes harder, he doesn’t really require your oath just your words, you words alone will seal it. You must say them.

 

“What do you swear? Say! It!”

 

“I swear on my sacred honor to forsake Loki Odinson. I…” You stop yourself, hurt that you haven’t choked and died on the words yet. “I relinquish him. For my crown and kingdom, I forswear him. For all time.”

 

“Good. Good.”

 

Your shoulder’s slump but you must ask your executioner for one more thing. “May I ask you a favor? One tiny thing.”

 

He waves his hand. You deserve this at least.

 

“Allow me to tell him.”

 

Odin shakes his head. “There is no need.”

 

“Please, just give me this. Let me tell him then after I...I’ll never…”

 

“No, you don’t understand.” He nods beyond you, finally acknowledging the other presence in the room. You turn to see your prince standing there in the hall still as death.


“There is no need.”

Chapter Text

“A summons?”

 

“Yes to the Audience Chamber.”

 

Loki would take his time but it is Heimdall who has come to fetch him, and Loki knows Heimdall is never to be trifled with. A summons from Odin carried out on his behalf by his most prized warrior that isn’t his oaf of a brother? Even his manic desire to cause mischief gives pause.

 

Curiously, there is no herald to announce him.

 

“What is this about?”

 

Heimdall does not meet Loki’s eye, curious, the Watcher never breaks his gaze.

 

“My Lord has need of you to see. You will see Prince Loki.”

 

“You should leave the cryptic games to better players Watcher.” Loki answers as he enters his father’s hall in utter silence, even the door doesn’t boom behind him when Heimdall carefully slides it closed.

 

Without a herald, he’s interrupted an audience in progress, but Loki stops before he can make a nuisance of himself.

 

“I swear on my sacred honor to forsake Loki Odinson. I…relinquish him. For my crown and kingdom, I forswear him. For all time.”

 

He tells himself later he hears the crack that confirms a broken heart. Though it could just be the sound of bone, so devastated by what he hears from you that his balled fist breaks several of his fingers.

 

“Loki.”

 

He smiles at you, none more surprised by the action than he. His body hasn't yet understood your betrayal, it’s having a hard time reconciling what was said with who was saying it. So it still reacts to you as it always does with warm secret smiles and a loving tease on his lips.

 

“Princess.” Your name stings, he is a quick learner. “Father. Seems I've interrupted you. Go on and hammer out the rest of the details, I can come back another time.”

 

You call for him again, voice fracturing on his name. “Loki, please wait.”

 

Why? Why wait? Why hear you finish trading away his love for his father’s trinkets? Why should he have to listen to you itemize his affections in exchange for swords and horses?

 

You’ve been purchased, cheaply too it seems. All he was for a crown and a chair and a promotion.

 

No, he’d rather not hear this. He bows to father and you and flees the hall.

 

You limp after him. “Wait. Please let me explain!”

 

He answers you with his cape, fluttering as he hurries away from you but you leap to snatch it.

 

“Stop!”

 

It breaks nails as it tears in your fingers.

 

“For what! What could you possibly say?”

 

“Please, Loki. Please let me explain!”

 

“Explain what!”

 

“He made me swear to it! I had no choice!”

 

“Oh really? As I understand it, you had exactly one choice. One you made.”

 

“Yes but…”

 

“Then unmake it! Forswear your swear and I could be persuaded to forgive you.”

 

He’s always kept his lies for you small, but not this one. You would disgust him to prove so utterly faithless now.

 

But he has his answer in your pause, in your open mouth, and in your tear swollen eyes. Stupid fool girl!

 

“I ...I can’t.”

 

“Can’t? It’d be so easy Princess, I’ll even help you along. Just say ‘Loki I forswear my…”

 

“No...Loki...I can’t.”

 

Ahh, there it is. “You want to go, don’t you? Abandon my mother, Thor...your friends…” He leaves himself out and the omission rings louder than those included.

 

“I’m not abandoning anyone, I’m going home. I’ll never have a better chance.”

 

He adopts metaphor, makes a man of straw for himself to take your blows.

 

“Asgard is your home! Was that not enough?”

 

Was I not enough?

 

“Of course it was enough.”

 

Of course you are enough.

 

“Prove it. Stay.”

 

“I can’t stay.”

 

“No Princess, you won’t stay. You want a crown and a kingdom full of people who left you bleeding in ditch. You prefer a gilded pile of horse shit to the kingdom that has always…”

 

“It is not! That was my home Loki! That was MINE! Don’t you remember one of the first things you said to me?”

 

You reach for his hip and steal from him your father’s dagger. It has changed hands many many times each finding more clever and cute ways to take it from the other. He was last to snatch victory, now you snatch it back.

 

“You told me what use was it to call anything mine if I couldn’t defend it. First it was this dagger, then with Astrid it was my life. Then with those barbarians it became you. Now it’s my home . Don’t you understand Loki? Wouldn’t you do anything for Asgard? I didn’t ask for this, Odin gave it to me, then he made me choose!”

 

“And which did you pick dear Princess? Your crown. Knowing what it would mean, you chose your crown over me. You weren’t tricked into forswearing me. YOU CHOSE TO!”

 

“I didn’t want this. But he asked the impossible of me, can’t you understand?”

 

“Oh, I do. More than you might know. A crown, a kingdom? What need have you for love if you have that?”

 

“Loki please!”

 

“No no, it’s too late for that Princess. Live with your choice.”

 

The torn cloak in your hands heavies and hardens. Silk turns to scales and the swish of fabric morphs into a sinister hiss. Loki disappears, dissolves, and in his place is a huge black snake. it strikes at you, making your scream, certain you feel its fangs sink into your cheek.


But when you open your eyes, you realize that sting is only hot tears.

Chapter Text

You’ve always inspired the best in her. Queen Frigga meant what she said to you when you marched off to war with her sons. She had grown numb to the casualties of her husband’s war and that you remind her to be fearful. And to be sorrowful for the ones who don’t come home and those they leave behind. Your actions saved a lot of lives, but you could not save every life.

The Queen then, takes it upon herself to no longer pay lip service to grief and healing. Instead of sending her medic mages, she goes herself to lay her magic on the wounded. Instead of merely opening her coffers, she goes out herself to pay the bereaved and orphaned whatever affection, emotional and financial, she can to ease her people’s suffering.

To the never ending exasperation of her assistants.

Frigga’s been out among the injured and bereaved day and night for a few weeks now. Her magic is potent but it will run out if she insists on working non-stop without at least a little rest back in the palace.

“Ulila, where is Duncan?”

“Allmother you must rest. I asked Duncan to go back to the Palace and fetch the tinctures from your private apothecary. They will help you rest since you refuse to return home.”

“Everyone gets an adventure except me. It does me good to leave the palace for a change.”

“My Lady you don’t leave the Palace because everything falls apart without you!”

“Surely you are right Ulila, but I’m sure I can trust my boys to keep the house in order for just a little while longer, can’t I?”

Duncan arrives, breathless and without the tinctures asked for. He’s sure once he’s delivered to his Lady the news no amount of potions or magic would ever help her rest.

She laughs when he whispers to her. “You jest.”

Duncan, faithful and solemn for all the ages she’s known him, stands stock still waiting for the realization to strike. When he does not laugh, when her other assistants don’t hide any snickers behind their hands, the Lady of Asgard curses loud and foul enough to make the songbirds pause.

But none of her closest companions are surprised, between her husband and sons, hers is the foulest mouth but the best hidden, as her husband and sons give her many many reasons to employ that particular vice.

**

“What have you done Odin?!”

Husband does not rise to greet wife but keeps his solemn vigil over the fire in his hearth. He does not regret his actions but he does not celebrate them either, wondering as he gazes into the fire if Loki’s cruelty is truly a result of his nature...or because of his nurture?

“Odin! Answer me!”

She interposes herself between his dark thoughts and the fire, lifting his gaze to hers by seizing his chin, forcing him to confront the hotter flame in her eyes.

“Hello wife. It has been some time since you’ve seen me, shame this his how you choose to greet me.”

“Spare me your false indignance and answer. Me. What have you done to our son?”

“Frigga…”

She has long known the price of a crown is hard paid. She’s seen those payments, and made her own. She’s always borne them, comforting herself with the knowledge that everything Odin has ever done, as heinous or abhorrent as it was, was for the kingdom. Every hurt, every sacrifice is for the greater good. She cannot see the greater good in this, she does not wish to, would sacrifice it for the greatest good of her son’s happiness, and yours.

“You have no heart Odin. He is your son!”

“He is not and that is why…”

“You brought that child into our home, to raise as ours! And even if he is not our blood, does he not deserve the same love and affection as everyone else? Why take that from him? Why destroy it? It’s as if you are the evil one you were so afraid of him becoming!”

“I did what was necessary!”

“A sad world we live in when breaking your son’s heart is seen as necessary. Not a world I wish to live in. Least of all with you!”

“Frigga!”

She departs from him, leaving him with the memory of her flaming gaze to burn him alive in guilt. She goes to find you, to somehow heal the damage done.

And finds the unexpected.

“Loki!”

Her vision pans to the woman at his side, arm discretely entwined with his own.

“Lady Ylva.”

The Duchess curtseys as is custom. “Lady Frigga, a pleasure to see you. I’ve heard you’ve been among the injured and bereaved. I am glad you’ve found some respite from that sad business.”

Words fail the Queen, awkward silence accompanying a dropped jaw she doesn’t have the strength to pick up.

“Mother, you’ve returned. Lady Ylva and I are just on our way to a feast. Would you like to join us? It’s been awhile since we’ve enjoyed good taste and refinement.”

The insult is plain and it snaps Frigga out of her nasty surprise. “My son, as you are, you’ve yet to to recognize good taste and longer still to appreciate it.”

She has no eyes for Ylva, doesn’t check to see the smile on her face sour. Loki believes he’s the best player in every game of wit, forgetting his mother taught him the rules of the game. She will not suffer you to be slighted unfairly and has no qualms about fairly slighting Ylva. Your friend, so quick to step into the gap Odin made you make.

“Speaking of appreciation, have you seen the Princess?”

Ylva answers though Frigga’s question wasn’t for her. “We’ve been so busy. I’ve heard hide nor hair of her for at least a week.”

Frigga is beyond decorum, the Queen should be aloud some liberties as rude as they might be, but she regains control of herself and her rage, making a note to revisit Ylva later.

“Lady Ylva, may I have a word with my son?”

“Of course.”

“Alone.”

Ylva’s face tightens, the smile freezing nearest to a grimace. “Of. Course.”

“My Prince.” She lets him go dripping the honey from the ‘my’, makes it breathless and suggestive, a reminder of what she sounds like when no one can hear. Makes promises with it, enticements.

“I’ll be but a moment Ylva.”

Frigga cannot say she’s never laid a hand on her son, and she does so now, seizing him by the wrist to carry him further away from her.

“What in the Nine do you think you’re doing?”

“Dinner?” He plays dumb, smiles like the dope she knows he’s not.

“And with her?”

“I didn’t wish to go alone.” Her outrage amuses him, resisting the yawning hole at the center of him as it grows the longer his mother stares at him with those disappointed eyes.

“And the Princess?”

She does not blink so she does not miss it, the flash in his eyes unmistakably pain.

“What about her?” He waits for rage that does not come, unprepared for the embrace his mother wraps him in.

“Mother…”

“Suffer it.” She demands quietly. “I won’t pretend I don’t understand. I won’t pretend that I don’t see what's happened or that I don’t care. And I assuredly won’t pretend that I don’t think both of you aren’t being exceedingly foolish about this. She shouldn’t have to choose nor should you punish her for the choice.”

He knows, but pride and pain keep him silent. That voice he manages to suppress reminding him, taunting him, gloating over his ruined heart.

She chose, she chose, she chose, and she didn’t choose you. You’re not worth it. You’re not enough. And in the end you were the fool for believing she’d be different.

“But.” Frigga, tender with her touch, lifts her son’s gaze to her face. “And listen to the heavy reluctance with which I say ‘but’ my son. I understand how you must feel, rejection under the best of circumstances is never painless. And you are right to lash out as you have. So take the Duchess to bed if it's something you just have to do. I understand why you would be attracted to her, she has your cunning and your penchant for cruelty.”

Her honesty doesn’t hurt him, though it does wound the duchess. Rage simmers in her blood and has for a week now, ever since the Prince arrived at her door with a feral snarl on his lips and a fire in his body she hasn’t quite been able to quench.

“Though I warn you in a way I never have until now.” The Queen hasn’t kept her voice low, most of her words were meant for Ylva too except these. “Guard your heart against this one. I don’t trust her, I never have.”

She leaves her son with a kiss on his cheek and well wishes for their dinner date, declining Ylva’s invitation with a parting shot about ‘ruined appetites’.

She does not know if he’ll see her reason. Though Loki is her logical son, intelligent doesn’t always mean sensible, and a broken heart blinds even the best of people.

But Frigga will wait and bide and hope, knowing any of her meddling is likely to harden Loki’s heart further. He would resist being manipulated into a decision he hasn’t decided to make for himself even if he wants to, risking a mountain of heartache for an ounce of pride.

He has to choose, on his own, and Frigga well knows he may not choose correctly in time.

He’ll have to live with that, and so will you, but she refuses to be helpless.

She orders her steps toward your chambers, able to offer her support for you if nothing else. In the midst of all this, you still have to prepare for a war.

“Princess?” Niti does not answer, nor does Se’risa. Beyond propriety, the Queen enters your rooms to find them empty.

You’re gone.

You’ve scrubbed your presence from the rooms, leaving everything as it was the day you came here. There is no record of you here except memory and a dress draped over your empty bed.

Pale green and tailor made for you.

There is a note with it, a simple and short ‘Thank you for everything’ along with a request: ‘Please see that these are returned.’

You don’t mean the dress, it is yours after all even if you abandoned it. Frigga’s sure you mean the ring of bracelets around the garment, made of gold or copper or onyx and studded with every jewel Asgard has. A bracelet for every day, two for feast days, three for holidays…

Chapter Text

You will literally never see her again and she’s never wanted to kill you more.

She should be happy (and she is, she’s overjoyed honestly) but she’s never wanted to kill you more.

She’s won without winning, you’ve lost without being beaten and it infuriates her. Yes this was always and ever about the Prince. And yes, she has him now, right now. Right. There. Right where she wants him, right where he wants to be, panting over or under or inside of her. But this is a victory that tastes like ash, not bittersweet just bitter.

Because there was nothing she did about it, he came a victory unearned. Ylva did not wile him away from you, you pushed him away. She has her boon because you! unwittingly granted it.

The Duchess has never once won against you. Unable to entice the Prince at your welcome feast, unable again to successfully sow discord between you, unable to use Astrid to kill you, and now unable to get you out of her head when she should be riding the impossible highs that come from being in Loki’s bed.

The Prince's teeth sink into her neck as he growls out his passion against her, and it sounds like your name.

It’s not of course. Loki is not a gentlemen, but he is also not a brute, he’s never made that mistake. But Ylva hears what rage and guilt make her hear and she’s never wanted to kill you more.

He’s perfect, he was wasted on you. And because he came to her unbidden, he might leave her just as suddenly, enticed away by another pretty thing or, bleeding stars forbid, you. She’ll ensure that will never happen and it helps you’re not in the palace anymore, off at the southern training fields playing soldier with your meager but growing army. She must work to keep him interested, occupied, so distracted that he never has the chance to even think about you ever again.

She’ll make that burned bridge rot before it can be rebuilt and if the stars are kind...

You with it.

**

Se’risa knows you lied to her the first day she notices your bare wrist, finally understanding in truth the heavy price you paid for her freedom, and the heavier one you’re paying for her now.

She knows what you’ve done, that you’ve exchanged your heart for her chance and yours to return home.

“It’s what queens do. They sacrifice.” You told her, hugging her, holding back your tears as she spilled hers on your neck. “So princesses don’t have to.”

You are gone when she wakes for the day, when Niti takes her on the long walk from the southern training grounds back to the palace for her lessons. And you stay gone long after Niti forces her to sleep, promising her that you’ll see her tomorrow.

And tomorrow.

And tomorrow still.

“Master Mimir. May I be excused for a moment?” Sigmund, her friend, starts a question before she adds a quick ‘girl stuff’ to send him right back into the book on martial arts they were sharing.

Her instructor nods and grants her permission. “Hurry back.”

“Yeah!” Sigmund answers using the book to hide the flush in his cheeks she put there, the red a far more fetching color than the blues and blacks she once inflicted upon him for speaking out of turn about you.

Se’risa has not lied about her reason for excusal. Princess don’t lie, she reminds herself. But there is a note of deception she leaves them with.

“I will.”

That makes her young heart hurt.

Niti still serves you, but now all her time is devoted to helping your growing army of recruits. She no longer walks the halls of the palace, so she will not see where Se’risa means to go.

She’s been too long a student to remember the hidden pathways of the servant, but she still manages to find where she needs to be.

“Mistress Aleene?”

The majordomo of the palace chokes when she bows to the girl, the little companion of the Princess is required respect even if she doesn’t deserve it. That girl will always be remembered as the servant she was.

“To what do I owe the honor?”

The courage in her heart doesn’t quite make it to her knees, they shake as Se’risa steps toward the woman. Working for Mistress Aleene was Hel, flavored with the then raw grief of her mother’s murder and the terror of having fled her home. But the girl stands before her tormentor and asks, “I need this back.”

Se’risa points to braided gold bracelet on Aleene’s wrist, a treasured heirloom of your house sacrificed for her sake.

“You would demand back my fair compensation, what gives you the right?”

“Peace, mistress, I don’t demand anything back. I will pay you for it.”

The woman laughs, dry and papery akin to the last gasp of the dying. “With what coin? I’ll remind you everything you have is because Odin grants it.”

“Me. Give me the bracelet back and you can have me.”

**

She lies to Master Mimir when she quits, saying she wishes to continue her studies by your side as you train your soldiers for the coming war. She lies to Sigmund with a tentative kiss on his cheek, saying she’ll always be his friend.

She lies to Niti, asking her to remain with you, she no longer needs the woman to walk her to school and you need her more.

Aleene sticks her in the dampest scullery and tells her to get to work. But no matter how hard she works, her pile of dishes never shrinks and at the end of the day she lies to you, telling you the blisters on her hand are from a science experiment.

She understands why you taught her ‘princesses don’t lie’ as telling one usually begets another and another until they get too hard to track.

She hasn’t figured out how to return to you your bracelet, torn between stuffing it in your things for you to find or laying it on your pillow with a forged note. ‘From your Prince’ she’d make it say, hoping it might make you smile.

She doesn’t have the time to hate the prince, too busy washing pots to contemplate her feelings on him. You loved him, love him, in the little bit of time she steals with you, she still sees that.

“I’ve hurt him,” you explain patiently, tucking her in one night. “He’s right to be angry.”

“But it’s not fair.”

“No. It’s not.”

“So why?”

“Because we have to go home.”

The water cools around her stilled hands, she drops the plate she’s been working at for twenty minutes. Whatever’s caked on it is going to stay there no matter how many nails she breaks trying to chip it off.

“Home.” She says aloud to the empty room, the moss growing in the cracks of the bricks under her feet don’t reply. She helped her mother bake your favorite treats in rooms not unlike this, but warmer, happier.

But you’ve made the promise she’ll never be a servant again once they return. ‘I’m going home’. She thinks, hands resuming their impossible task. This is just temporary, indentured servitude until it’s time to march for war.

Se’risa hears the door bang open and winces, preparing for another load of dishes and a new bucket of scalding water poured into the washbasin.

“This place is filthy!”

“This place is hidden, my prince.”

The voices muffle, the sounds they make wetten but their steps grow closer, the prince and the duchess unaware she’s privy to their tryst.

“Make it quick.” He growls. “Before someone…Se’risa?”

Loki breaks from Ylva, unconcerned by being caught. “What are you doing here?”

He’s never used her name, they bickered back and forth about what it was versus what he prefers to call her. An old tradition, a sign of begrudging respect between the two. They could share your heart, didn’t mean they’d have to get along.

“Answer your Prince girl!” Ylva commands, hastily replacing slipped straps and hiked skirts.

Se’risa doesn’t hate him. For your sake she won’t. But Ylva…

“Same thing you are….working.”

Loki laughs, appreciating the girl’s wit. “Now now, hasn’t your Princess taught you better? Something something ‘a Princess is never rude’?”

“I missed that lesson.”

“Apparently, since you’re down here.”

“My Prince let’s leave this dungeon and its prisoners.”

Loki allows the duchess to lead him away making salacious promises with her gaze that she’ll find for them another better place for them to continue what the servant interrupted.

“Wait Ylva…” Curiosity slows his steps and he turns back to the girl. “Answer me Se’risa, why are you here?”

“Payment.”

“For?”

Se’risa produces the bangle of gold. ”You took all yours back.”

“I never…! Those were always supposed to be…!” He considers Ylva is listening and lies. “Returned to me. Mother demanded that she just have something to denote her rank.”

“Casting your pearls before swine it seems?” Ylva titters.

“Horses.” It is not a jest but a correction. As much as he desires your pain to match his, he won’t suffer your disrespect. But for all her subtleties, Ylva lacks nuance and laughs anyway.

“Come, Loki, let’s go.”

Again she leads him, pulls him away from the child. He doesn’t look back this time, unmoved by the sound of her resuming her work. Before they reach the door out of the scullery it swings open, kicked by young servant overloaded with a pile of dishes. He doesn’t see the Prince and the Duchess as he passes, his load so high it partially obscures his vision.

“This doesn’t make any sense,” He mutters. “Mistress Aleene is going senile. These dishes are from the main hall so they go to the main hall scullery not the scullery for North Hall. Nobody’s even using the North Hall. But nooo..’take these to the North Hall scullery’ she says.”

The boy keeps grumbling to himself, walking by the two of them, descending into the depths with his burden before he dumps it all.

“These too.” Loki hears before Ylva consumes all his senses.

Chapter Text

Ylva laughs with his mother, flirts tastefully with this father, teases his brother, and as Loki sits at the table he decides he’d prefer his family’s open contempt than this tragedy.

They welcome her, the corpse of his relationship with you is barely cold, and they welcome her with open arms as if no murder had happened at all.

Where is their outrage? Their hate? They loved you. They should despise Ylva on sight and him along with her. He wants them to, so he can return to the bit of himself he lost when you were here. Loki the Bastard. He’s familiar, he’s better than Loki the Pathetic Brokenhearted.
Even his mother, who loves you as good he does…did..., has somehow overcome her earlier reservations about your replacement. She is warm and friendly now, extending invitations for the duchess to join her at the FirstFrost celebration of his father’s jubilee.

“The whole kingdom will be here, even the leaders of all our vassals, it will be the perfect opportunity to meet those from beyond our borders. I’d be honored to have the noble duchess with me to greet them.”

“The honor is all mine my Queen. Oh but… Lord Odin, all the leaders of mighty Asgard’s allies? Will you invite the Lowland King?”

“Well someone must come but as I understand it that army will be trained and in the field by then. I might be inviting their new queen…” Odin sips his wine and thinks. “Or not, depending on how the battle goes. In any case, whoever survives gets the invitation.”

Frigga has spoken with her oldest, encouraged (threatened) him to keep the peace and make no mention of you. The harder they reject Ylva, the closer Loki would cleave to her out of spite. Her husband, however, needs no such threats, he’s won what he wanted and of course can be counted upon to say something so foul.

Frigga smiles through it, swallowing her sickness with a heavy gulp of wine. But poor Thor, he excuses himself, leaving before he can break character and throttle brother and father for being so damned cruel.

“Was Thor offended?” Odin asks.

“He hates Lowlanders….” Frigga lies poorly, swallowing another heavier gulp of wine. “Thinks them treacherous and self-serving.”

“Ahh,” Odin nods, thinking he understands. “I’m sure my younger son feels the same don’t you boy?”

Loki’s stopped breathing, paralyzed by the thought of you covered in blood, trampled under your cousin’s horse, or your head held aloft by your victorious uncle. Or, you could win your war and still die, attrition from your enemy making your life the highest prize to claim before defeat.

He hates you, he wants to hurt you, but stars he can’t wish you dead and the thought of it...terrifies him, angers him. That you would throw away a life with him for power over people who have never loved you like he did...does..DID!

Does.

His heart’s a spinning top with no hand to guide him, he shakes and spins between hurt flavored anger and hurt flavored sadness and hurt, plain and simple hurt.

“Boy! Loki! Snap out of it!”

“What!” He barks.

“Lowlanders: treacherous and self-serving. Agree?”

He’s inclined to answer quickly. Yes, those describe you quite well but when he thinks of Lowlanders, you are not the first picture in his mind.

But he lies anyway.

“Yes,” he spits, missing Ylva’s smile and his mother finishing the last of the wine pitcher.

**

Ylva likes him hot and angry, pounces on him the first corner turn from the dining hall. But he can’t focus, so he doesn’t. Unbeknownst to her, he makes a clone of himself and leaves her with it.

He returns to the North Hall scullery noting with distaste the dinner plate mountain of work that lays undone before Se’risa.

“Why are you here?” She asks, mimicking his tone from the other day.

Treacherous and self-serving could never describe this girl, her wrists deep in scalding water for you.

“Come.” He instructs coldly, grinding the command between his teeth so it’s barely heard over the sound of her scrubbing.

“What did you say?”

“Don’t ask stupid questions Se’risa, just follow.”

Se’risa drops a dish, little heart panicking.

“Wait. Wait! Please don’t tell the Princess on me!”

“A little too late for that, now come!” He raises his voice, not beyond scaring the girl to compel obedience but she is too much like you. She stares him down as though her child’s body were taller than his own.

“Promise me you’ll keep my secret.”

“I am not beholden to you girl!”

“Promise me!”

“No!”

“You can’t--!”

“Oh can’t I?” He grabs the child, lifts her bodily from in front of her wash basin and carries her away.

“Put me down! Please!”

“Stop struggling Se’risa!”

“Don’t do this, don’t tell. If you do, she’ll start worrying about me. She can’t worry about me. She has to focus! She has to focus on winning. Worrying about anyone else will get her killed.”

“Shut up!” He yells over her, scaring her silent so she’ll never mention your name and your death in the same sentence again. She stops struggling, limp in his arms, afraid of him.

“I don’t need to keep your little secret,” He lowers his voice but can’t make it soften like he means to. “There won’t be one. You leave with me. Now.”

“What about…”

“Now Se’risa!” His tone prevents further argument, he puts her down and she dutifully follows hiding her reddened hands behind her.

“I liked you better when you called me filly.”

‘So did I’ he thinks.

Chapter Text

The majordomo is easily placated, he simply threatens to tell his mother she extorted a child.

“Go back to Master Mimir.” His topsy turvy heart has swung the other way and his temporary fugue of kindness clears. He’s done with her, he’s done enough for her and wants her gone. She’s a reminder of you and he’d rather forget.

“I can’t.”

“Why?”

“I quit.”

“Un-quit.”

“He’ll tell.”

“Are you really so concerned…”

Se’risa fidgets, sticking her chin in her chest just like you do, cheeks warm with embarassed heat.

“What were you learning?” He rolls his eyes.

“Magic.”

He stops the roll mid-arc to arch a brow. “You have a talent?”

“A little bit.”

“Show me.”
Se’risa scrunches her face affecting an air of concentration that Loki just finds funny. He laughs at her but quickly quiets as she makes the bracelet she recovered from Mistress Aleene float a few inches from her hand.

Then she makes it drop back into her grasp. “That’s all I can do.”

He’s impressed but it has nothing to do with her comparative youth or obvious skill. “Of course it is, Master Mimir is teaching you.”

Se’risa snorts. “It’s not like you could do better!”

So challenged, Loki yawns as he feeds his magic into every object in the room. He’s taken the child back to his chambers for an interrogation, placing her amidst his sanctuary of trinkets and treasures that all rise from their places and float. All his furniture, every sword or jewel even himself and her alongside he makes float a few inches in the air.

“Oh.”

Loki yawns again and everything returns to its place with a light thud except your bracelet, hovering in the air between the two of them before she snatches it and hides it away for safekeeping.

“Why do you still have that thing, why haven’t you returned it?”

“I don’t know how to give it back.” She braces herself, waiting for a scathing response because she sounds foolish and remembers belatedly Loki does not suffer fools.

“Simple. Give it back, fool girl.”

“Well I know but... then she’ll ask how I got it and I can’t lie because…”

“Yes, yes I get it ‘Princesses don’t lie.’” Loki scoffs uncaring that his disdain for your ‘teachings’ is making the poor girl rather uncomfortable. He’s never been fond of children and he’s only tolerated her for your sake. He doesn’t have to anymore. “You’re wrong, you know. They do. Princesses do lie you understand? And betray and abandon and murder.” He lists the crimes, counting them off on his fingers before her.

“Princesses do all kinds of foul things, little girl. And yours is no different.”

Se’risa face breaks and she cries soundlessly, tears slipping down her nut brown cheeks. He’s upset her moments after rescuing her. He can’t decide between this cruelty to you by proxy or this kindness to her for your sake. He wants both and bitter irony stings with this desire.

He can’t choose. You did. And your choice has far more consequences than the simple fulfillment of a petty want.

Your little defender wipes her eyes. “They make sacrifices too. For the people they love.”

Loki sneers, the last thing he needs is a lecture on love from a child.

“You’re too young to know what sacrifice means.”

“I learned early.”

“Is that why you indentured yourself to that woman?”

“Yes. I’d be worth it to make the Princess smile again.”

Your smile he hasn’t forgotten, won’t, it still burns his eyes when he closes them at night. Loki actively refuses to acknowledge there might be more feelings of pain outside of his own. To do so would require him to acknowledge you, and if he acknowledges you well…

He’s not ready to be wrong yet.

“I’m sick of your tears, go back to your princess, deliver to her the bracelet, just get out!”

“Wait! Can I just...stay the rest of the day? Someone might see me, and tell the Princess and I’ll…I’ll figure out what to do later but just for today.”

He’d have to have better judgement for this to be against it. “Fine.”

**
She occupies the smallest and furthest corner from him and he’s grateful. She doesn’t ask awkward questions of whys or make anymore valiant defenses of your character. It’s not peace but a ceasefire, tit for tat. He saved her and will keep her secret, so she’ll sit down, shut up, and wait out the rest of the day in silence.

He pretends to read while watching her as she turns your bracelet over in her hands, working on her meager magic as they wait for the school day to end. She has talent, it’ll atrophy under Mimir’s guidance but it’s there. He wonders if your lands have competent sorcerers, if her talents will better thrive at home.

“Do you have sorcerers in your lands girl?”

She startles, not expecting him to address her again. She gives the question a few moments thought. “I think so, it’s hard to remember. We have Sages, they keep the temples and the record books, and...”

She stumbles on memory that makes her trip and fall.

“What girl?”

“Sages keep the dead too. We burn them like they do here and keep their ashes in vaults that they take care of all the time. I never liked those places, but it’s where all my family is now, so I’ll learn.”

“Your whole family?”

Se’risa makes your bracelet move up and down, nodding for her so the tears in her eyes don’t shake loose.

“Stop crying.”

“It’s hard. I’m sad.”

“Then tell me something happy. Something good about your home so you can stop those infernal tears!”

“You don’t have to be so mean. You could try to understand a little.”

“You haven’t seen me mean.”

“I haven’t seen you try to understand either!”

He abandons the argument, knowing he’s lost it. He considers calling her a fool but he’d be wrong this time. If you were once the most diverting company in the keep, Se’risa is the smartest. The prince gives up the conversation, the girl continues it, thoughts running from her before she can catch them.

“The goat’s milk makes me happy and the sesame cakes and the hot peppers.”

“All you miss is the food?”

“It’s terrible here! Bland, no spices. My manmae makes a roast so hot it makes danda cry. He eats it, smiling even as his face is full of tears. The Princess said ‘Well that’s the first thing we’ll eat when we get home!’”

“Of course she’d say that.” He doesn’t mean to say that outloud, unable to make up his mind in this moment to hold onto his anger or embrace a little bit of soothing nostalgia.

“She promised me my own horse.”

“You could have one here.”

“It’s not the same, she says. They have to be our horses. I have to pick the parents and ‘princesses help birth their own steeds’.”

“And how long do you think she’ll keep feeding you those pretty lies before she marries some fool and has her own brats to teach insipid tales too?”

His tongue is a double edged sword that only cuts him, his barb strikes the child and slides right off, deflected by her happy smile.

“I always wanted a little brother or sister. Unlike you, I know how to share.”

Ylva takes liberties and assumes privileges he hasn’t granted. She enters his chambers unannounced salacious grin wide on her face.

“My prince, I’ve come to su--Why is she here?” She sharpens her gaze on the girl who responds with an unbothered yawn. Princesses don’t waste time on lesser duchesses.

“She’s being a little delinquent and ditching class. She needs a place to stay until it’s over.”

“Well she doesn’t belong here, send her back to the scullery.”

Ylva picks the girl up by her forearm, like she’s going to physically toss her out.

“Lemmie go! Get your hands off me!”

“Quiet child, go!”

There’s a moment when Se’risa glances back as she’s being shoved out the door. She’ not hurt, or afraid, or even pleading with him for help. She’s just...she looks disappointed in him. Her anger or helplessness would only appeal to his apathy, but she looks at him as though there was a bar to reach that he missed. He owes her nothing, the ledger is even balanced in his favor but he still rises and places a hand on Ylva’s shoulder.

“She stays here, Duchess, and never again presume to tell me what to do with my guests.”

“Of course my prince. Forgive me.” Ylva demures but quickly changes tactics. “Shall we stick her in the closet, tell her to plug her eyes and ears. Or...do you expect her to watch and tell her Princess all of what we’ve done?”

Her needless cruelty upsets him, though he chokes on the hypocrisy considering he deliberately made the girl cry not a few moments ago.

“No. I won’t make her watch anything. But you will.”

Poor phrasing but worth it for the ghastly look on both their faces.

“Filly!”

She responds like reflex. “I have a name!”

His is not a reflex but are words chosen deliberately. “I prefer mine. Now show me more of your magic. Let's see if we can undo the damage Mimir has done.”

Chapter Text

Niti loses sleep, a minute or more every night until it’s hours between her last duty done and her eyes finally slipping closed for some respite from the day.

To be completely fair, she didn’t sleep too much more in the palace either, but at least she had company. But these soldiers are way too serious for a romp by the river and the duties Niti’s doing for you make her at the end of her days only want to fall into a mattress instead of a pair of arms.

The work isn’t hard and it’s far more interesting than tea fetching (not that you let her do much of that, you are notoriously proud about your tea and complain constantly that she has too light a hand with the sugar). But Niti signed up to be a lady’s maid, not a soldier in an army.

And no...

“Stars, Niti I’m not asking you to fight.”

“You better not be!”

“Administrative only. Record the new recruits, make sure the funds Odin’s promised are catalogued properly. No fighting. You don’t even have to wear armor.”

“Well where is the fun in that? Girls like a girl in uniform.”

“Then wear your armor Captain.”

A Captain, you made her a Captain. A nice promotion when the uniform was still fresh and the novelty of watching folks gawk at the former servant who now wears chevrons on her chest hadn’t worn off yet.

But now you’re off with Edvard training and drilling and she’s left cataloguing and recruiting and keeping track of the hundreds of people come for the chance to join the Lowland Liberation Army.

‘And that’s fine!’ She reasons with herself. All of this is fine. But something creeps up her spine and roosts in the back of her mind crowing so loud that she just can’t get any rest at night.

What is all this for?

Not you, you’re clear in your purpose. You pursue it with a determination that makes Niti believe all you’ll have to do is ask for your crown back and woe betide the bastard who tells you ‘no’.

But what is all this for, for her own self? At what point will she decide that this is too much, this isn’t what she wants anymore?

You were supposed to rise and take her with you. That’s why she came to you, you had the potential. And you’re doing that, possibly better than she’d hoped. But something just doesn’t feel right anymore. What will her place be when you’re queen?

Will you even make it that far?

And if you don’t, stars forbid if you don’t, and your uncle gets punitive, cutting down everyone who tried to stand against him. What then?

Is she ‘just a servant’ or is she the ‘captain’ ready to die with you? Niti’s scared, too scared to sleep at night because it’s the latter and that isn’t what she signed up for.

“Captain Niti, I was looking for you. Please, come in.”

You live in a growing city of tents on land Odin’s allotted you for the training and provisioning of your army. Takes some getting used to, Se’risa hated it at first because she was so far away from her palace full of friends but she’s happier of late--comparatively speaking anyway.

Her magic’s getting better too. Niti wonders if you even know she has magic. You’re distant. You’re not cold, not yet, but Niti can tell winter is on it’s way with you. You don’t talk about him anymore, she can tell you’ve shut that half of you off. “Princesses don’t dwell.” You tell Se’risa on the nights you bother to see her because strategy meetings with your new commanders take up nearly all of your time. Edvard takes up the rest, you’re grooming him to be your second-in-command while it’s obvious to anyone looking he hopes for a title a little more personal.

“Look, I know you gotta punch a card somewhere that says ‘greets all ranked officers by their title’ but really Princess, you know me. I’m no ‘captain’ not really. You can still just call me Niti.”

You shrug with your smile. “Habit.”

“It’s not a habit, you didn’t call me Servant Niti.”

 

“Fine. Niti it’s something I learned from my mother. ‘Call them what they are, respect their titles and they’ll respect yours’.”

Niti gives you a sad smile, she’s never met your mother but she’s seeing more of her everyday and less of you.

“Well, you were looking for me, I was looking for you. You go first.”

Niti squeezes her letter of resignation behind her back, too cowardly to fire the first arrow.

“I actually...this...is…” You’ve a little desk for writing missives on, communications to Odin’s exchequers and blacksmiths, it’s piled high with letters and notes sent back and forth and back again. She’s never spoken to you when you weren’t writing one. But you put your quill down and face her.

“This is personal and I can only trust you with this.”

“Giving me the royal jewels already?”

“Actually, you’re not that far off for a change.”

You hand her two identical looking oilcloths, parchment inside both of them.

She takes a moment to read, strength leaving her the longer her eyes are on the page.

“Princess these are wills.”

You nod. “Yeah.”

“Nu-uh, don’t just ‘yeah’ me. Why do you have 2? And why am I reading them?”

“One for winning and dying, one for losing and dying.”

“Why do you have to be so damned morbid!”

“What you’d call morbid I’d call being prepared…”

“If you say ‘princesses gotta always be prepared’ I’ll choke you!”

You cough. “Well it’s true.”

“Damnit! Why?”

“Did you even read it?”

She reaches for the nearest one. The ‘winning’ one. “You don’t even need this one!”

“Winning isn’t a guarantee of my life you know. I don’t want to take the chance of my country devolving into civil war if Fa’Dan and Fa’Rey decide if they can’t keep their throne that I can’t have either. Find the men I list, stars willing they’ll still be loyal. Show them this, let them know I mean for her to have my crown. They’ll protect her. And I’m hoping you will too.”

She’s reading as your speaking and as you finish her eyes find the passage you’re talking about.

“Protector of the realm?!”

“With all the lands and incomes such a title demands you have.”

“Shit!”

“Knew you’d like it. You’ve been dear to me, you deserve this. You’ve more royalness to you than I do. So I thought it fitting.”

“And you if you loose?” She holds up the ‘losing’ will.

“Destroy the other will. If that document gets out, they can’t have a rival claimant to the throne. They’ll kill her so destroy it. Take what you can, take her, and get out of Asgard. Go live somewhere quiet and peaceful and make sure the both of you are happy forever.”

“So what happens when you win win?”

“Oh, Se’risa will still be my heir.”

“I see, at least until you have a legitimate one.”

You shake your head. “She is my legitimate one. My sole heir.”

Niti paused for contemplation. “But what about your…”

You keep shaking your head.

“Nothing? No one? Ever?”

You shake your head softly again. “No not ‘no one’ only one. And since that way is shut to me well…”

She’s sad for you but has never known how to comfort you. She’s not good at it and it’s never done you any good. “Didn’t know you were such a romantic.”

“I’m not.” You answer with a soft sadness.

“Really? How can you say--”

“If I was I would have found another way. Made it work somehow.”

“You still can, damn what Odin says.”

You laugh, your soft sadness hardening a bit. “I may not spend my days in the Palace anymore Niti, but I’m not ignorant to the goings on there.”

Niti grimaces, gives you a look of sympathy. “Look about Ylva.”

“Don’t,” your raised hand cuts her off. “It’s okay, I have other things to keep me up at night.”

Niti notices your word choice, ‘other’ not ‘better’. She doesn’t hug you, uncomfortable in the silence. She stuffs her resignation letter into her belt, to be burned in a fire all symbolic like when no one’s watching. You haven’t cleared up any of her misgivings, in fact you’ve made them sizably worse, but damn...she can’t walk away from you like this.

“You’ll heal in time.” It’s canned and lame but Niti can offer no better.

“I know I will.” Also canned. Also lame. And you’re also able to offer no better.

Chapter Text

His brother smiles as he gets colder, like ice that’s warm to the touch. But Thor promised his mother to keep silent, a task proving increasingly difficult to manage. Loki is hurting, and you, last person in the Nine he would have thought, was the one wielding the blade.

He wants to know why.

“You know why.” Sif chides him softly as they make the long trek down to your training grounds. “This is Odin’s manipulation, you yourself said he never approved of her.”

“My brother is clever, he should know that then.”

“Maybe he does.”

“Then why?”

“Because you know your brother. Regardless of manipulation, the Princess was offered a choice and she made one.”

Thor grumbles, “She chose poorly.”

“Did she?”

“Of course she did! My brother’s heart or…”

“Her home Thor. If you had to choose between your birthright...and,” She almost says ‘me’ wants to, she could, no ears are listening. “Your heart...which do you choose?”

“I’d choose...I...I couldn’t.”

“And the heart that truly loved you would never ask you to, nor fault the decision you made.”

“My brother....” He mounts a final defense for Loki, ready to excuse his actions or at least explain them but Sif does that for him.

“Is hurt. And I wouldn’t begrudge him his anger or his particular methods of coping but there are better targets.”

“Like my father?”

Sif nods. “Like your father.”

They find you in the field today, dressed for battle, resplendent like a Valkyrie, crown on your head and spear in hand.

“Princess!”

You return a greeting more curt than you’d like, but a mutiny requires your full attention.

“I’ve come to take command of this pathetic army and see you to victory.”

You don’t take this man’s head because he had the good sense to bow before insulting you but Edvard doesn’t think that’s a good enough.

“Sir! I’ll take your head for your impertinence. Grovel before my lady’s feet, beg for her forgiveness and your death will be painless.”

His ardent defense is charming, Edvard himself is actually quite charming once he got beyond his crippling awkwardness. He was your first recruit. He came to you himself, knelt before you, and offered you his spear.

“My life for your glory, my lady.”

And he’s been by your side ever since.

“Edvard hold a minute. I wish to hear what he has to say.” You rest the blade of your spear on this man’s shoulder, casually, a threat and a humiliation. “What makes you think you’re qualified?”

“I am an old soldier, my lady. A veteran of our Lord Odin’s wars.” He mocks, cutting his glare on Edvard--who all know was the newest addition to Odin’s army before you were. “I fought in the ambush of the vanguard. I fought with your mother. I fought and won wars older than you both. I am your best experienced warrior and as such I am the only one fit to command here.”

“What is your name Sir?”

“Rienhardt.”

“The prove it Rienhardt. You want to command me, beat me.”

“My lady Princess please. Let me--”

“No Edvard.” You’re gentle with your reprimand, but he still looks personally hurt.

“Aye my lady,” Rienhardt rises, reaching for his hammer and shield.

But you drop your spear.

“You should ready your weapon my lady.”

“I am.” You answer him then whistle.

Cephalus charges through the camp leaping over cookfires and tents and inattentive soldiers milling about the yard. He’s saddleless and armorless but you don’t require either to prove your point. You leap onto his back and trot him a fair distance from your opponent.

Cephalus tosses his head, arrogantly swishing his mane. Scare him?

“Kill him.” You whisper before your mount charges down the open path.

“Princess?”

“Princess!”

Thor, Sif, and Edvard dive out of the way. Reinhardt does too, cursing as the horse narrowly misses him, the wind in the horse’s wake strong enough to sting his face. Cephalus turns, huge bulk shifting sharply to bring his hooves down on the man still rolling in the grass.

“Again!” You command. Cephalus obeys as Reinhardt scrambles away, narrowly missing a crushed chest.

“Again!”

Reinhardt raises his shield only to have it crumple and tear like tissue under you.

“I yield. I yield!” He shouts.

“Cephalus enough.” And the horse quiets.

You drop down from him, staring down at the man still in the dirt, trembling because he knows how close he came to death.

“I...I wanted a test of combat. You rode me down like a dog. It wasn’t fair!”

“Someone important once told me not every fight is fair. Hard lesson, it saved my life. It will save yours.” You answer him.

Thor hears Sif’s tiny ‘aww’ and suddenly remembers those words coming from a different mouth.

“Sir Reinhardt, you are lucky. On the battlefield you won’t be. You’ll be facing down not one horse, but a line of them. You know how to fight Odin’s enemies and I have no doubt, Sir Reinhardt, that you are good fighting Odin’s enemies. But there is a reason we have never been Odin’s enemies.”

You catch the glimpse of fear in Reinhardt’s eyes. It pleases you, he won’t gripe about command again, or if he does, next time you won’t tell Cephalus to stop.

“Aye Princess. Forgive me.”

“See my Captain, she will assign to you a commander. Train well and you’ll earn my forgiveness that way.”

Reinhardt bows lower, rises, and excuses himself finally allowing you to greet your guests properly.

“Thor, Sif.” You’re happy to see them but that happiness melts quickly, wariness replacing it. They have no reason to be here for you. “To what do I owe this honor?”

Both hear your hesitance, and you’re right to be suspect. Sif came for Thor and Thor came for Loki, but now that they’re here Thor hesitates.

“Princess. Thor came to ask why you…”

Thor interrupts Sif, finally making up his mind what he means to ask. “Why you completely quit the palace! My mother misses you dearly. As do we all.”

He extends a hand, honest in his question and earnest in his feelings. He never had his brother’s guile and he never will.

“Thank you Thor, Sif. Convey my regrets to the Lady Frigga, but I am needed here.”

“Really Princess? Can we not convince you?”

You miss them too, they are all friends unlooked for, but…

“My soldiers…”

“Can last a day without you.”

“You’re adamant.”

“I am,” he insists.

“You should go Princess.”

Thor is immensely skeptical of the redhaired man standing so close to you, the same way he was skeptical of you standing so close to Loki once upon a time.

“And you are?”

“Edvard, my second-in-command and trusted friend.”

“How trusted?” Thor asks, shaking Edvard’s hand but squeezing tighter than manners allow.

“The Princess trusts me with her life.” Edvard squeezes back expending considerably more effort to match Thor’s grip.

“One wonders which parts of her life you can be trusted with?”

“What do you mean sir?”

Only Sif catches Thor’s clumsy innuendo, “Ahh, the Prince is just concerned is all. He means nothing. By. it.”

He does, but Sif’s tone warns him against needling your second in command any further.

You take your guests on a tour of your grounds, show them your stables, your armorers, and your soldiers.

“Impressive. If my father knew the kind of army you could build in his garden he’d never let you leave. I would be honored to join you in your fight.”

“The prince flatters me but I must decline your offer. If I were to arrive at the head of an army with a Prince of Asgard in tow, they’d believe I was coming to conquer them on your father’s behalf. They’d never trust me. But don’t look so scandalized Thor, it goes both ways. Your father would have a fit if any of our soldiers so much as touch a hoof over the borderline.”

“He’s prickly like that.”

“There’s prickly and then there’s your father.”

Thor laughs. “When you’re right Princess.”

**

Loki observes his father’s petitioners meeting, disinterested and bored until Reinhardt arrives, aggrieved and looking for redress.

“She almost ran you down you say?” Odin leans forward in this throne, marginally interested in the rest of the tale.

“She almost killed me!” Reinhardt complains. “I meant to show the girl how a real commander leads and she nearly trampled me for it.”

Odin snorts, chastising his old general with a shake of his head. “You should know better than to challenge the horse masters. They don’t give you the chance to wound their pride, they just kill you. You’re lucky.”

Reinhardt purples, making him look like a plum with whiskers. “That’s what she said. That I was lucky. That ‘not every fight is fair’.”

Closed eyes open and an icy heart feels a bit of warmth return. “Wise words,” Loki says, first words he’s spoken since the petitioners arrived asking his father for favors. “You should heed them.”

“But what about…?”

“Your pathetic demands for justice? As I see it, you acted a fool and was proven such. You should be thanking her for the lesson. In fact, that’s what I order you to do, go and thank her publicly.”

“I will not! I will not bow again before her or her sniveling little paramour!”

The warmth he felt, he thought he felt, snuffs out completely as winter returns.

“Paramour?”

“Yes! Her so called ‘second-in-command.’ Follows her around like dog she’s got him wrapped so tight around her finger...and possibly other places.”

“Silence!” Prince and King shout together for much the same reason, unable to stomach the vision of you in some tryst.

“Begone Reinhardt.” Odin dismisses the man. “Return to your post and trouble me no more with your whining.”

Loki doesn’t want to dismiss the oaf, wishing instead to take him to a dungeon and stretch him over a rack until he tells him everything about this paramour.

But he finds and asks his brother instead.

“Firstly, it’s not like that and secondly, your hypocrisy is showing.”

“I don’t. Care! Tell me what you know!”

“I don’t know anything.”

“Well! Tell me...something at least or what good are you?! You’re supposed to be supportive in these trying times.”

“I thought you had someone for that.”

He really doesn’t care about his hypocrisy, but Thor’s logic still stings. “I...she….”

“Well?”

“Shut up, you’re not as clever as you think.”

“And you’re more heartbroken than you think if an unfounded rumor can send you into such a rage.”

“I’m not angry!” Loki yells. “I don’t care!” He yells louder.

“Then trust me when I say he’s nothing.”

“I’m sick of trusting people! I can’t trust anyone and I’m sick to death of the word! ‘Trust me!’ She says. ‘I’d never leave you.’ She says! I believe both and look what happens! None of you have sold me on this trust.”

“I bet if you give her the opportunity to apologize, she would.”

“What difference would it make?”

“Only you can answer that brother.”

“Shut up! You’re not as wise as you think either.”

“Perhaps, but the difference between you and me is that I at least know when I’m being foolish.”

“Get out.”

“You always kick people out when you know they’re right.”

“Get out!”

Reluctantly, Thor leaves Loki to his self-inflicted suffering, ruminating on you and your paramour. The word sticks between his teeth, the remnant of an unpleasant meal he can’t dislodge without knocking all his teeth out.

He wonders if it's for spite or comfort or both. He wonders how long this has gone on or who approached whom first.

He wonders you’re happy.

And he prays you are.

And he also prays for a moment alone with this paramour to tear out his liver through his ears.

He sends Se’risa back to you early and ignores Ylva’s request for his company.

He sits alone, musing that it’s better this way. That it was always going to be this way and that he indeed was foolish for harboring any hope of something different.

The knock on his door upsets him, triggers another sorrow born rage. Instead of shouting away the intruder he stomps to his door, cracking the marble underneath his feet.

“Pray quickly for your life.” He snarls finding an armored man on the other side of the door and not the terrified servant he expected. “Who in Hel…”

“I’m sorry, Prince Loki, for the late intrusion but my name is Edvard, the Princess’s second-in-command. I need to speak with you about her.”

“Of course.” Loki grins, ushering Edvard quickly into his rooms pleased that the stars do answer prayers.

Chapter Text

Earlier That Day

“You should have gone back with them Princess. You’ve been working so hard, you deserve a bit of rest in luxury.”

Your guests have departed for the palace as the day wanes. Edvard walks you back to your tent per his peculiar custom, insisting that you go nowhere unaccompanied. It is charming, but you’re getting tired of using that single word to describe him.

Gallant might work.

Respectful too.

Sweet. Sweet definitely works.

“He’s too sweet, like your tea.” Niti complained once after he’d left you for the night.

“I don’t see what’s so bad about that. I like my tea very sweet.”

“Yeah but it also makes your teeth rot.”

You run your tongue over your teeth, reminding yourself again there’s no rot to find in your mouth or in Edvard. He’s a good soldier, groomed well and he’ll be a capable leader. He’s a good friend, and you’re in need of them, his sweetness can only be a bonus.

Or can rot your teeth, the Niti flavored voice in your head repeats.

“No. The palace is no place for me.”

“I understand, you have to prepare for going back to your own palace.”

“No that’s not...nevermind. Thank you.” You’ve reached your tent and he holds the flap open for you. “Goodnight Edvard.”

He smiles at you, still holding the flap.

“Edvard?”

His smile widens.

“Edvard!” Whatever daze he was in your sharpness clears, he starts a bit and blushes, skin flushing a color not the same red as his hair and beard but close.

“Uh..sorry. I ...May I come in for a moment?”

“Of course.”

Niti’s lit your braziers for you, and has left you tea. Edvard declines a cup, taking seat on the cushion next to you rather than across.

“Is everything alright, is there something on your mind Edvard?”

“Everything’s fine. More than fine. I wanted to tell you….I’m…”

You wait for him to find his words and finish, your patient smile tightening the longer he goes on.

“I’m proud.”

“Of?”

“Me.”

“You?”

“Stars!” This is not….anyway. Yes. I’m proud. I wanted to tell you I’m proud to be your second-in-command. And I’m proud of the army you’re building”

“You came in here to tell me just this? Save your speeches for when we march.”

“No...I mean yes….I...mean…”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean I didn’t come here to say just that. I came here to...may I kiss you Princess?”

His hope is enough to compel you, the way he looks at you with such open and honest and ardent affection. It’s sweet, and you like sweet.

“Yes.”

**

He has no right to use the word ‘betrayal’ not with the way he’s been carrying on with Ylva. But his own medicine is bitter to taste. Loki bends a bit like he’s trying to conceal a mortal wound in his stomach inflicted by this bastard obviously come to crow in his face about his conquest. Oh! He’s going to enjoy killing him.

“Go on Edvard.”

The Prince calls upon his magic, building it while a sick grin builds on his face.

**

He’s sweet like you thought. His lips and the dainty pressure he puts on yours. The gentle swipe of his tongue. All sweet.

Too sweet.

Rottingly sweet.

He’s nervous, he kisses you like you’re chipped glass. That he’ll either break you more or that you’ll cut him. You don’t blame him, he’s not wrong.

He pulls from you. “That wasn’t very good was it?”

“Don’t say that.”

He sighs, acknowledging the truth you dodged.

“Is it because I’m common?”

You hurt for him that you cannot return the obvious love he has for you. He is sweet but even you have your limits.

However.

The qualities are there, you think. Even if the blood isn’t. If you win, when you win, your people would accept him with only minor grumblings that he’s not from your land.

But you could point to several consorts in history who weren’t.

He could be a good prince. You don’t love him, but you could make him a good prince--a good king.

**

A surge of pride rights him, puts strength back in his knees. “Even a prince couldn’t satisfy her lust for power so you? You’re nothing. Of course she wouldn’t look twice at you.”

Edvard laughs and that pride takes another blow. “You’re right of course. But do you know what she told me? She said--”

**

“You would make an excellent prince. And right now there’s a practical part of me arguing that I should make you one. You would be a good prince and eventually a good king. And in time maybe I could---lo-- come to accept such an arrangement.”

The nobles would push for a marriage the moment after they place the crown on your head. But with any such push would come the implicit agreement for a trueborn heir. Whomever you chose also could have ambition for themself or their families, potentially outside yours or Se’risa’s best interests, and the power to make those ambitions come to fruition at your expense. Edvard’s affection, then, could be used as shield for you both. He’d happily be beholden to only you while lacking the political or familial connections needed to threaten you and Se’risa.

You’ve made provisions for every outcome of this war, planned for every challenge you would face upon returning to court. You are wise to consider this.

“Princess...I don’t know know what to say.”

“Then say nothing, Sweet Edvard, and wait for me to finish.”

Whenever you say his name he smiles. His name in your voice is a gift he is always glad to receive. But there’s something about the way you call him ‘Sweet Edvard’ that doesn't seem so much like a present anymore.

“Because for however much faith I have in you being a good prince. I’m sorry, but you could never be my prince.”

**

“She cried as told me everything. About your father and what he promised her. Then she kissed me as I left joking that this was a much better one. I’ll cherish that forever.”

And Loki knows exactly where you put that kiss given the way the fool’s been idly rubbing his left cheek since he came in here.

“Why are you telling me this? I already know what my father’s done, it changes nothing. So if you came here looking for sympathy you are in the wrong place. State your purpose then leave before my manners expire.”

Or you do.

“I love her.”

Loki balls his fists, gouging his palms with his nails. “That is the-- Wrong. Answer!”

“And I know that’s hard for you to hear. But I do. And that’s why I’m here. I want to see her happy again before this war swallows her up. She deserves that at least. And since it can’t be me...It has to be you.”

He doesn’t want to hear this anymore between this pathetic fool and his brother and his own rapacious guilt chewing up his heart. He’s still not ready to be wrong, to acknowledge the blade you cut him with cut you just as dire.

“I want no part of her you fool!”

And he is foolish, to shout down a prince.

“And you’ve put on a very convincing act to make everyone think you don’t! But I know where the little one truly spends her days. The only person she loves in this world that isn’t you is her, and you know that!”

“Get out!”

“I am no fool. I understand why she rejected me and I accept that. I harbor her no ill will for her choice.”

“Get! Out!”

“The only ill will I harbor is for you, for hurting her.”

“You dare presume to understand!”

“You’re right. I don’t understand. If you loved her at all--”

“Get out or by the stars--!”

“You would --”

Loki’s staff materializes in his hand, charged with enough energy to dissolve the bastard before him into dust.

“Just listen to her!”

The magic explodes from his staff and destroys a cabinet behind your commander. Edvard himself remains still, unflinching, even as his right arm smokes from the power that passed him by.

“She loves you, Prince Loki. So much that she won’t let you go even though you’ve made her believe you have. If there’s any part of you that still cares for her, you should speak to her, before you lose the chance.”

“Get out or next time I won’t miss.”

Edvard bows, hand over his heart like you taught him. “Good Evening, prince.” And sees himself out.

**

Frigga tries to press a sickeningly large jewel into Edvard’s hand.

“I told you, the only reward I want is the Princess’s happiness.”

“Well you were right to come to me first before challenging my son, being better informed makes you better armed. Tell me, were you able to move anything in him at all?”

“Keep your payment. I wouldn’t take it. And even if I would, I haven’t earned it.”

Chapter Text

Fall cools into winter and your army grows stronger and smarter every day. Reinhardt doesn’t run from a charging horse anymore, none of your soldiers do. And the horses you have, while no where close to the army you’ll face, can keep up with Cephalus’s demanding pace.

Edvard surprises you every day. He’s widened his distance from you a bit, and some of the sweetness in him has bittered, mellowed by your training and the weight of the lives he’ll be responsible for, yours foremost among them. You know that his arms are still open should you choose them, but you also know that he’s just as content to be only your friend and commander.

Your heart is quiet. Filled with as much peace as a chipped heart can hold. It drips, sometimes it suddenly breaks, spilling your tears everywhere, but your friends are always there to fill you back up.

Sif and Thor visit, often bringing the Queen with them. You’ve hosted rustic banquets for them glad for the frivolity and to waste a bit of Odin’s treasury as a form of gentle revenge.

Se’risa though, is still your greatest joy, the biggest vessel that fills you.

She has magic! It awes you and it grows stronger nearly every day.

“I have a good teacher. I will miss him.” She tells you. Se’risa lies to you every day but that’s not one of them, that’s honest. Loki is patient with her, pushes her to the limits of her talents and beyond. He’s not exactly kind but she has a thick skin, grown thicker under his tutelage.

Literally.

She can make her skin thick.

“Useful trick filly. Does your Princess plant to make you fight too?”

He likes this secret more than he should. Teaching the filly is fun, humorous, a distraction from a distraction. That he needs a distraction from Ylva is telling but… the old callous parts of him are returning the colder the days get and he simply doesn’t care anymore. Pretty soon the filly will be gone and he’ll stop caring completely.

“No.”

“The army will be marching soon won’t it?”

“In a few days. Today is the last time I can come here. The Princess is planning a marching ceremony and then...”

“You’ll be going home.”

“Yes.”

“Remember to practice everyday. And more importantly remember everything I taught you. Ignore your sages, they don’t know as much as I do.”

“Ok.”

“You could fake a little enthusiasm you know. Are you scared?”

Se’risa sniffles as she nods.

“Don’t be scared. Your Princess will win from nothing else but sheer determination, the army’s just a bonus. Nothing will happen to her.”

“That’s not why I’m scared.”

Loki doesn’t care enough to pry and Se’risa offers nothing further. He deigns to let the child hug him goodbye feeling the last warm bits of him freeze over when she lets go.

“You’re not as mean as you want people to think.” She tells him.

“No filly, I’m just very good at making you think that.” He flicks her nose, pleased that that his fingernails make a hard clinking noise as it strikes stone.

She frowns, thinking of a memory of his kindness that might put lie to this. But if his kindness is performative...how could she prove it?

“Will you come see us off?”

“No.”

“Please?”

“No Se’risa.”

“Why not?”

Because watching you go is already hard enough.

“No interest.”

“You’re lying.”

“Am I?”

The child can’t tell.

**

He soothes himself with Ylva later, temporarily satisfied with her writhing underneath him, screaming his name like it ought to be screamed.

Ylva is well born, he remembers. Beautiful. Rich. Perfect. Equipped with the manners and training that make her the more perfect partner for a prince. She submits, as is her purpose, as is his desire. He has an ego (and other things) that require stroking, one this lady is better suited to.

She tumbles back into the sheets, pleased after another bout of torrid lovemaking. “My Lord, you’re positively exhausting.”

He rises from his bed, tying a robe about him, stalking away to bathe. He grunts something non-descript and flattering about her own performance or endowments. He doesn’t remember or care but she laughs anyway, tittering like a well-born lady should.

He’s grown tired of her. Old Loki is back, slipping under his skin filling up the holes you left behind in him. The bastard who treated women like objects and played with them like toys. Ylva is supposed to distract from the hurt but she just makes it grow, feeding his ego, strengthening the monster until she’s no longer enough to sustain it. He thinks of others who might satisfy him now, knowing he’ll probably glut himself on flesh and excess the day you leave.

But as he sinks into the scalding water of the bath, purposefully inflaming the scratches Ylva left on him giving them a pleasant burn, he thinks in this rare moment of clarity, nothing feels as good as your…everything.

Slipping deeper underwater, the prince slips into a dream that was once his waking world. Indulging himself with a moment of you because by the bloody Nine he’s earned it by now! Can’t he just have this one moment of peace? He laughs at the irony of it all. That you would give up love for everything and now here, days away from doing just that, he’s ready to give up everything for love.

“Such an impossible choice, Princess.” His words float under the water, unheard except as bubbles. “Unfair, really.”

He’s soft in his dream, slow. He teases you (because even if you unman him all other ways, there is a bit of cruelty you will never erase) until you were panting, driven insane with desire.

So soon after his ferocious coupling with...he doesn’t wish to tarnish the fantasy with her name, he’s hard again and aching. With slow strokes he imagines what you’d feel like on top of him, riding him as you do your horses.

In his dreams your body isn’t perfect like...that girl’s is. It’s thick and round in some places like around your belly and thighs, and scarred from knee to neck-- evidence all the battles you’ve survived. He’d kiss them and ask for the stories for everyone. It’s hard to stave off his climax because having you is so wonderful, but he’d fight himself to hold off until you were well and truly satisfied. You’d beg him, he’d make you beg. And with your voice in his ears, and your body in his hands and your heart in his care, he’d make you come over and over again.

He comes with a muffled grunt that would have sounded like your name if he allowed himself to voice it.

Chapter Text

“Did you see them! The Prince and the Duchess! It was almost obscene.”

You are pretty sure they are doing it on purpose. Friends of Astrid or Ylva or both come to twist the knives in your back by flooding your camp with sordid gossip about the Prince’s new relationship.

“Good for him. They make a good match!”

They do, you admit.

Ylva makes it easy to remember your place. Not your status, you are a Princess, you’ll soon be a Queen by the bloody stars! But your physical place. That this is Asgard, a place of backbiters and warmongers. She makes it easy to remember that this place could never be your home and that such hopes were foolish.

Let her thrive here with your...her prince. It’s clear he no longer thinks of you, and you envy that, wishing for a bit of his…

Everything. There’s a vision at the edge of your mind, obscured behind frosted glass waiting for you to touch it and give it clarity. You reach, the images sharpen and you feel them more than see, heat flaring in your cheeks because this fantasy isn’t meant for daylight and polite company. There’s steam and heat all around though you can’t tell if it's from tangled bodies or something else. His muffled words clear and you can almost hear him calling for you at the height of his...

But you pull back right before the frosted glass brightens, denying yourself the indulgence. Your longing for him is only a distraction now. Stars willing, you’ll soon bury it before it has the chance to bury you.

Distractions kill in battle.

But.

There is one last distraction that must be addressed.

You’ve summoned Se’risa to you, sitting straight up in your chair, though you can’t tell what emotion it is that has pulled every muscle in your body taut. It feels like anger but it’s not. It’s not dissapointment either but it’s something. You’re unable to name it before she arrives.

“You called for me?” She’s a child still but it looks like she’s aged so much in the time you’ve been here. All this talk of war and your absence to prepare for it has made her mature far faster than she should. You’ve robbed her of some of her childhood, when you get home you swear to give it all back doubled

But you need one last thing from her.

“I did. I need you to answer something for me.”

“Of course.”

“We are leaving soon. Have you said goodbye to your friends?”

“Yes. I was with Lord Heimdall’s daughter today. She gave me this to put in my hair.” Se’risa holds out a leather headband dotted with tiny white shells furrowed down the middle and covered in brown spots.

You wave her forward and she comes, knowing to sit between your knees so you can braid the headband into her hair.

“And have you finished all your studies?”

“Yes.” she answers softly, her lessons of late were her greatest of joys. Your sages know some magic but they are not the sorcerers of Asgard. Perhaps, once things have settled you could send her back, or ask Odin to loan out her magic master to your kingdom to be her private tutor for a while.

“And have you thanked Master Mimir?”

“Yes.”

Your hands pause, fingers trembling a bit but you still them before the shaking can accidentally snatch some of her hair.

“Have I done something wrong, Se’risa?”

She shakes her head, tearing a nap in your fingernails making it sound a dry and painful ‘pop’. Se’risa doesn’t move, cornered. “N-No of course not.”

“You can tell me if I have. It won’t make me mad or upset me.”

“But...what do you mean Princess?”

“Turn.” You instruct, finishing the last of the braid. The girl faces you, the headband is not a crown but it’ll will do until you can get her her own. “Beautiful.”

She smiles and curtseys.

“Now tell me the truth. Don’t lie to me again please.”

Se’risa’s smile melts.

You don’t need to show her the letter you wrote to Master Mimir thanking him nor the one you got back asking ‘for what?’ and that he hasn’t seen the girl in months. You just want honesty.

“How long?” You ask.

“Since you started training your army.”

“So for months.”

“Yes.”

“Why?”

Se’risa takes a deep breath, her fingers reach for her pocket where your bracelet still waits. She reaches for the right words, determined to spill only parts of the truth. She knows you won’t be mad, that’s not what she’s afraid of.

But to tell you everything would break your heart. And that is her greatest fear.

“I can’t.”

“Why not? Has someone hurt you? Tell me and I’ll--.”

“No, I mean I can’t...I’m not strong enough.”

You press harder than you should even as she cries. She will need all the strength you can instill in a child for what is to come. “For what? To tell me the truth? Princesses should always--”

“I know!” She screams in a tone you’ve never heard from her, the sadness in her shriek making the candle flames flicker.”‘Princesses should always tell the truth!’ I don’t want that! I don’t want to be that kind of Princess anymore!”

The candle flames brighten high enough to put your tent at risk of fire. She blubbers an apology, flames falling as her tears do. You leap from your chair embrace her, soothe whatever hurts she has. She is the last person in the Nine you live for. You cannot lose her too.

“Then you don’t have to be. You never have to be. I’m sorry. I should have asked you first. I don’t know if Niti told you or how you found out. But I should have asked before laying that kind of responsibility on you. I will find another--.”

“No! You’re not listening! None of you are listening! Adults just talk or lie or do stuff and nobody listens to anyone anymore!” Se’risa’s skin heats, hot enough to sizzle the tears on her cheeks.

“I’m listening my dearest heart. I’m listening. I swear. Tell me what I’ve missed.”

“I don’t wanna go home!”

She burns so hot you have to let her go. She flies from you, jerking and jumping around your tent like a bat caught in a net. “I don’t want you to go to war! I don’t want to leave! I don’t want to make new friends! I don’t want a fancy new crown or new clothes or people who bow to me and call me a Princess! I just want you to call me a princess. Like you always have. I don’t want anything to change!”

“I don’t either. Truly. But oh katkat, we don’t belong here. This place isn’t our home. It never was.”

“And what is home?!”

“Home is…”

“Home is people Princess! Moms and dads and and people who love you. Everybody who loved me in that place is dead! How could it be home? And all the people who love me now are right here! All my friends, you, Edvard, Niti, even the Prince! They’re all here! This place is my home now. And I don’t want to go!

“We can’t stay!” You shout only once. She stops fluttering comes to rest in front of you. She wraps her arms around you and weeps softly into your neck.

“Yes we can. We can. They’d let us if we asked.”

There’s a reluctant truth to it. Odin never said you had to leave, but the only reason you would stay wants nothing to do with you anymore. And that would hurt too much to watch, would kill you slowly even if you stayed for Se’risa’s sake.

“Ok. Ok.” You know there’s no way to explain to her your duty, the obligation to your people. And there’s no way to explain how exactly you’ll die watching the Prince you love aggressively forget you exist. But you’d sooner die here an now than take her new home from her, rob her of anymore of her childlike joy. So be it.

Se’risa stills, thinking you’ve finally heard her. “Does this mean you’ll stay?”

You let her go, relinquishing the last person in the Nine you live for.

“No. But you will.”

The girl falls to her knees, broken in half by grief. “No no no! Please don’t leave me! Please! Please! I’m sorry. Please don’t go!”

You hold her face in her hands, stilling her with your heavy gaze.

“Se’risa, I wouldn’t take you from your home, but I have to go back to mine.”

“That’s not it!” She pleads. “That’s not your place. It’s here with me! With all of us!”

“My people…”

“What people! How do you know they care about you! How do you know they even want you back! Some of them even tried to kill you!”

She sounds too much like Loki, you clamp teeth on your tongue to keep from shouting at her again. Instead your voice hisses, low and cruel. You sound like Loki too.

“That’s what war is for. To kill them.”

She recoils from you, you didn’t yell but she flinches as though you had.

“So you’ll kill them. Then their families will be mad and try to kill you. And it won’t stop until everyone is dead! Princesses protect the people don’t they? Isn’t that what you said! How can you protect the people if you have to keep killing them? How is that being a princess?!”

Her argument’s simplicity strikes you silent, shames you enough to make you turn away from her. You were trying to impart the same wisdom to her as your mother did you, and in the end, she taught you how to be the better princess. You’re older, taller, in some respects wiser, but her gaze is unbearable to you, it withers you.

“Where are you going?”

You don’t answer her, even as she begs you to stay, even as she takes back every word, you don’t answer her.

Chapter Text

It’s late when you leave Se’risa. Your entire army sleeps, resting well before marching in two days time. Even the guards you let rest so no one at the gate can see you walk, not ride, but walk up the frozen path back to the Palace.

The stars above would answer if you asked, the guidance you seek they’d happily give. But the stars know you are a stubborn child, and for you to understand, you must see.

So you visit The Watcher.

“Lord Heimdall.” You bow lower than his rank requires and he notices, he notices everything.

“You are too kind and too formal Princess. To what do I owe the honor?” When he is kind his voice sounds like what a hug feels. It reminds you of your father but you quickly try to forget the association.

“The honor is mine. Se’risa enjoys your daughter’s company. I’ve come to thank you for allowing them a friendship.”

Heimdall doesn’t need his Sight to know you’re lying. Shame you never picked up the skill from your Prince.

“You are not. Such sentiments can be expressed in writing, nor would they be expressed at such an hour of day.”

“Lord Heimdall--You misunderstand.”

“I know why you’re here. And know that what you seek is forbidden.”

He sees every twitch of muscle in your face as sadness creeps into it. He sees every crease in your mouth and wrinkle at your eyes and cheeks fold and furrow. Heimdall sees everything, right down to the war in your heart that has neatly torn it in two.

He feels no guilt for the role he’s played in your suffering. He is a soldier who has followed his Lord’s orders unquestioningly. Nor is it his place to gainsay or judge that Lord.

Odin does as Odin wills and Heimdall is but a tool for it.

But tools chafe.

“Yet I will grant it. But you must ask.”

Heimdall sees those folds and furrows tighten, sees light suffuse your skin that’s a only half a shade lighter than his, but you brighten like starlight when you smile. Heimdall sees all, he sees this too, and sees why his Lord’s second son fell so hard for you.

For you could make even the coldest frost giants crumble at the power of your smile.

“Lord Heimdall, I would ask you turn your eyes on my land and see if the people are happy.”

He remains still, unmoving, gold gaze firm upon you waiting for the rest. “I am sworn to keep watch for Asgard’s enemies and nothing else. You will tell me all of why I am about to forsake my oath.”

“I need to see.”

“What child?”

“My home.”

“Why?”

You ball your fists, pricking pain into the meat of your palms to either give you a reason for tears or to stop them.

“To see if it’s still mine.”

Heimdall heaves a great sigh. “This is dangerous. The Sight affects different minds differently. Some see nothing. Some see too much and it drives them mad.”

You shake your head. “I need to know. Please.”

The Watcher nods. “Then prepare yourself girl, this will hurt.”

His eyes flash white and as they do, he places his fingers in the center of your forehead. Your vision whitens but you dare not blink for fear of severing the connection between Heimdall’s Sight and yours. The white you see blurs and shifts then turns grey. That grey fades to deep blue which bleeds into green. You see shapes now, rectangles and squares that stack on top of one another. Red and orange on top of gold. They’re trees you realize. Then those trees give way to vast swaths of yellow gold, the open fields of your homeland where the horses run and graze, even now so late in the season with winter here.

Your home is south, deep south, the winter that grips Asgard will only lightly chill your home. There are people in the fields, you see now, they wreathe their horses with fall flowers and fallen leaves. Feed them the last of the sweetgrass and newly harvested carrots and apples.

First you could only see them, but now as the blurry edges of your vision sharpen, you can hear them. The music, the drums. It's loud enough to hurt but only just, yet they sing in your language--tones and inflections that beat in your ears like heart song, the pain becomes irrelevant.

The pain is your pleasure, your joy. Papa had a voice you remember, he jokes it's how he won your mother. You listen for it knowing you won't hear his baritone but you do hear pieces of it here and there in fathers singing to their children, their parents, their lovers, and themselves.

Don't blink! You don't know if the vision will stop, but you can't risk it. You hold your eyes open with all the will you have, even when pain begins to prick at your temples and spread like blood dripped in clear water.

Tears stream from your eyes and the vision changes to your heartwood palace, hewn from trees older and more beautiful than Ygdrassil as your Sages say. The trees surrounding your home are dressed in fall’s finery, leaves drip from branches, raining gold on the ground.

You follow the flight of a single leaf, Heimdall’s sight conferring on you the ability to see every vein and depression and pore in it. It floats, twists, and tumbles with every puff of wind that rustles the branches. It falls onto a head crowned in a hammered gold circlet, black hair shorn down to the scalp and dusted with grey.

“Princess.” This man says and you startle thinking you haven't been gifted with far sight but teleported instead. It's only when another voice answers ‘Yes Father?’ you understand you weren't the one addressed and that someone has stolen your name.

Fa’Dan and Fa’Rey. The King and Princess of your land, wearing stolen crowns and stolen furs sitting on stolen thrones.

The great hall is filled, with bodies and laughter and joy unaware you mean to destroy it all. Revelers dance, lovers kiss, Father hugs Daughter and all is right in the world.

Fa’Dan roots your mother’s Crescent Halberd on it’s end affixing it to the floor, its red tassel swaying like a taunt in the breeze. That weapon, crafted from a fallen star and wielded by the First Princess means more to your people than a crown or blood ever could. That Fa’Dan wields it uncontested tells you enough.

“Shoot!” He calls and the feasters cheer. There is a contest, to win you must strike the tassel of the halberd with an arrow from an almost impossible distance. Already people are lining up to take the chance.

Suitors will use the competition to earn Fa’Rey’s attention, the victor winning possibly her affections an item of their choice crafted by Master Farrit’s hand. His family crafted the saddles and whips of nearly every folk hero your country has, to own one is to be counted among them. The leatherworks become heirlooms, sometimes held more dear than living relatives.

Your father is the only person in a generation to make that shot. His reward: the dagger that once rested on Prince Loki’s hip. Fa’rey nocks her arrow and it flies wide. Her father's much the same. The great Hall vibrates with laughter and mirth. You watch a handful of your lieutenants in the Cavalry attempt the shot and fail. They drunkenly lean on each other and Fa’rey, encouraging her to try again.

Their joy tells you enough.

But you could hold onto the last bits of your pride, add oil to your rage that burns when someone calls Fa’Rey by the title she stole from you.

You could abandon love completely, leave Se’risa here to satisfy your duty to her and march your army through your land right up to the palace gates and slaughter everyone who would oppose you. Since Princess is stolen from you, you’ll take a new title: tyrant.

But you turn your eyes and see the lands outside the palace. Your gaze turns to the villages, where black leather strips hang on every fifth door, signifying a house bereaved of their sons, daughters, mothers, or fathers lost in your mother’s last battle and the coup thereafter.

Had you your way. No door would be without them.

Your eyes burn but your vision never blurs. You turn back to the palace and notice the final detail.

The mausoleum.

She has a vault there, strung in black and as well kept as father’s is right next to her. She rests. She is at peace. Her brother has seen to it.

But you.

You are forgotten.

Your room is empty of your furniture. You don’t hear your name, not even in passing. You aren’t dead so there’s no one to mourn you, no vault with your name on it.

You are erased.

As though you never were.

You no longer fight the urge, you blink hoping to take the vision from you. You blink again. But the vision is behind your eyes, seen still even when they are closed. You squeeze them shut and dig your thumbs into your eyes to make it stop but the vision presses harder, etches itself like a tattoo on your irises.

You press against your eyes so hard it hurts.

You scream.

But no one hears you.

Chapter Text

He never thinks about what he would say or do if he saw you again, convinced that he never would. He’s cultivated a very distinct image of himself, designed like a serrated knife to saw and tear as it cuts away.

With the way you fled the palace and have remain gone since, he was convinced that you actually hated him as much as he made you think he hated you. It took the filly and the fool to make him understand that despite everything, his knife was still dull in some places and that you did not hate him but you still loved him and in fact blamed yourself for the pain he’s inflicted upon you. All done purposefully in a fit of anger that didn’t last a fortnight, and by then it was too late; pride, silence, and distance stretching a gap of a mile or two between palace and camp to mountains insurmountable.

And even if he could summon the courage to face you and what he’s done, you’d be gone soon anyway. Off to fight for the throne you deserve with a red bearded fool he is assured would steal the remaining bits of your heart until he held it whole. Why bother? Why waste time and breath and precious little hope on something that will never be?

So sure of all of this, so utterly certain, Loki never prepares what he would say, what he wants to say, if he sees you again.

So he is unprepared when he does.

The Silvertongue stills, staring mutely down at you laid out like on a funeral pyre as Heimdall’s page leads him to the Watcher’s perch.

Until you moan in pain, spurring the Silvertongue to sharpen into iron.

“What have you done to her Watcher!”

Heimdall ignores the threat in the Prince’s voice and answers him simply. “She asked for the Sight. I granted it.”

“You dare, fool! Knowing what it might do!”

“Do you think, my Lord, that a woman determined would concern herself with the petty inconveniences of risk?”

“She is a well known fool and you will be a deadone if anything happens to her!”

Heimdall ignores the first threat, but it is not in his nature to ignore repeated ones. He wouldn’t harm the boy, he is still his Lord’s son no matter how unfavored, but he’s not above teaching a lesson or two. But Heimdall sees the gnawing maelstrom that usually sits at the center of the Prince’s chest has been replaced with a whole heart united in singular purpose. And there has never been a time that Loki’s been of one mind about anything. Heimdall’s temper cools.

“Calm yourself, that she has not perished should tell you of the strength of her mind.”

“Death can’t have her.” He bites, words hissing from him unbidden and unthought of. You whimper from unconsciousness sending a shiver of sympathy down both men’s spines. “Why did she ask? What did she see?”

“That is her story to tell.”

Heimdall turns his back to you and the Prince.

“That’s it!? That’s all you have to say?!”

“I must return to my post.”

“And you’re just going to leave her like this?”

“I’m leaving her with you.” Heimdall gives a rare smirk. “Or...if that is unpalatable I can perhaps summon Thor or--.”

“No!” Loki protests perhaps a bit too quickly. “By the Nines no. Inflicting Thor upon her will make her worse. I will take her.”

Heimdall bows, hiding the true smile on his face. The Lady Frigga was right of course, these children are both fools.

“As you wish, my Prince.”

**
You drift, carried into sleep by currents that rock you gently, lulling you into painless rest. You float in warmth and comfort before waking and realizing you are indeed moving.

“Stop struggling horse girl. Do you want me to drop you?”

Reality assaults you with all the things you’ve dreamt of for months. The smell of leather, of rain on hot stone. Of sharp ice-green eyes that don’t sting when they gaze at you and iron black hair that curls easily around your fingers.

Magic. It’s only magic that he’s here now.

You’re in his arms, the gentle rocking is his own body as he carries you, tucked into his chest.

“Stop struggling I said!”

“Put me down!” The movement is gentle when you're eyes were closed, now it only makes you nauseous. The jerking of a horse you can handle, that steady up and down bounce, this just turns your stomach.

“And have you crack your head spilling the meager contents of your brains upon the marble? No.”

Since he has not prepared, he operates on instinct. Tease and demean. Poor substitutes for what he means to say.

But you are also unprepared.

You miss the warmth in the words, you’re out of practice hearing for the gentleness he hides under the bite. It all sounds cold to you, so you answer ice with ice.

“Why do you care?” You want him to let you go, unable to stand the warmth of his arms around you, yet you're more terrified of losing that feeling than you are of starting a war. You can’t stand his touch if it's only temporary.

He has miscalculated. Or he has misunderstood. Or the fool overstated your affections to plant then snatch his growing hope. You hate him, he realizes, he really is too late.

The ice between you grows as he replies. “I don’t.” He deserves your hate and will dwell on it later but now is for defense. Hard walls around a soft heart studded with cruel barbs. “But as Heimdall last saw you alive with me, someone finding you with a busted skull is unfortunate. I can get away with a lot, even murder in some cases, and maybe even yours, but I’d rather not risk it. Besides, you are being catered to by a Prince of Asgard, be grateful!”

“I didn’t ask for this!” Your skin heats fueled by embarassed rage, it doesn’t redden in a blush, it can't, but you can still feel the heat flare.

“Nor did I! Yet here we are! Hold your tongue girl or I’ll start taking my chances!”

“Put me down. Please!” You’re going to be very sick in a moment if he doesn’t. “I’ll be fine.”

“Always a poor liar.” With his chin, he forces you to tuck your head into his neck. “Close your eyes and stay!” He commands.

You'll be stubborn, he thinks, you'll protest and say something stupid. But you don't, lacking the strength to argue further or deny yourself what you really want. You heed him, curling your face deeper into his neck, feeling the gentle soothing sway return. He feels you press tighter to him, he hears your breath steady. He feels it spreading across his neck inciting goosebumps and a racing heart.

“Better?” He asks unable to fathom how pathetic he sounds.

You don't answer, you’ve drifted away again.

**
He leaves you in tunic and breeches when he slips you into his bath, knowing warm water will ease your symptoms. He watches you for signs of distress laughing at himself for the irony of it all.

“Here I am again, horse girl. Watching over you, making sure you don’t die in your sleep. Fitting. The stars just love being poetic don’t they?”

You jerk awake in the water, reflexively wrapping your arms around yourself realizing too late your modesty is still intact.

“Don’t worry, I didn’t touch you.” He is supposed to sound reassuring, but Loki’s reassuring sounds too much like disgust to your ears.

And why wouldn’t it when he has Ylva?

You turn to hide yourself, ashamed anyway. “How kind of you, going above and beyond in the name of common decency.”

You both build the walls around your hearts higher.

“I am neither common nor decent, horse girl. Remember that.”

“How could I, you don’t let anyone forget it. My Prince.”

Your hate feels better than your indifference, sounds better than your silence. At the very least it lets him know you’re alright for now.

“Try not to drown.” He scoffs.

He stays by the door to his bathing chamber, to be nearby in case you have difficulties. Nothing horrifies him worse than the idea of you actually drowning in his tub.

And though he is neither common nor decent, he still fights the maddening desire to poke his head through the door and peek.

He could, and you wouldn’t know. He’s got the magic for it and he’s definitely used it to peek at many an unsuspecting bather before. But he won’t, not you. He’s lost the privilege to look.

You bathe for an hour, maybe more, the heat and the sweet oils in the water blur your sense of time. They also blur the nausea in your stomach and make your headache recede to just beyond perception. Finally feeling well enough to stand to your feet, you rise from the bath looking for towels and clothes to wear.

He abandons his decency the moment he hears the water splash. If this is his last chance, why not take it? He is an unrepentant bastard he knows, yet the sin isn't lessened by the sinner’s acknowledgement. This is the last of his grave secrets, about how he nearly sawed through his bottom lip to keep from groaning with desire as he watched you wring water from your hair at his vanity.

He hadn’t forgotten, not truly. But it is nice to realize again you are beautiful.

When you examine the scar under your breast, dragging fingers down the long smooth line of shiny, satiny flesh he nearly caves, ready to declare himself and confess everything. He'd do it too, if he was convinced you might do anything but run from him--monster as he is.

So he watches, assured that memory is all he'll ever have of you now. But he’s still greedy, having just memory won’t ever be enough, he’s not the type to content himself with ‘just enough’. He wants all or he wants nothing--he wants all of you or nothing of you and these half measures stolen through cracks in doors will not do.

To Hel with it. His magic shimmers and he appears behind you as you work your wet hair into two braids that lie flat against your scalp. He takes a deep breath hoping to finally find the right words as he exhales.

“Prince Loki?” You call for him and he disappears, fleeing from you like a startled bird.

“Loki are you there?”

Quickly he positions himself back outside the door again. “What?” he grumbles, hoping faked annoyance covers up his panic.

“My clothes are wet, do you have anything I can wear?”

“Are you blind girl, there’s a gown and a robe waiting for you.”

You know. You can see it. It’s pale pink and lightly scented with an alluring perfume that you’ve smelled before. On Ylva.

“I don’t really think Ylva would appreciate me wearing her robes.”

Oh, Ylva. Thinking about her with you in the room was like going from starlight to candleflame. She’s probably waiting for a summons or something. Let her wait.

“I can assure you, she doesn’t care.” It’s the truth, but only because any clothing she has in his room she doesn’t wear long enough to care about.

You can content yourself stealing moments with your ex-lover while you discuss his current one. But you draw the line at wearing his new lover’s clothes. You’ll go naked before you suffer that indignity.

“Well I do.”

You hear him scoff. “Fine.”

Ylva’s clothes dissolve in front of you and new ones replace them. Yes. These are much more suitable.

“Thank you for the clothes. They’re a bit big though.”

The sleeves of his tunic are too long, you have to bunch them up around your elbows lest they fall past your fingers. The hem of it is long enough to fit you like a dress--an immodest dress, stopping at the middle of your thigh but that’s why you’re wearing the pants he provided as well. Roughspun fabric and long enough to get trampled under your feet. These are Loki’s clothes, things he hasn’t worn in ages, unearthed from the bottom of a chest somewhere in his closet.

But on you, it’s enough to halt whatever sarcastic comment he was ready to make. Naked and scarred or in his old, ill-fitting clothes, you are beautiful.

He’s staring at you, likely thinking you look ridiculous. “You put on a dress and see how flattering it fits you.”

“I could. I have.” He grins. Your eyes roll hard enough to re-aggravate your mild headache.

“Here. Eat.” He points to the trays of food he has spread out before him, thankfully lacking any hay. “Eating helps.”

Suddenly, at the sight of food, you’re ravenous. You don’t eat delicately, rather you tear mercilessly into the closest turkey leg. When you look up though, you don’t see Loki sitting across from you, mild disgust creeping across his face.

You see Fa’Dan.

Chapter Text

You have the sense to swallow before you scream, but your scream is eaten by a hall’s worth of laughing, drunken revelers.

You’re in your palace, amidst Fa’Dan and Fa’Rey and the attendants of the feast. This isn’t real, you know this. This is just a vision. But you can hear the laughter up close, smell the food. You see your mother’s halberd standing at the end of the hall, tassel swaying waiting for someone to take the legendary shot. You scramble away from the table, upsetting the food and drink but no one notices.

You scream.

No one hears.

Pain bursts across your vision like glass shattered across your head and…

“Princess!”

His voice pulls you back. You’re where you’re supposed to be, vision blurring at the edges, but you can still see your court in the corner of your eye.

“What is that? What was that?” The Sight affects your mind, not your limbs and they are dangerous. He struggles to hold you still, puts himself in peril of your fists but he holds fast.

“It’s okay Princess! Just calm down.”

You’re still special, no one’s able to resist the side-effects of Heimdall’s Sight for as long as you have--at least he didn’t.

“Go away! Goawaygoaway!.”

“What did you say mi’asha?”

Fa’Dan is speaking to you, the whole table has turned, waiting for you to repeat yourself.

“Princess?”

He snaps fingers in front of your eyes and Loki is back.

“LET ME GO! I can’t! I can’t lemmiego!”

“No! You’re fine. You’re here with me. Repeat that!”

You take too long, cursing and screaming.

“Repeat it horse girl!”

The iron Silvertongue cuts through the vision, tears it like a sword through cheap silk. You can see him again, his eyes just as wild as yours, afraid he won’t be able to calm you down.

“I’m...I…”

“You’re what N’ara?” Hava’s here now, just as you remembered her last, ashen, cold, and covered in blood. You jam your hands into your eyes again, pressing harder and harder, willing, at this point, to smash them if it will make the horrid images stop.

“GO away!”

Something sharp presses to your chest, a blade from a familiar dagger.

“Focus on this, the pain will keep you present. Focus on my voice. And you bloody well better do what I say!”

You nod. Your eyes trace the patterns in the leather on the handle. You see “For my Little Princess Love Papa” written into the design. The designs tell a story, the Sages create the patterns that tell the story and craftsfolk score them into the leather. You remember these facts, it keeps you here with Loki. It keeps you sane.

“Where are you Princess?”

“I’m here.” The words tremble.

“And where’s here?”

You hear laughter and the twang of a bow. You ignore it. “In Asgard.”

“Where? Details horse girl!”

“Your rooms.”

“And who am I?”

Fa’Dan presses his sword into your chest, half a thrust from piercing your heart. “Who am I mi’asha?”

“Who am I?”

Focus. On the voice guiding you, on the hands holding you. On the ice-green eyes that don’t sting watching you.

Focus.

On the dagger he stole with a mischievous smirk. Earn it back, Princess.

Focus.

Death can’t have you, I’m not done with you yet.

Focus.

“Who Am I?”
“My Prince!” You shout, and your uncle melts away. His brown skin lightens until it turns icy pale. His black hair straightens and lengthens to curl around his ears.

The hall shortens and the ceiling lowers. The marble columns disappear as does your throne and the long tables where your uncle and cousin sit. A bed reappears, familiar trinkets and an armor stand too. You see a golden horned helm. You see him.

Your Prince.

Hearing you call him that does not please him as much as he thinks it should. You’re not safe yet, still vulnerable to another attack. The warmth the words spark is gone before he can reach for it. He knows you said it, but he doesn’t know any more if you meant it.

“--L-l--”

“Don’t talk, don’t move, just wait a minute for reality to settle.”

He pulls the dagger away from your heart. You mean to reach for it, to take it back but you don’t trust yourself enough and you trust him too much to disobey him by moving.

He studies your eyes, watching as the milky white fades from your irises, comforted when healthy color returns. He’s glad he brought you here, torture as it is. If you were alone in your rooms when this happened, you may have hurt yourself or Se’risa in your fugue.

“Loki?” You call for him and he stiffens, saddened, lamenting he’s gone from ‘your Prince’ back to ‘Loki’ so soon. “What’s happening to me?”

“It’s a symptom of sharing Heimdall’s Sight. The one that isn’t ‘death’ or ‘madness’ anyway. Depending on the strength of the mind, your vision and potentially others will come back to you in bursts. Sometimes you’ll see it, or hear it, during the worst of it, you’ll feel it. What in Nine Hels possessed you to be so damn foolish?”

You don’t tell him that you see your mother behind him on her horse, soaked wet in rain and splattered in mud.

“I wanted to know if my people were alright.”

Loki snorts thoroughly unamused. “There it is again, that sentimentality of yours working actively to get you killed. I thought Astrid would teach you a lesson.”

Loki continues railing against you, upset your blundering almost cost him your life. You try to focus, but your mother--she’s charging at her enemies.

“And why do you need to know anyway? In victory or death, war will provide for your people.”

You flinch, unsurprised his barbs can still strike so close to your heart.

“I needed to know.”

The enemy swarms her, hands reach for her weapon and her reins. The horse bucks and bites and kicks but there are too many and she is too fine a prize.

“And what did you learn?”

His every syllable pulls you back, every gnawing silence casts you further away. He’s the lifeline but you keep slipping when you reach.

“What I needed to.”

“I hope you gain some tactical advantage for your utter stupidity.”

The enemy pulls your mother from her saddle. You can’t watch this. Don’t watch this, don’t watch-- Your gaze glasses over again, your head begins to list and he catches it before you collapse.

“No no no! Princess, no!”

He grabs your hand and pulls you to him, your fingers brush his chest over his heart and--

“Princess!”

You’re alone, so alone. You cry you’re so alone. You are wrapped in a blanket of snow but the alone is cold not the ice.

“Princess come back! The battle is won but there’s still Jotun in these hills!”

“Hava my daughter is the Princess now. Please do try to keep up. Besides, I heard crying.”

“You’re a new mother, of course everything to you would sound like a baby’s wail. Guilty conscious for leaving the little one behind so soon.”

“She is with her father. And once Odin is done here, I’ll be with her too. She’ll be fine. Now quiet!”

A voice, a sweet voice, a pretty voice, a powerful voice. The voice can save you from the alone.

You cry and cry and cry and…

“Hava! Summon Lord Odin!”

Chapter Text

You’re not alone. Not alone.

But you are cold. Freezing. So cold you shake like a seizure but arms tighten around you, they suck the cold from you.

“Princess?”

He’s groggy, tired. Held tight to you all night staying awake to one heartbeat followed the other. He held you when you turned Ice Sleep blue at your fingertips and lips and didn’t let go until sunrise.

“Loki?”

“You’re exhausting you know that?”

You see frost on your breath when you exhale, it evaporates taking bits and pieces of that vision with it, rendering it no more real to you than a dream would be.

“I’m sorry.”

“It’s the Sight. That’s all.”

You’re close enough to breathe him, there’s no space between you for even light to slip through. Only a has night passed and your bodies both remember how to fit together again. But at the same time you both let go, minds reminding bodies of what they’ve forgotten.

You hate each other.

You rub your hands where he’s touched you, willing the warmth there to spread to the rest of your rapidly cooling body.

He takes a deep breath, sighing, exhaling the last of you.

“How do you know all this. About Lord Heimdall’s Sight?”

He’s desperate to fill the silence with something that doesn’t sound like his breaking heart. He tells you what is possibly his most painful memory, up there in a great catalogue of them right next to the noise you made when Astrid was choking you to death.

“I’ve experienced it before.”

“You?”

“Who else does ‘I’ mean? Yes, me. My father decreed for a birthday ages passed that I could have whatever I wanted. Thor got those kinds of gifts, never me, and he wasted them on stupid things like a new horse or somesuch other silly trinket. I wanted to prove that I--”

“Was a just as much a worthy son as he was.”

“Who’s telling this story?” He snaps, unsettled by how close your arrow fell. “I wanted power nothing more. Heimdall’s Sight allows him to see everything everywhere. And while that’s an interesting trick, what I really wanted was the power to see men’s hearts.”

“And?”

What he wouldn’t give to have it, so he could see yours and make you see his. But…

“I can’t.”

“You saw nothing?”

“No, I saw everything except what I wanted to see.”

“What happened?”

He saw beauty and destruction beyond imagination. Whole worlds full of death and life struggling against one another. His mother was beside herself, that was too much for him to endure safely but Odin wanted to teach him a lesson about power.

“Let’s just say I paid dearly for it.”

Afterwards they thought he went mad, declared him danger to himself and others. And dangers must be dealt with, locked away. Not seen and definitely not heard.

He offers you no further explanation, but as you look at him, as he pointedly avoids your gaze, you realize you don’t need one. Your hand instinctively reaches for him and he doesn’t flinch when you touch him, running a thumb over his lips.

The scars haven’t been there for ages, but you stillsee them though your eyes tell you they aren’t there anymore. Your fingers feel the depressions where the needle and thread once passed through.

“I’m sorry.” You say, as your fingers find every hidden scar.

Your touch is powerful, so sweet it burns like boiling sugar. He’s too tired to pretend indifference anymore, too weak to care about your hate. He seizes your wrist, moving your fingers from his mouth to make room for your lips.

“Princess! By stars where are you!”

Boiling sugar cools into an ugly burnt mass of regret and unsaid things. You both separate, unaware of how close you came to never being separated again.

“Sounds like the fool’s ready to start the war without you.”

“Yes, He’s likely worried. I should go before he wakes the whole palace.”

“Yes, you should.”

“Loki I--”

His back and his silence answer you. Turned to the large windows that on a clear day allow him to see your camp. It’s packed up now, the tents folded and the horses saddled. Workers build a platform for you to give your battle speech from, where you’ll rouse your troops to give their lives for you. His family will join you down there for the ceremony, he’ll ignore it from up here.

“Thank you.” You mutter unheard as the door closes behind you.

**

The Next Day

You climb the stairs to the platform, fighting down the nausea that’s lumped in your throat. You remember her words and remind yourself again you are a Princess, Princesses aren’t lumpy. Niti smiles at you, reassuring you with a nod. She’ll be there to help you should you need it, but you won’t. You know what to say.

You wait for the soldiers to stop murmuring, Princesses command obedience remember? You stare them down and sure enough the severity of your glare makes them quiet.

“My friends.”

You don’t have to shout.

You are a Princess and they hear you.

**

“You! What in Nine Hels--!”

Of course she would be here all tangled in his sheets, he probably couldn’t wait to summon her.

“Don’t get up Ylva, I apologize for disturbing...” It’s painfully obvious and just plain painful to acknowledge it. ”Whatever. This will be quick and you can go back to...nevermind. Where is the Prince?”

The window facing your camp is shuttered closed. He almost broke it as he watched his mother and father and brother mount the platform in preparation. He drew the shades before you arrived, unwilling to make this his last vision of you.

He called for Ylva on reflex, so used to reaching for her whenever he had a hurt to numb. He’s done with her now, content to hurt or to find a stronger drug. He’ll be as delicate as he can but he cares less and less about her feelings the longer he looks for those delicate words staring out a curtained window.

He could pay her. That’s worked before. He smirks to himself remembering all his old tricks for getting rid of pesky, clingy--

”Whatever. This will be quick and you can go back to...nevermind. Where is the Prince?”

“How are you here?” Your Prince appears, summoned as only you can summon him on the power of your voice alone. His magic throws open the curtains, your army still assembled on the parade grounds below. His family still there, he can see Niti and the Fool and a figure commanding the attention of all. “Who is down there?”

“The Princess.” You answer.

“Se’risa?”

“Yes. My title is hers now. And her first act as Princess is to dismiss my army. My last act as one is to come here to say goodbye. When the sun sets on this day I’ll be no one.”

You’re not dressed for war as you should be, but travel. Your crown and cloak are hers. Every jewel Hava saved for you is hers. Every silver Odin gave you, Niti will be in charge of distributing to your soldiers, payment for wasted time. You’re only taking saddle and horse and enough memories to keep you warm at night.

“And if he wanted to say goodbye he would have been down there, you’re being a nuisance--”

You’ve been kind to your so-called friend, you don’t wish her any ill. But you’ll still have your due, you’re not a commoner, not yet.

“A princess is talking and you have not been addressed duchess! Still your tongue before I steal it!”

Ylva can’t summon wit fast enough to counter you so her mouth hangs open hoping for Loki to take up her defense. Instead he laughs, amused by a memory.

Keep your gilded tongue still before I geld it!

Ylva folds her arms and sits. Just a little longer. A little longer and she’ll win everything.

“You’re not fighting?”

You shake your head. “No. I will not win my throne back with blood. Heimdall showed me my people are happy to forget me so let me be forgotten. If there comes a time when my people need their true heir, it’ll be her. Niti has my will and my wishes. If that time never comes, she’ll remain here a Princess.”

“You’re leaving her here?”

He’s unprepared for your smile as always. It’s power disarms him. “I’ve heard the Princess has a wonderful teacher here. One whom she’s very fond of and, as she says, is reluctantly fond of her. So I dare not take her from such a beloved instructor.”

“The filly exaggerates.”

“Perhaps. But she’s happy here so…”

“But if you’re not fighting, if you’re leaving her, where are you going?”

HIs mind is too slow, protecting his heart from what it knows. If you aren’t going, and if you won’t stay it’s only because--

“My home is lost to me. And this place...” Ylva remains quiet, equal parts censured child and cornered snake. “Can no longer be home either. So I’ll go and make a new home.”

Because of him.

Of course.

“And I suspect the fool will join you.” Betraying his penchant for jealousy, he hopes you won’t be alone.

“He asked.” Begged is the better word but for love of you he saw your reason. “But my commander is under orders to protect his princess. He will remain here with Se’risa.”

You’ve held together pretty well until you finally say aloud you’re leaving everyone. It’s better this way, you know it. You know you shouldn’t stay but if he asked....

If he asked…

Ylva is still here, still half naked, still waiting for you to leave. And Loki stands in what can only be silent contempt for abandoning the girl the way you abandoned him.

No, he won’t ask.

Saying goodbye was not a waste of time but now it’s past time to go.

“I said this would be quick so let me make it quick. I’m sorry. For everything. For being the fool you always say I am. And all of this is too late, I know. I made a mistake and you’ve every right to hate me for it. But I need to tell you I don’t regret any of it. If the stars allowed me to go back to the day we met, if having the chance to love you means losing my kingdom every time.”

Unprepared still, your smile weakens him.

“I’ll take my chances. Every time.”

Loki laughs at you. He doubles over, holds his stomach and laughs. You can make out the single word ‘fool’ and nothing else.

You are a fool and he is too. The stars just love being poetic and, in gratitude, he’ll let them have their poetry.

He rights himself, makes a great show of dabbing his eyes. Relieved as he is, it’s not enough to make him cry. He’s not that pathetic. He might have shed a tear or two if you had really gone but thankfully you’ve saved him from that dishonor.

“Are you done yet?”

You pinned no hopes on this so you are prepared for this kind of response. You knew he wouldn’t ask.

“Yes.”

Cephalus awaits you at the gate. You’ll head east, maybe north. You hear Ylva heave a sigh of relief when you leave them.

“Of course he wouldn’t ask.” You curse, biting back tears you aren’t ashamed to shed forgetting the simple fact-

“Dare you turn your back on your Prince! You will not move another inch horse girl!”

Loki never asks.

He demands.

Chapter Text

He doesn’t spare Ylva a second glance, doesn’t waste the breath to tell her she should be gone before he returns. She knows she’s lost by the casual shrug he gives her before chasing you down.

“Dare you turn your back on your Prince?! ”

He punishes you for your insolence, his magic dancing back and forth across your skin rooting you to the ground mid-stride. It’s not powerful by design, you’re not trapped but held by a familiar pair of proxy arms wrapped loosely around you--arms you could walk away from if you wished.

Hope keeps you still though, makes your heart race, floods your face with tears, and flushes your skin with heat.

“You will not move another inch horse girl!”

You hear the slow click of boots on marble, he takes his time, approaching with caution or deference or both. You don’t move, you can, but you don’t, waiting for him to come to you, deciding between footsteps how much grief you want to cause him for all the grief he’s caused you.

Forgiveness, you’ve decided, is a given. But he doesn’t need to know that yet.

It’s his boots you see first, your head frozen in a downward tilt until fingertips under your chin change your gaze, lifting it to his eyes. He hides uncertainty behind a green film of mischief. His smirk is too short and his touch is too timid. You could still flee.

“Where are your manners Princess? You were not dismissed.”

You keep still, you let his magic and his hands hold you, glutting in the sensation, but you break a bit of the spell to answer. “I was unaware that I needed your permission.”

“You don’t.” He answers softly. “Nor did you ever. And yet you’re still here…”

“Because I choose it.”

“Still?” His mask of confidence slips a bit revealing the real fear he kept trying to bury under Ylva.

So alone so alone so alone

You dart your eyes behind you in time to see Ylva slip quietly away. She won’t make a scene, not yet, there aren’t enough people yet to witness the one she means to make. “Well you certainly don’t make it an easy choice.”

He puts that mask back on, but it hangs crookedly on him echoing the half-hearted smile on his face. “If it were easy, it wouldn’t be fun.”

You remember the snake that coiled around your arm and the gossip and the snickers and the sympathy stares that made you feel pathetic. His touch is a conduit, what you feel he feels. He knew you hurt, that was, after all, his goal. But he didn’t or rather refused to understand how badly you tore at your own heart.

“I don’t think of heartbreak as fun.”

Forced to confront what he’s ignored, your grief shames him and Loki, finally, smashes the mask unravelling the smirk on his face into a thin line of sorrow. “Nor should you. And yet....”

You feel the ‘don’t go’ beat in his heart change tempo, becoming ‘don’t stay’. He thinks he deserves no better lesson.

The alone is colder than the snow

“I am here.”

He shakes his head, growling your response before you do. “Because you choose it.”

“Yes.”

Frustration moves him, his hands fly to your face, fitting it between his hands. There’s a snarl on his face but his fingers are so gentle on you a flower’s petals wouldn’t bruise.

“Tell me why fool girl.”

“Earn my answer arrogant prince.”

“Is it an apology you want then?” Loki, with grand flourish and a grander smirk, flutters his cape behind him as he falls to his knees, hands folded in prayer. “I am truly sorry.” He places his hand over his heart, bows his head, and waits for your absolution. “Please forgive me.”

And he waits.

People begin to filter through the halls, returning from the ceremony to see a prince on his knees in supplication before a common woman.

And he waits.

He doesn’t move and neither do you, both perfectly still and silent as the crowds grow. They whisper, wondering aloud what exactly is going on.

And he waits.

Queen Frigga, Prince Thor, King Odin, Lady Niti, Commander Edvard, and the Princess Se’risa push to the fore of the crowd, all of them falling silent in face of this spectacle until--

“What in Nine Hels are you doing to my--”

Magic shutters Lord Odin’s mouth, holds him still in a magic embrace he can’t just break.

“Quiet you old fool, you will not ruin this for me!”

Thor begins a laugh but Frigga freezes her son with only a glance.

Then waits with the rest of them.

Loki’s pride dwindles the longer he’s made to remain on his knees, yet he remains. The power of your gentle patient smile roots him there the way his magic has rooted you.

You both can break your holds, his magic over you, your power over him, but you both remain.

Choosing to.

“I could be vindictive you know and just never forgive you.” Your tease bears a lingering note of reproach. Your spite is justified and you both know it. “How long will your pride allow you to wait down there Prince Loki?”

He returns your jest, flavoring his own with honest contrition. He knows words and grand public gestures won’t suffice. Apologies are actions done daily and done earnestly.

“I’ll wait for as long as you mean to stay.”

You hear his heart beat the answer, and it echoes the one in your chest. And somehow, someway you both know it’s the same.

Power fizzles, magic shatters.

You both move because you choose to, hearts thundering like it’s the end of the world.

When he kisses you, he whispers it and you return the same answer with your lips.

“‘Til Ragnarok.”

Chapter Text

It would be your luck for Ragnarok to descend upon your head then and there.

You await Odin’s rage when he breaks himself out of his wife’s spell. You see it stirring under his single eyed gaze, but the lord of storms masters his own and only sighs. He regards you sadly, solemnly, with a tone of respect you haven’t heard from him since you met him in your mother’s war room.

“It is a shame such royalty, you and the little one both--for her courage addressing an army impressed me--are without a kingdom to rule.”

“My Lord, if you’re trying to guilt me into changing my mind, I won’t. My peoples’ lives more than pay for my exile and dishonor.”

“There is no dishonor in a queen who values life above all else. The dishonor is mine.”

The Lord of Asgard tips his head in apology, the most he’ll offer, before suffering another insufferable grin from his wife and departing. It’s genuine, you feel the truth of his words but they are not full, a thick shell covering a hollow center filled with...failure.

“My mother never wanted a princess you know.” You call after him. “She wanted a happy daughter, that’s all. I’m happy here, I’ve been happy here. You haven’t failed her.”

Odin breaks his stride and you again ready yourself for a storm but his voice isn’t angry, only curious.

“How did?”

The Allfather finds his answer in your eyes before amending his words. “How...fortunate then.”

And ironic.

**

“Hava! Summon Lord Odin!”

Every wail and tear from the child breaks her heart, injures her like a lash across the back.

“Are you hurt?” He asks, the child in his arms, blue skinned and scored with barbarous markings.

“She is a new mother,” her servant and bodyguard explains. “This babe reminds her of the one she left behind to fight for you.”

“Asgard had need of you my lady.” He answers simply.

“And,” She flinches when another shriek rents the air. “Our honor demanded we answer...Please let me hold him he’s cold!”

“He’s a frost child, this is nothing to him.”

“Still, my Lord, give him to me.”

He quiets the moment he touches her arms, coos as Thor once did when he was fresh in the cradle. Odin’s heart softens but only just. It is a babe, innocent of course, but he had only considered leaving it behind and letting the will of the Stars mete his fate. Taking a Jotun home would be like taking a snake to breast and hoping you could teach it the love and loyalty of a dog. In the end you would only be poisoned.

But still, there could be use for him and Odin considers this use as he watches her cradle and kiss the child, knowing Frigga would be the same the moment she laid eyes on him.

“Give him to me.” He commands. “I will take him home.”

She nods but holds him a little longer, humming and smiling at the boy.

“There there sweetling, there there. You’re alright. See? You won’t be alone anymore. I have a daughter, just your age. I cannot wait for you to meet her one day. She would love you.”

**

Odin’s gaze settles on your linked hands and laced fingers, his son menacing him with stare that still reminds him of the snake and not the dog.

“Calm yourself Loki, I won’t interfere again. Woman like her, I don’t think it’ll do much good. I wish you your happiness.”

For as long as it can last. He thinks, knowing it won’t.

**

Se’risa skips she’s so happy, holding your hand, swinging it as she walks. Loki keeps a half step behind you both, unsure of his place, not knowing if joining you would interrupt your moment or share it. Unfortunately his distant pace lines him up with the Fool and the Servant, neither of whom have the kind eyes for him that you and the filly do. “Princess, It might take a day or two to right your rooms, in the meantime Lady Frigga has offered us her chambers.”

“Why not stay with me?”

Niti eyes him up and down and back up again, glaring at him. “Why not indeed.”

“Do you mock me?”

“Openly.” Your party stops, the makings of another confrontation brewing. For you, he’ll suffer unimaginable slights to his pride, for Niti, not so much.

“Did you not see I have atoned or did all that paint obscure your vision?” Loki mocks the line of kohl around Niti’s eyes but she sucks her teeth at him.

“Not to me, and not enough to her, not as far as I’m concerned.”

You know your friend means well and you know too that your hurts won’t disappear with a kiss but right now you’re exhausted and want nothing more than a bath and a nap and time to process what comes next. “Niti… this is not the…”

“I owe you nothing!” But your lover is as hotheaded as your friend. The die is cast now so the game must finish.

“Oh! You don’t think so? Well I got news for you silvertongue, you weren’t the one that had to pick her off the floor when she was crying at night! I want an apology for that!”

“Niti, don’t!”

He chooses not to end this, not to press on his magic like a button to mute her. He listens, the sneer on his face turning inward as she goes on.

“Nor were you there to push her guts back in when she would get so angry she’d beat half the army to death!”

“NIti please. He doesn’t…”

“No, Princess. I do. Go on Niti.”
The kohl around her eyes starts to run, angry tears getting the better of her as she recalls everything. It’s not about you anymore

 

“AND! You weren’t there when one morning she just wakes up smiling, going about the day like a normal person making you wonder who the Hel she slept with to make it all better without telling ME her BEST FRIEND realizing too late that OH, she hasn’t gotten laid she’s just dead inside. I want an apology for that!”

“Great Stars bury me. Niti. I wasn’t that bad.”

“Yes you were.” Se’risa answers, refuting you from behind your leg.

“So as far as I’m concerned, you gotta apologize to me, to Se’risa, to the Princess several times a day. You gotta go to the temple and apologize to her mother, her father, Hava...”

“I’m sorry.” He interrupts. “Truly. And I will do as you ask.”

“I…” She’s not ready for his sincerity, expects if for you, maybe Se’risa, but not her. “I… I wasn’t asking.” She fakes her annoyance but relents. “Ok...alright I’ll admit it, that whole ‘till Ragnarok’ thing was pretty sweet. I guess I’ll give you another chance.”

His bow is becoming a new trademark. He makes one for her and Se’risa then goes back to you but when he rises he steals a kiss, muttering something about stealing you away from his mother’s rooms at night. Niti, annoyed she can’t stay seem to stay annoyed, finds one last reason to stay annoyed.

“AND ANOTHER THING! We gotta talk about the Duchess.”

“Nine Hels do you really think I’m that stupid?!”

“You’ve already proven it acting as you did.”

Loki groans, thinking it was supposed to get easier after the apology. But if it were easy…

“Point. Taken.”

“I better not see, hear, or smell her anywhere near you. If she’s coming down the hall you better pick another hall. And don’t think I won’t know. I got eyes everywhere ‘Mr. Til Ragnarok’. Speaking of...what did she do when you told her the good news?”

**

She doesn’t suffer, maybe she endures a moment or two of shame but her anger doesn’t allow her to suffer and even then, most of that anger is self directed for letting luck decide her fate.

Ylva’s kept her hands clean aside from one spot of blood she washed back onto the victim, but no reward is worth having if you don’t put in the work.

But now.

But now!

Even the reward is lost to her.

But no matter.

There are better rewards to be had.

“What are you offering?”

These barbarians have names that she’ll just have to learn to pronounce later, it’d do no good for a princess to garble her prince’s name. But these are simple men, with simple tastes, best not offer them the gold first if they’ll work for dirt.

“The head of the whore who defeated your plans in the gorge, whose mother defeated you before that.”

The younger man huffs.

“You ask us to shame our gods and attack an enemy unawares in his home. You must offer more than that.”

She is unfazed by his disgust resolving to teach him better manners, from the way he looks at her, he’ll be her willing student if the instruction is right. She isn’t pleased but also isn’t surprised they won’t take her offer, she was always ready to offer more.

“Asgard.”

The Barbarian King glances sidelong at his son, mutters something in their gutter tongue that she resigns herself to learn too at some point.

“My father wants to know what you want in return.”

Ylva rises and draws her furs around her shoulders. It’s as cold as Jotunheim here but thankfully the men are more palatable, not even a crown is worth coupling with a frost giant. She drapes herself in the prince’s lap, eyes the son dreamily as she answers the father.

“Asgard.”

Chapter Text

It looks like an act to her eyes, her son appeasing his long suffering mother for his behavior by way of performative kindness, going through all the motions her old heart desperately desires both her sons to make.

 

“Ok filly, shall we show them what you’ve learned?”

 

Se’risa scrunches her face the way you do when you’re embarrassed and shows you and the Queen what she’s learned. Small objects in the room float, Frigga’s necklace rises from her neck and her hair stands on end. She is delighted by the charm but you protest loudly.

 

“Put me down Se’risa, put me down! The stars gave us horses as we were not meant to fly! Please put me down!?”

 

A lump of motherly pride swells in her throat on Se’risa’s behalf and Loki’s when she realizes this is no act, he enjoys this.

 

Sweet stars! He’s always had a family but now he’s made his own, gaining without trying what he’s most wanted all his life. Odin is wrong, has always been wrong about him. The darkness is there, she’s seen it, he made an example of it this entire time at your expense.

 

But with the way her son smiles at you--

 

“Well look at that, the horse princess grew wings!”

 

And the way he laughs with the girl--

 

“But you bore me with parlor tricks filly.”

 

And the way you both beam back at him--

 

“Then give me a challenge.”

 

“First put me down!”

 

No darkness can take root in the presence of so much light. Frigga must excuse herself quickly lest tears of joy ruin the demonstration.

 

“Princess, I have need of your dagger.”

 

“Wha--huh?”

 

Those tears dry up quickly.

 

With a flick of his black nailed fingers, your dagger comes free from it’s home on your belt, he sheds the leather sheath and makes it hover in the air above his hand.

 

“Ready girl?”

Her enthusiastic nod stops your heart and Frigga’s too.

 

“Ready!”

 

“Loki Odinson if you dare!”

 

Magic propels it from him faster than an arrow, aiming for the child’s heart. You feel a pop in your ears loud enough to trigger the faintest pain behind your eyes. When you open them, you’re on the ground and your dagger hovers playfully in front of Se’risa’s face, both the girl and Loki grinning, successful conspirators.

 

You regain your footing, panting, trying to slip a rein around your galloping heart. “I’ll tear you both to pieces!”

 

“My son is mine,” Frigga gasps. “You take Se’risa.”

 

She doesn’t magic him down, merely seizes him by the ear, a submission move he bears willingly as the only performative act of the day.

 

“You could have hurt her!”

 

“She was never in any harm, I trusted her abilities. You should trust my teachings Mother.”

 

“Come here you little cowpie! You scared the life out of me!”

 

Se’risa too, in performative acts, lets you catch her, making her float in your own way by hauling her bodily off the ground.

 

“I was never gonna get hurt!”

 

Your fingers tickle instead of tear and you blow raspberries instead of curses.

 

Frigga needs to leave the room again, but her son hands her the needed handkerchief.

 

“Don’t start, you’ll melt.”

 

“Lie to me silvertongue and tell me you haven’t thought the same about them. How good they’d be!”

 

He’s silent, a tacit acknowledgement of her point, yet another grave secret for him to bury at the bottom of his heart.

 

A good mother.

 

A good wife.

 

A good daughter.

 

Frigga finally flees.

 

**

You watch the sunset from Frigga’s window as Se’risa prepares for bed, remembering what you said to her at it’s rising.

 

“When the sun sets on this day you will be the Princess in earnest and I will be...it doesn’t matter. Know that with all my heart, I love you girl, as if you were mine. I won’t stay gone forever, I will come back. And maybe one day, stars willing, I will be able to take you home.”

 

“This is home.” She said to you.

 

It will be hard to see it as such, even now after everything.

 

“Princess?”

 

“Hmm? You comfy? All settled?”

 

Se’risa nods and draws the covers to her neck, winter’s first greetings frost the windows and Frigga’s hearth roars back the cold. It’s usually never enough for either of you.

 

“I’m fine but I wanted to ask you something.”

 

“Anything.”

 

“Where would you have gone if you left? Where would you be?”

 

Loki wonders this too but remains silent observer at the door. Day’s end has made him quiet and anxious. You are here and you will stay and he can’t ask for much more than that, but he wishes to. For things to return to the moment before he walked into that throne room.

 

But Loki has no power over time. Maybe one day he will, then he could take the time he’s wasted back. Though since he can’t regain it, he’ll have to rebuild it. He’ll have to be patient, cautious.

 

“I thought you were going to ask me for a bedtime story.”

 

“So tell me a story then.” Se’risa teases.

 

“I see our prince has rubbed off on you too much. You’re learning his mouthiness.”

 

Loki snorts derisively. “You blame me but neglect a mirror’s reflection. Besides, clever mages should have clever tongues.”

 

“I’ll thank you not to teach her any more knifeplay!”

 

“Why not? At her age I knew the sword...” He grins at her who grins back. “ And staff.”

 

“She’ll learn the spear and I’ll be the one giving instruction!”

 

Another snort sounds in the room, Niti, draped over a couch with a glass of wine in her hand glad to be back in a proper palace then shivering in a field tent.

 

“Somewhere an Allmother is sobbing--her room fills up and she drowns happily wondering how her younger son got the wife and kid first.”

 

“NITI!”

 

Niti laughs while you and the prince pointedly ignore the subtle truth in her words. You’re still figuring out ‘what now?’ and had given no thought to ‘what next?’.

 

“Guys! My story?”

 

You welcome the distraction from your own thoughts. “I don’t know where I would go. Maybe to Vanaheim or Midgard or Alfheim. The Princess and her Crimson Rabbit traveled back and forth across all Nine Realms. Maybe it would have been time for her namesake to do the same. But wherever I ended up, I’d be missing you katkat.”

 

It slips, but sounds more natural than a mistake.

 

“Mama…” Her mother is gone. But just like a home, she can have more than one. “Mama used to call me that. I...don’t remember what it means anymore.”

 

“Just another way to say child.” Your lie stings Loki’s ears and piques his memory.

 

“Good night Se’risa.”

 

“That’s not long enough!”

 

“We agreed on story only, not it’s length.”


“See? And she complains of me. Goodnight Filly, learn to negotiate better.”

Chapter Text

“Will she disturb Frigga in there?”

You will spend the next few nights as her guests while your rooms are restored. From Se’risa’s temporary quarters it is a short walk to your own. Frigga’s wing encompasses half the palace and yet you still feel like a nuisance.

“That is the old nursery from when my brother and I were infants. She’ll be fine. Mother’s likely delighted to have a child in there at all. She means to have her sons fill it one day--we have proven disappointments in that regard,” He fixes you with a pregnant stare before finishing his thought. “And many others.”

“Would you even want to--fill it I mean?”

Loki shudders. “No, it’s fine as it is now.”

You’re alone for the first time since this morning, together again after so long and so much without the slightest idea how to carry forward. For you, night was for bittersweet memory and for him it was about burying it. The biggest mountain of forgiveness has been crossed but now the smaller ones loom in the horizon seemingly endless.

And you two have broken, awkward, shuffling, anxious feet.

“You’re retiring too?” He sounds weak, grateful that you graciously ignore his pathetic tone.

“I’m exhausted, battling a headache all day. Sleep should cure me.”

“I could brew something for you? Herb lore isn’t my specialty but a tonic for pain is simple enough.”

“Don’t trouble, it’s mild enough, contained to one side. I’ll be fine in the morning.”

“It would be no trouble, truly.”

“I’ll be fine, honestly.”

Your short walk ends at door to a guest room, temporary quarters as grand as your permanent ones will be. He does not cross the threshold, presuming no invitation. As much as he wants you, to stay with you, he’s not sure exactly what you want.

He’ll wait he decides, oddly content when patience was never his strongest suit. He bides for a prank’s payoff or a sprung trap because the reward was always greater than the inconvenience. But waiting for your word, that he has the pleasure to at all, is no inconvenience.

“I bid you goodnight then.”

“Wait...” You’re able, but unwilling to spend this night alone. You don’t know ‘what now’ or ‘what next’ but you don’t want to be alone.

He earnestly tries not to sound too eager, “Yes Princess?”

“Would you stay for a little while?”

He tries to hide his excitement. Really. Too hard in fact. He protests a little too much, rolling his eyes at you, killing whatever hope you had for a night not spent alone. “But I understand if that’s not…”

He sticks his hand in the closing door, sacrificing three of his fingers to stop you. “Wait. Ask me again.”

“You really don’t have to if you don’t want to. I get it. Asgard wasn’t built in day and it’ll take time for us to--”

The Prince of Lies loves to claim superiority in martial, mental, and magical faculties, but he is a fool when it comes to you, bumbling in word and deed. “Ask me again. Please.”

“Your fingers...”

“Hurt. A lot. But if it keeps this door open...”

You scrunch your nose reminding him of Se’risa and though you cast no spells it still feels like magic inside him. “Would you stay for a little while?”

He chooses to ignore his pride again, answering with all the earnesty and eagerness in his heart.

“Yes.”

**

You sniff the tincture and take a tentative sip. “This tastes awful.”

“That’s how you know it works. Mild or no, your headache will dissipate.”

You’re alone with him, a fact blunted by him taking the first half hour of the time to brew you a potion for your headache. But now that he’s done, you both must confront the awkward sly stares and silences that punctuated that time. Overcome or succumb to them.

“Your mother won’t mind you being here?”

“As long as we keep it down.”

You roll your eyes, so hard it hurts one of them.

“I meant conversation!” His ears redden. Embarrassed by the truth for a change.

“So what quiet conversation should we have?” You pretend to fiddle with the drink, giving your eyes an excuse to not stare. Every one makes your heart ache for different reasons, sometimes longing sometimes pain.

You thought it’d be easier after the apology.

But if it were easy...

“You invited me, I figured you had an idea.”

There’s ample room next to you on the divan, he’d take it but you’re too busy staring at the potion, staring at the floor, the ceiling, the stars outside the window, everywhere but at him. ‘Stay close’ you say in word. ‘Keep your distance’ you say in deed. So he takes a spot on the opposite end of the sitting room, close to the door to make an exit if he needs.

“Surely there must be something, we do have catching up to do. What have you been up to?”

“I’m sure you know exactly how I occupied my time and therefore understand that might not be the most appropriate of topics.”

He’s right of course, you heard, sometimes in explicit detail, but that sword has dulled over repeated use, it doesn’t cut so deeply anymore.

“The Frost Giant in the room won’t go away unless it’s addressed.”

There’s a beat of silence, your head throbs and you take another sip of the acrid tonic, grateful it’s warm enough to keep night’s cold at bay.

“No, but do you really want to talk about her?”

No. But talking about her means you don’t have to talk about you or him or this awkwardness so sharp it cuts.

“What was she like?”

“She wasn’t you.”

“Assuredly not. But still, I’m curious. Did she make you happy?”

“No.”

“Did you have fun at least?”

“No.”

“Was there anything redeeming about her at all?”

He thinks for a moment, killing your curiosity with punishing honesty. “She wasn’t you.”

You take a long sip of your medicine, its taste of no consequence now, bitterness already full in your mouth.

“Have I made you regret your decision already?” He asks.

“No. Your honesty hurts but it’s appreciated.”

“Would you like more then?”

You nod, “Honesty’s far more refreshing don’t you think?”

He reaches for wine and pours himself some, looking to occupy his hands while he fights back a bit of shame. He knows a dig when he hears one. “She’s sharp. Insufferably so.”

“Is it because she’s actually insufferable or because you don’t like it when people are smarter than you?”

“It can be both Princess.” He mutters into his glass. He gluts in the burn of the wine, lets the conversation lapse to have more of it. This isn’t perfect, not yet, but at least this is comfortable. No mothers, no servants, no children watching taking bets on the next time you’ll kiss.

You must re-learn, or recreate a new comfortable with each other and that’s best done unobserved, naturally, and without comment.

Maybe even with a bit of pain.

“Why her?” You ask this, knowing the answer will hurt more than it helps.

And so does he.

“I told you why.”

“Yes but there are a million others in the Palace and beyond who are Not Me.”

He takes another long gulp of wine, sighing into the glass knowing you’d insist on more brutal honesty. “She is your antithesis she is...was also your friend. I needed as far away from you as I could get while staying close. You chose to leave me, and I chose to show you I didn’t care. It was personal. Otherwise I’d have chosen wine to drown sorrows in.”

“And not her tits.”

Loki snorts, the burn of the wine flaring in his nose instead of his throat. “Language, Princess.”

“Admit it.” Your eyes brighten with mischief in the firelight compelling Loki to yet again choose truth.

“Yes Princess. They were nice tits.”

“You should probably apologize.”

“To her...tits?”

“Their owner.”

“Are you utterly mad girl?”

“Perhaps. But she didn’t deserve being used as a weapon to hurt me. She might have actually liked you.”

He laughs, warming you enough to put the nasty medicine down. “She never deserved your friendship and that naivete will kill you one day. She never cared for me anymore than I cared for her. We were both means to ends. A duchess can aim no higher than a prince and even if she misses like she has, being seen with me gets her seen by others just as high.”

“Sounds like you talked all this out in a formal agreement.”

“Princess, my dear, we didn’t talk that much.”

“Oh.” Brutal honesty, swung like club, finally hits too hard. “Don’t…” You intercept his apology before he can make it. “I asked for it, rather haphazardly but I did. Lancing boils hurt but are necessary right?”

You finally choose to raise your gaze from just under his chin to his eyes. He sees your wounds, but in your eyes he sees them healing. And the longer you stare the stronger your gaze becomes, like he’s a comfort. But he owes you a few of his wounds too, a pound of his flesh he means to pay.

“Well since we’re underway in this beating of honesty, what were you upt to?”

Your first instinct is to lie, more for sake of your pride than protection of his ego. But he glares, daring you to lie now when he’s been so honest, waiting for it to fail on your tongue like all your lies do.

“Niti wasn’t wrong.”

His heart lurches, but he swallows his rising gorge and asks for more punishment.

“That barely stung. Try harder.”

“I did cry.”

The club swings around, catches him in the knees.

“Harder.”

“A lot.”

Now it hits his jaw. “Barely a bruise.”

“You’re lying.”

He keeps quiet, makes you second guess yourself to tease more truth from you, you’ll stop when you know it hurts him, he doesn’t want you to.

“You’re lying.” You repeat, rising from your chair near the fire to join him across the room. Truth has made you bold, made you sick of being so far from him. Truth moves you from your divan and into his space, close enough to see the light flush in his skin from the wine.

While truth emboldens you, wine emboldens him. He doesn’t retreat when you settle so close, he challenges you, stays rooted, a game to see which one flinches first.

“Always Princess.”

“Is this how we’re going to be now, pained and awkward?”

“I am amenable to alternatives.”

“What about a kiss? Just to start.”

You watch one of his eyebrows reach to touch his hairline. “I thought we did the ‘kiss and makeup’ already.”

“We definitely kissed, still working on the ‘makeup’ part.”

“I have work to do then.”

Chapter Text

He doesn’t wait for your light chuckle to die, he kisses you in the middle of it--at its peak--to taste the laughter on your lips. He himself tastes sad, sampling your quiet moment of joy while having none of his own to share.

“What's wrong?” You withdraw and that sadness deepens--again he’s ruined a good thing.

One last time he brandishes honesty like a weapon knowing this blow will be fatal.

“I can’t.”

He tightens his grip on your waist when you withdraw further, thinking you’ve crossed some line being so close. “No, listen, I mean I can’t promise you won’t shed any more tears because of me.”

He lets you go when you nod, acknowledging this final bit of deadly truth, but you don’t move. With that knowledge firmly in hand and heart you fix your hands on his face, keeping him still for your kiss.

“I know,” you murmur breathing against his mouth, coaxing it open with soft light pecks to his lips. “No more than I can promise you my own perfection. What matters is we try.”

You try and succeed to part his mouth, he stills and you move, guiding his tongue to yours. She wasn’t you, and you must remind him how to kiss a Princess and not a Duchess.

“We learn from our mistakes.” You hiss when he nips your lip too hard. He softens, kisses the bite in apology. “Not just yours. Not just mine.”

You control pace and depth, receding when he pushes, stilling him when he moves. When he growls impatiently you chuckle.

“But ours.”

“What makes you think I’m capable of learning anything?”

His fingers carefully climb up the nape of your neck, tangle in your tangles of hair. He breaks a mold and casts a new one for you, remembering that kissing a Duchess never compared to kissing you, a Princess.

“I trust you.”

“I hate the word,” He rumbles, the fingers in your hair tightening, your lips are torn from his and the column of your throat opens to him. “Banish it from your vocabulary.”

He punctuates the lesson with a bite to your thrumming pulse. Your voice drops, loses all timber and becomes a breathy blow against his ear.

“Then I’ll have to call it something else.”

“Pick a word, any word, I am sick to death of trust.” He mouths your pulse, licks it preparing for another bite but your words defang him, makes his own pulse stop.

“Love.”

He sucks in a gasp, startled like he’d never heard the word. He has but oh has it been so long that he forgot what it does to him when he hears you say it. Earnesty and eagerness fight for space in his voice, embarrassment wins heavily salted with fabricated indifference.

“What about it?”

You wiggle away from him, anxious to look at his face when you repeat yourself.

“I love you.”

Humility finds him suddenly and smooths the bite in his grin. “Of course you do.”

He laughs when you scoff--genuinely enjoying the sweet kind of exasperation he inspires in you.

“Though now I wonder why.”

“That makes two of us.”

He lets you go--you let him let you go. You relinquish each other consigning that fleeting moment of passion to the fire--letting it sizzle into embers the way your touch sizzles on the other’s skin. There will be time--there's nothing but time--but there’s not enough kindling for that kind of blaze, not yet. It is growing though, fed by your words flaring like oil splashed on infant embers turning smoking coals into crackling flame, one that grows higher when he echoes you.

“I love you Princess.”

He declares himself honestly, nakedly, melting walls of ice and fear to do it--letting himself be singed and blackened like burnt offerings to the stars.

You ready your retort, a repeat of his earlier snark, when a light pain lances through your temple running your skull through left to right. Your words falter and suddenly the hearth is too hot and all light is too bright.

“Princess?”

“My head still. Guess herb lore really isn’t your specialty.”

Loki hums, affronted. “You must give it the proper time, fool. Do you apply a bandage and cry foul when the wound still bleeds?”

“Fine, fine, not so loud.”

“I wasn’t....to bed with you Princess.”

You brave piercing light to open your eyes. “Can I convince you to stay any longer?”

“No,” He declares adding more when your hopeful expression cracks apart.

“You needn’t convince the willing.”

You reach for a helping hand to find your feet, one he doesn’t offer in favor of lifting you into his arms. He makes his lips ice for you so his cold kiss soothes your throbbing temples.

“If I didn’t know any better.” His steady sway soothes as he carries you. “I’d say you were half a Frost Giant, with your affinity for ice and cold and such.”

He chuckles. “My mother loves everyone--I wouldn’t be surprised.” It’s an amusing, delightful little thought, more so for the idea of the Lord of Asgard crowned with cuckold’s horns instead of gold.

Magic folds back sheets and dims candlelight into quiet, comforting dark. Magic dresses you comfortably for a bed made of furs and feathers instead the dirt and leaves you prepared yourself for at day’s beginning. Magic of a different sort--a lovelier sort--settles him next to you wrapping arms that take cold and leave warmth around you.

“Would that be so bad Princess?” He asks.

You open your eyes grateful for the dark but able to see the sharp cut of your Prince’s jaw and eyes that you know to be green and not red. You’ve never seen a Frost Giant but you’ve heard tales from Hava about beasts and tales from Mother about worthy adversaries. You try to imagine him with skin as blue as yours is brown--etched in marks that flare with frozen magic when touched. You think of his green eyes bled crimson, of breath that frosts when he breathes.

You imagine that body pressed to yours, white teeth and black nails that etch markings of fire in your skin to mirror the markings of ice in his. He is cold to touch but when you do you still burn. You imagine that frosted breath on your neck--a deeper alien voice purring as he calls your name.

Princess. My Princess.

You shudder.

“Am I really that hideous in your imagination?”

You swallow thickly taking a deep breath, willing your racing heart to quiet before he mistakes your lust for fear.

“No.”

Chapter Text

It’s still dark when you wake in an unfamiliar room cloaked in shadows that dance with corporeal weight as they move. You reach for a dagger finding nothing.

You shout. “Who’s there!?”

And no one answers.

You are alone.

The alone hurts worse than the cold.

You remember dreams of your Prince and blue skin and red eyes, voices shouting.

Please let me hold him! He’s cold!

Dare you walk away from your Prince!

Discomfort blunted from heavy sleep lingers in your head and behind your eyes exerting pressure that throbs with your every heartbeat. You have difficulty detangling dream from memory from imagination.

Where are you?

Why are you alone?

Worse than cold.

Was everything a dream?

I love you Princess

A draft chills you, but the furs tucked around you neck keep the worst at bay. He remembers you are a Lowlander, that you are easily chilled.

And you remember this is no dream.

“Loki?”

He’s tucked you in under extra covers and furs but he is not here, perhaps slipping out after you fell asleep to return to his own rooms before his mother…

Right, Frigga.

You smile to yourself understanding it’s for the best he’s gone.

You make a robe of the furs he’s piled on you and strike a candle to light the way to Se’risa’s room. She has trouble, you remember, sleeping in new places. It took a few weeks tucked in your arms for her to acclimate to the army camp.

You poke your head in the door, hoping Niti remembered to leave a lit candle for her. You’ll leave yours if she didn’t but you find it is unnecessary.

Her room is already bathed in soft light.

There are stars on walls and on the ceiling, thousands of little soft pinpricks of light that remind you of something you’ve seen before in a dream. The light shifts and rearranges, casting patterns on a girl’s sleeping face.

And a man’s.

There’s a book open on his chest and Se’risa’s head rests on his shoulder, tucked into his arms the way she once tucked into yours.

They sleep under starlight each keeping away the other’s nightmares.

And you will not disturb them.

“Wait.” Loki calls softly to you. He dissolves into magic taking the starlight with him, melting away from the girl as quietly and gently as he can.

“Leave the candle.” He whispers.

You do, along with a kiss to her forehead and a kiss to his.

“What was that for?” He asks, safely away from Se’risa.

Your covered snort answers him and nothing more.

“What?” He growls. “Why are you looking at me like that?”

You feign innocence and answer him with more soft giggles. He stalks after you back to your bedroom sealing you inside with him. “Speak! Answer me.”

“It’s nothing,” your smile widens too much into a manic grin that dissolves into another fit of giggles.

“The girl has trouble sleeping heartless fool!”

I know that. That you know that too is what’s so amusing.”

“You!” He’s menacing as he stares you down, no more than a few inches taller than you, he looms over you still.

“You will not breathe a word of this.”

“I wouldn’t dare, especially not to your mother.”

Your snort after every third word makes it clear you would very much dare.

“I swear to you Princess, you will not. Or there will be consequences.”

“Oh? Consequences?” You mock. “Like Prince Loki developing a sudden overnight reputation for sweetness towards little girls and affection for bedtime stories and night lights? Those kind of consequences?”

“Test me little Princess and I’ll--”

“You’ll what?” You test.

Your back suddenly collides against a wall with a soft thud -- your surprised gasp muted by his lips on yours.

“You will say nothing.”

Your answer withers on your tongue, melted by his hot mouth. Anticipation and want pin you in place, along with his hips--a thigh slips in between your legs and a moan slips out of your mouth. You’re unsatisfied lacing arms around his neck so you latch instead onto his shoulders, fingernails scratching cloth, balled fists tight and unyielding.

You are a struck match, flame appearing suddenly where there was once nothing, the forgotten passion from earlier kindling twin blazes in both of you. Your mouths clash hard enough to click teeth together, the discomfort ignored for advantageous position, to reach deeper, to reach for more and more and

"More," you cry softly.

Hands that caged you against the wall now cradle you at the hips, fingers latching, bunching cloth and flesh in his hands.

"Yes."

Breathing becomes a chore--a burden--air isn't as necessary as he is and he drowns you. Head dipping under sensation's surface as his teeth find that spot on your neck. You are a banquet and he is famished. He prays before his feast--

"Yes, Princess."

And consumes you, filled full by the by the cry you make when he bites. You complete the capture, clamping your thighs around his making a single unbroken loop of pleasure. When he licks, you moan, when you squeeze, he scratches, when he bites he feels the ripple of your shudder right down to your core.

He's heavy and hard against you, crushed and crushing. Breathing is a chore but a necessity still. You break your latch on him to whisper.

"Take me to bed."

And he carries you unable to let you go, unwilling to loosen from you.

"Mine?"

He makes no declaration, he's almost unheard, whispering it against your cheek as he lays you across the furs. There's no easy arrogance in his face-- his fangy smile absent. His eyes search, not claim, asking, ensuring this isn't a dreamy nightmare from when he was alone.

"Yours."

You open to him, arms and heart, his kisses don't sting anymore but you shiver just the same.

"Yours." You repeat, loosening ties and buttons, slipping fabric over heads and down legs.

"Yours." You remind him, your teeth latching on his earlobe reminding him of the forgotten and neglected places that never fail to make him yell--

"Yours!"

He arches into your body aching brushing your naked thigh and belly.

He is as magnificent as you remember him--lean and wiry, more strength in his mind and will than in his arms. But like a strong wire he curls around you, one pale arm wrapped about your hips bringing his chest to your back as he curls inside of you. Every part of him he twists to bring you flush against him, like a latch at its tightest.
He finds new places to kiss you making a new favorite of the meridian between skin and scalp and the curls that tickle his lips there. He can whisper here, lips so close to your ears, clearly heard even above the carnal smack of flesh on flesh.

"I won't be done with you Princess, not for a very long time."

He means it, says it like a vow and keeps it, holding you still as you crumble around him, shackled by his arms. His thrusts rattle your bones, jar loose sharp cries. He makes you spill more and more and more until he spills, your name raining from his lips and his from yours.
Loki

**
He hears you calling his name, making his dreams as sweet as the reality that came before them.

Loki...

Loki!

“LOKI ODINSON!”

“LOKI ODINSON WHERE ARE YOU? VALKYRIES BETTER HAVE YOU BECAUSE IF I FIND YOU---OH!”

The shouting startles you both awake. You shoot upright brandishing a dream dagger to wield against monsters finding only Queen Frigga, your empty hand, and a lack of proper dress--or any dress. Fantasy breaks into reality and dreams wake into living nightmares. Frigga is at the door, in your room, face redder than fire and just as hot.

“Princess! I am so...so...sorry!”

You have nothing to say, what can you, caught in your host’s room with her son in a manner of undress so obvious that you can offer no reasonable defense.

And with no way to deny or escape, the son boldly rises from the bed to reach for his clothes. “Good morning Mother.” he waves cheekily.

“Oh Great Stars, Loki what is the matter with you! That’s your mother!”

“And she carried me naked, and birthed me naked, and nursed me naked and bathed me naked. It's been some time since she’s seen me last like this but I assure you, I am that same boy. Just...filled out in places.”

Frigga shades her eyes, more for respect for you than anything else.

“Then. We’ll. Remind. That. Same. Boy. He. Has. A. Jubilee. To. Prepare. For.”

“Jubilee?” You ask.

“Yes, a celebration of Lord Odin’s rule over Asgard combined with the First Frost Feast. I’ve only been planning it for forever and that churl over there promised to help! Guests, ROYALTY among them, are arriving from across the Realms and he swore he’d greet them with me come to find out he’s--oh...damn. Princess I am so sorry. Loki you have 20 minutes and then you better have your ass in full regalia with me at the grand gate!”

“Of course Mother.” Loki shrugs wholly unbothered and wholly amused by the two women.

Frigga means to apologize to you again, but your face is buried in furs hoping they’ll smother you dead.

“Make it 40 minutes with my apologies Princess.”

You come up for air when you hear the door latch shut, a feral grin to greet you.

“You better get going.”

He pulls the furs off you completely, crawling up your naked body like a tree.

“Whatever for?” He cackles. “She gave me 40 minutes and I’m going to take at least 60 of them.”

Chapter Text

"We have the delegation from the Westerlands here, and I can't stress enough that you both be on your best behavior. Your father's cabinet has tried to secure a trade agreement with them for the last century and half."

"Didn't father try to secure Loki with one of their princesses too?"

Loki hisses at the memory while his mother only sighs. "That was once on the table, yes, but I suspect that part of the deal no longer applies."

Thor snickers having heard an earful about his brother's morning wake-up call.

"Don't laugh Thor! Had your father been successful in yoking our houses together, you would have been next!"

Thor's grin melts, sobering him significantly. He fusses with his cape to hide his embarrassed blush while her younger son stands characteristically aloof. But his face, she can tell, masks a certain pleased distractedness, like his mind has been left behind somewhere, buried under furs and sheets.

Frigga quiets her emotions before they escape her in a pleased little sigh. For some reason, as she looks at her boys, she can't quite seem to care about trade negotiations or proper seating arrangements or ensuring her son's don't mortally offend visiting royalty. Those things, in light of everything, seem so insignificant.

"My sons,"

They stop at rapt attention, little ducklings pausing behind their mother. It doesn't matter both could level mountains if inclined, they are her little goslings and they always will be.

"I don't need to tell you how long I've been planning this for your father."

"We know," even Loki's voice is dreamy. "We promise not to make a mess of things." His brother nods with him, the two in a rare accord.

"No, no. Hear me." She places a hand on each cheek, feeling no difference in texture or love. "I was so worried about this Jubilee being perfect. And now that the day is here, I can't bring myself to care much for it. Asgard is at peace. My sons are here. My sons, both of them by Stars, are happy. I can ask for no greater joy except for those things to continue."

"Mother please."

"Yes,” Thor agrees. ”You're embarrassing us."

"And you, dear boys,” She kisses each cheek. “Will suffer it."

**

"It's too much like right for them to throw the biggest party after I was supposed to leave."

“The party is not for you Niti!” Se’risa corrects. “It’s for Lord Odin.”

“All parties are parties for me kid and keep still or this kohl stick is going in your eye!”

You promised her the next feast she could attend and you are a woman of your word. You watch Niti apply the ring of kohl around the child’s eyes musing that it won’t be very much longer you can call her a child.

She will grow up in Asgard, you are certain of this. You don’t know how long or even if Lord Odin’s hospitality will last, especially since you’ve no intention of honoring your oath anymore. He may banish you, but he won’t punish the child, he is at least that honorable. Frigga’s grace may buy you time, perhaps Loki’s and Thor’s as well but you understand it is borrowed. One day; tomorrow or ages from now, you will be made to leave here.

You smile, though, knowing that if you are, your Prince will go with you. Only the Stars will separate you again.

Niti watches the smile spread across your face knowing exactly how it was put there. You’ve been wearing once since she found you in the morning, hair ruined beyond normal bedhead and with a distinct unwillingness to meet her eye. She’ll tease you for it later, when children’s ears can’t hear the bawdy jokes she’s prepared.

This is better. This is right. This is her natural state. Niti isn’t made for war tents or titles or requisition forms. If pressed, she’ll admit to laziness but in her heart of hearts she realizes that more than a powerful or savvy master that will lift her as they climbed, she wanted a friend.

If she achieves nothing more than poking Se’risa in the eye with a kohl pencil, thinking of dirty jokes to torment you with, winking at pretty girls and wearing prettier clothes while she brings you your morning tea, she is content.

But!

You’ll have to find someone else to wash your moonrags! Really the only dealbreaker.

“Princess!”

Her call cuts across your daydream a bit too sharply, upsetting the mild headache that’s been brewing since morning. You’re convinced whatever tonic Loki’s fed you has done more harm than good and resolve to never drink it again.

“Yes dear?”

“Are you alright?”

“I’m fine, love.”

“Well?”

She holds her arms out, wishing you to take in her look. There’s a part of you that feels right down to your soul Frigga knew you weren’t going anywhere and so, when you didn’t , was already prepared with proper formal dress for Se’risa. Made to her measurements and temperament. Pants so flowing skirts won’t trip or rip and flowing sleeves that will accentuate a precocious girl's growing magical talent.

“You look intelligent."

Her face falls, "Am I not pretty?"

"You will learn dear that there are better things to be than pretty, and that there are better ways to say 'pretty' without saying pretty."

"Stuff it, Princess." Niti scoffs. "The girl already knows she's smart and..."

Niti licks her fingers and wipes away an errant smudge of kohl around Se'risa's eye.

"Ew!"

"There, now she's beautiful."

"There's more to life than being..."

"I know. But sometimes a girl just wants to be told she's pretty. I know I do! Tell me I'm pretty Se'risa."

Se'risa, still disgusted with the invasion of Niti's wet finger folds her arms and glares.

"Jealousy," Niti sighs. "So unbecoming a lady."

"I don't know how you deal with their incessant bickering Princess."

"And I don't know," Niti counters. "How you still haven't learned your lesson about knocking Prince Loki."

He laughs off the barb still swimming in the pleasant memory of your and his mother's scandalized faces.

"I'm here to escort the Princess to the feast. You see, my other companion cancelled very suddenly and I find myself unattached."

He'll live on that joke for an age at least, longer even since it makes you so prettily flustered, crinkling your nose trying to hide your suddenly hot face. His mother too enjoys the jest for different reasons. She almost wept for joy realizing that she didn't have to seat the Duchess next to Sif wondering if they'd get along or leave that end of the dais in icy silence.

"Well, come back later the Princess isn't ready yet."

You've been slow, part natural sluggishness part reluctance. Your breakup was very public and your makeup more so. Your presence at the Princes's side will wag tongues and not all of them will be favorable, made worse because the Duchess is all but assured to be there.

He casts a look at you, ready to say something cute about you being ready as you are but he sees your hesitance and changes tactics.

"She looks ready to me."

"Are you kidding me!" Niti howls. "She's not wearing any makeup, her hair's not done, she's not even dressed."

"Oh I assure you, comparatively speaking she's overdressed."

He disappears, his visage shimmering as the bronze paperweight sails through where his head was.

"I'm hurt." He mocks.

"You will be." You growl.

"Promise?" He grins.

"Oh bleeding Stars. Loki get out!" Niti tries to be stern, fails at it, and recovers by reaching for a shoe with which to beat him away.

"Not without my Princess!"

"She's not ready!"

"What do you mean?" He kneels in front of the girl, offering his hand. "Se'risa looks ready to me. Aren't you filly?"

Her eyes widen. Her first feast she expected to be saddled with Niti, then shunted in a quiet corner alone while the woman drank and danced. She did not, however, expect a princely escort who might introduce her to the court mages and sorcerers and all the other magi from distant lands. Dwarves she can impress with her talents and elves who could impress her with theirs. Her hope runs away with her before smacking into a wall of reality. Se'risa smothers her excitement, killing it as quickly as it comes. He is your Prince, and she is merely his student. You have every right to say no, to be covetous.

Instead, you feign your own hurt, turning away from them dabbing imaginary tears from your eyes. But not before mouthing a 'thank you' to your prince for giving you much needed time to prepare for facing Asgard's court again. You wave them away, fake sobbing.

"Go then, I suppose I'll allow it." You smile for her, reassuring her that it's alright. She jumps for joy, right into your arms, squeezing your neck so tight your eyes feel like they might pop from their skull.

The feeling lingers after they've gone.

Chapter Text

When she gets her way, a lot of people will die. She sees them as bodies already, their blood staining the marble. She counts them, the bodies, rattling them off on her fingers the way the prideful would rattle off achievements.

This duke in red.

That merchant in green.

Lady Astrid's mother...still in black. Her brother too, also in black.

Commander Edvard.

That servant with the kohl rimmed eyes and the too high opinion of herself.

Lord Odin, of course.

Queen Frigga as well. Shameful loss, she was a sweet woman, Ylva would have been proud to call her mother but still she'll lie dead on this floor too by night's end.

Prince Thor, obviously. She imagines he'll die, Mjolnir in hand, clutching at the body of his beloved Sif who will also die tonight.

If she has her way, because fate may be so cruel as to kill you in the chaos struck by an errant sword, you'll die last, made to watch everything. She will win though, she’ll get most of her way, the plan's too perfect, it's not a matter of if only a matter of by how much.

Her victory will only be sweeter if you are made to watch it all unfold.

But she'll settle for finding your corpse with a blade lodged in your heart.

She's not that greedy.

But as Ylva surveys the feast, her eyes find the one life she will pause before taking. She's overcome with a sudden surge of mercy. Perhaps because it is not you at his side but the horse girl he's grown so attached to. She’ll die too, assuredly, the last death before yours. The girl arouses no mercy rather it is Loki’s paternal affection for her that gives her pause. He'd make a wonderful father. And perhaps there can still be a place for Prince Loki in her court, even if it is only as her thrall, enslaved to her will and beholden to her every command.

That's a damn sight better than death.

A blessing even, when compared to the death she has planned for you.

If she has her way.

**
You have not yet arrived but if he's impatient with her company, he doesn't show it. He seems pleased to escort the younger princess about, pointing out the important adults as they pass them by--telling her stories of his past and the tricks he used to play on these men and women loyal to his father.

"Always be aware of your surroundings filly--a good trickster--a good mage always is."

"Prince Loki we're supposed to be having fun."

"Observation is fun. You miss 100 percent of the things you don't look for. Always look. Then you'll find your own fun."

He threads magic on his fingers, bright little strings of light he's taught her eyes to see, and pulls. The magic tangles around the hem of a dress that in turn tangles around a man's boots. The victims tumble to the floor--unhurt save pride and backsides. He isn't the only one to laugh, but he is the loudest.

Se'risa makes a sour face at him. "That was mean."

"It was," he admits with no guilt. "But I remember those oafs cheering when our Princess lay in the dirt with hands around her neck. It has been some time since then, but there's nothing like a good bit of public humiliation. Another lesson filly: always avenge a slight but learn to wait for the best opportunity."

She nods gravely, pleasing him with how serious she takes his lessons to heart even here when her child's attention should be rapt on the glittering goings on.

"Speaking of slights..."

The noise he strangles on when Se'risa steps in front of him--a shield protecting him from Ylva's malignant presence-- will be yet one more grave secret. These Lowlander womae are loyal and loving creatures for which he has performed no miracles, no grand acts of benevolence to earn the privilege of their affections. He frequently invokes the Stars in his foulest swears but he never believed in their power--still he sends them thanks for such treasures--you and her both.

"Ylva," He eyes her warily. "Now don't make a scene."

"You misunderstand me." She wears a mollifying smile with more sickness behind it than in the whole of Lady Frigga's infirmary. "I didn't come to argue or cry. I came to let you know I have no hard feelings and that I forgive you for your atrocious treatment of me."

Loki laughs darkly but quiets when he feels Se'risa flinch in fear. "Instead of doling out forgiveness Duchess, try asking for some--you've interrupted my dance a princess."

She bites her words off like the little slivers of flesh she'll flay from the girl later. "Now now, I thought we weren't making a scene."

"We aren't. Princess." He bends to Se'risa, bringing him level with her, offering the girl his elbow which she quickly takes. "You owe me a dance."

"Wait. Please."

'Please' makes her sick, the humility of it making her ashen mouthed and numb. But it works. He stops.

"What? Ylva we both know there was nothing between us but a small clothes and even then nothing of that much substance. Don't make this what it wasn't."

"I know..." But the knowledge doesn't sting any less. "But at least tell me...You cannot say we did not enjoy the little time we did have. Right?" The real Ylva fidgets when she's nervous, wrings her hands anxiously and bites the inside of her cheek.

His response will save his life or doom it, either way she'll have an answer and can finally put this shameful bit of her history to pyre.

But you steal her answer, just like you've stolen everything from her--again.

"Prince Loki, look she's here."

And you are, dressed in muted finery drowning out all noise with the quiet beauty of your smile.

"Come then filly, let us greet her."

He walks away from Ylva with no further word, answer unsaid. She'll never know what, if anything, she meant to him. If there was the smallest, tiniest tangible bit of him she held when it was her chance to. She'd count it the smallest victory to know one way or another so at least the uncertainty can stop gnawing at her heart, but he--you--have denied her that last bit of peace.

The mercy she felt flees her as his lips alight on your hand. This entire room will die. She'll drown it in blood and purge the gore away with fire afterwards. Nothing of House Odinson will survive the night.

She stabs a servant with her eyes who dutifully offers her a goblet of wine. He lingers as she sips, waiting--standing too close for her comfort.

"Tend to your business." She commands.

"Yes my lady." He obeys.

**

"What took you so long? We were waiting for you!"

"Trouble with my hair."

Loki notes the lie Se'risa accepts. You dismiss his questioning stare with a shake of your head, not yet ready to admit this growing headache will likely force you to retire from the feast earlier than intended. It throbs with every step you take so you limit them, rising to your place on the dais then not moving from it.

"You're not alright." Loki whispers as you and Sif exchange pleasantries.

"I'm fine, tired. That's all."

"Then go rest."

"It'd break Se'risa's heart."

"No more than you collapsing on a dancefloor would."

You snicker. "Impossible. I haven't been asked to dance."

Loki snarls. "Here? In front of people?"

"I'll show you the steps if you can't."

"You know very well I can."

"Prove it."

"Fine. One dance. Then you--"

"A dance you say Princess! Allow me then to save you from my dour brother!"
Thor, a smiling Sif behind him, his hand extended to you as the pipes and drums pick up into something fun. You take his hand, of course, and Sif's as well the hopping steps bouncing you between the both of them. Then Fandral joins, stepping on your toes followed by Volstagg who lifts you by the waist into the air.

It's terribly fun despite the pain in your head, better even as Loki's expression darkens but Frigga steps in rescuing her son from abandonment.

"Shameful." She giggles at him. "Leaving you alone like that."

He counters your attempts to make him jealous, switching partners from his mother to Se'risa and on as you both dance in wide circles bouncing from partner to partner --even Lord Odin takes a turn with you--those circles tightening and shrinking until there's no one left but you and him.

"You'll pay for this." He mutters, taking your hand roughly pulling you against him as the music slows.

"I welcome your attempts to collect."

Someone sighs when he kisses you. You think it's Frigga, it's actually Thor. But you close your eyes and rest your head against his chest so you'll never know. He's never danced like this in front of people, but as he moves you, those people and their greedy unworthy eyes don't matter so much anymore. He's told the filly you miss what you don't look for and while he'll never admit to being wrong, he'll grant that sometimes that's not entirely true. Because here you are, a love come unlooked for, dancing in his arms like you were made to be there.

The way he rocks you soothes you, but every gliding step shoots pain up from the soles of your feet to your brain. It clicks behind your eyes, sounding like boot heels on marble, heralding the arrival of someone, like a physical embodiment of your pain. As they get closer, they get louder, your closed eyes become necessity, to keep them in your skull.

"Princess?"

You slump in his arms, violent pain jelling the bones in your knees.

"I need to...please take me home."

He obeys, breaking from the dais and into the crowd of feasters. Every step crackles louder and louder the closer he gets to the door, the pain is coming, the full brunt of it not yet here.
"Someone's coming." You say, compelled by the agony.

"Who? What? Who is coming?"

Pain.

He's at the large double doors, ready to whisk you to safety and rest.

He opens them.

And there is someone in the way.

You open your eyes, the clicking stopped, to see this being of torment finally come.

Fa'rey.

Your mother's starforged Crescent Halberd in her hand poised as if to strike.

Chapter Text

There's no time for spells of protection or dramatic pushes away from danger. He simply takes a step as casually as he would walking through a door to come between you and the strike that would kill you.

If he is to die, there is no better way he can spend his life.

Loki stands in front of you and waits for the halberd to cut him half.

And he keeps waiting.

Seconds pass, heartbeats of opportunity are wasted. Fa'rey stands motionless mouth agape, hand still twisted around your stolen birthright and you stare back from behind Loki's shoulder realizing too late what he's done, what he meant to do.

Time snaps back into place, keeps flowing, dancers keep dancing and feasters keep feasting. No one pays any mind to the encounter at the door until you shout.

"GUARDS!"

Loki stiffens, his senses returning to him, magic crackles on his fingers assured the summoning of reinforcements will finally trigger a fight. He was never ready to die, willing but not ready. Death can't have you and he doesn't want the specter to take him either.

But Fa'rey submits to the hands that seize her. She actually smiles with the grunt she makes as the guards force her to her knees. Some of the revelers gasp in shock, wondering what this woman has done to deserve such ill treatment, a murmur spreads through the crowd reaching the dais then Odin too lends his voice in objection.

"What in Nine Hels is going on?"

"Father...for a change I don't actually know."

Frigga wants to know though, is determined to handle this before the Jubilee is ruined completely. The crowd parts for her and Thor, the murmur growing into a din of confusion. Unsatisfied with his answer, Odin surges through the people ready to use even more force to get to the bottom of this interruption.

"Someone start talking right..."

"Silence husband. Not here." Frigga snaps her fingers sharply and a handmaid appears.

"Double the servants, call up the reserves. I want everyone in this hall with a chalice... no flagon of wine in their hands that never empties. Make them forget this incident."

"Yes my lady."

"Guards, we'll adjourn to the audience chamber. All of us. Go."

You are grateful Frigga has taken command, that someone has at all. Though you can hardly see for your pain, a moment or two longer and you would have shared some of that pain by introducing Fa'rey's skull to the priceless Asgardian marble.

You let Loki lead you away, numbed save for the split skull and the rage.

"Princess, wait. I want to come too."

"Stay here, Little Princess." Loki commands aware that whatever happens next, Fa'rey won't leave the audience chamber alive. You've killed in defense of your life, in defense of his too, but Fa'rey however much she's earned it, will be a murder committed in vengeance and he knows you wouldn't want her to see that.

"Keep an eye on the fool and the servant. We'll call for you when this is done."

You nod mutely flashing a smile of gratitude to your Prince and a smaller smile, one for comfort, to your little princess.

"I will be back soon." Your speech is halted and unsteady, like an overfilled cup you're trying to keep from spilling everywhere. There's too much in your head exasperated by blinding pain and clashing memory that only makes everything worse.

Se'risa is upset but musters a smile and nod, returning to Niti as a legion of servants arrive with the wine.

**

"Bar the doors, enter for nothing less than palace on fire." Frigga hisses to an attendant before the great doors of the audience chamber slide close, dreadful thud chilling most of the hearts who hear it.

Not yours though. And not Loki's.

They seat you on Odin's throne for lack of more comfortable seating. The King notices your listing walk and so allows this breach noting further that when his sons bring the woman before you, it looks as though you sit in judgement ready to weigh the merits of this woman's life.

And he can tell, from the cruel twist on your lips she has already been found wanting.

"Why are you here? Did you come to kill her and lose your nerve?" Loki barks.

Fa'rey gives that question thought but does not answer it.

"Too complicated a question, let's simplify it." The dagger he unsheathes is yours, slipped from the holster on your belt when you weren't looking. Your eternal game of back and forth and back again still on going. He's winning of course but you can't bring yourself to recall the score now.

You recall other things. The sound of screaming. Of Hava shouting you awake from your bed urging you to flee.

"Princess! Get up! You must flee! Now! War has come! GET UP CHILD!"

You also recall laughter, an elbow in your ribs and a filthy smile on a familiar face.

"Look at them mi'isah! Either one I'd like to ride all the way down the Rainbow Bridge."

Pain spreads, from your head to the scars across your body where she stabbed you, to the one under your breast that would have taken your life were it not for Hava and the magic of the prince beside you.

He is angry, livid. He's had his hands in your blood, watched the wounds this woman inflicted stitch under his power. You meant nothing to him then and he was content to let you succumb and in so doing would have lost the starlight of his life. He's angry he came so close to losing you before he knew what he had.

So he'll make her pay for it if you can't. He won't steal your vengeance outright but he'll take a bit for himself.

But before he compel an answer from her, your hand latches around his wrist and his rage calms to a simmer. You don't let him go either, sliding your hand down from his wrist to catch his fingers. If you let go, you'll be swallowed whole and lost to the nightmare that has lived behind your eyes since you fled home.

Fa'rey's face changes, she drops her head, shoulders shaking. She giggles and it hurts for how much it sounds like home.

"Every day for about forever I've practiced for what I might say to you if I ever saw you again in this life or the next before the demons take me to Hel. I prepared speech after speech, performed them in front of my... your mirror. And now that I'm here face to face with you, mi'isah, I can't think of what I meant to say except that I was right. I told you the quiet one was your type."

Chapter Text

It's so disgustingly like her that you can't stop the laugh even though it feels like your left eye will pop free of your head.

"Can you for once in your life be serious? The raiders coming over that hill will tear our line apart! No time for jokes. Rally your unit and follow after me! Now!"

Fa'rey shrugs off your anger and reaches for her spear. "Mi'isah, there's always time for jokes. Even before death I'll make sure to make my killer laugh."

You laugh. You can't help it. She's always made you laugh. You were always more sisters than the cousins you are. Manmae and Uncle Fa'Dan observed constantly you two were foals of the same mare. She was your right hand in everything, prick her and you'd feel it. Does she hurt now, as you do? Does she bleed too from your wounds she inflicted?

No one else in the chamber laughs and when you quiet, Loki, conveniently ignoring this woman's bit of prophecy, repeats his question.

“Why are you here!”

"Quiet Asgardian. I don't answer to you!"

Thor clamps a hand on Fa'rey's shoulder. "Consider your position...ehh...what do I call you?"

"Fa'rey, Princess of the Lowland Kingdoms."

Loki squeezes your hand, makes ready something snide about there being only one Princess he'll recognize here.

Thor beats him to it.

"There's only one Princess, Fa'rey, and she is not you."

"No matter what you think I'm a princess still."

And she's right but Loki joins his brother. "Maybe so, princess." He makes the word sound worse than a slur. "But all the titles in the Nine can't confer the royalty so obviously absent."

"Ouch. Queen Frigga, you let your sons treat a guest this way?" She looks to the Queen who bristles at being so casually addressed.

"Guests are invited."

"It's Lord Odin's Jubilee is it not? I thought all representatives of Asgard's allies get invitations. Mine get lost in the post?"

"Your land’s representative is already present."

Fa'rey nods expecting as much. "Ahh yes The Princess-in-Absentia. That's what father called you for the longest time. I hated it."

"You preferred 'dead'." You speak up for the first time. She's scratching at the scabs, they'll start bleeding soon. You help her along knowing by the end of this there’ll be real blood and it'll be hers.

"I did. But not for why you might think."

"Why are you here Fa'rey, Princess and Heir Apparent to the Lowland Kingdoms?"

"You can't guess?"

Thor took your mother's halberd, has been fascinated with it when he's not keeping the second princess on her knees. Fa'rey takes advantage of his distraction. He crumples in half when she whips her chained hands into his groin and snatches the halberd before it falls. She moves as fast as you remember she can, rising from her knees, weapon in hand.

Someone shouts, magic crackles, Odin's thunder or Loki's bolts of poison.

"Stop. She won't hurt me."

You know. You don't know how or why but you know, like you can see it. Like there's a ring around her heart, black and heavy like lead but the closer she gets to you that burden lightens until it's almost white.

She falls again when she reaches you, head down like a sacrifice and arms up like an offering.

"I have come to return this to you." She holds up the Crescent Halberd. "My Queen."

Your hands are on it before you hear Loki hiss, "Don't take it. It's a trap."

"It's not."

"You can't be serious. Don't be a fool Princess not now."

"If I wanted her dead, and trust me there was a couple times back there when I did, she would be dead."

Fa'rey throws her head back to a groaning Thor, Frigga coaxing him back to his feet. "If she moves, kill her."

Loki nods to his mother a bit afraid of her sudden bloodlust and turns back to Fa'rey who only shrugs. "If I had asked he wouldn't have let me. Besides, this makes for a better story."

Loki swallows the tickle of laughter refusing to acknowledge the tiniest bit of kindred spirit with the woman.

"And yes, if I raise a hand against her, kill me. But her first." She points to you. "She gets first dibs on my head."

You miss this, you can't see for the tears and you can't hear for the sound of your mother's voice scolding you when you reached for it for the first time.

"No! Katkat! Stop!"

You cry, you've never heard her yell before. It scares you so badly you flee from her and into Hava's arms.

"Oh now N'ara, don't cry. She didn't mean to scare you but you scared her just the same. That's no toy. The Sages say it rivals that thing Lord Odin throws about and now I've seen both, and I can tell you, they're really not the same. Can't compare them."

"Does that mean manmae as powerful as the King?"

Hava leans closer. "Even more so. But don't tell him that. Lord Odin hurls thunderbolts and your mother stops them. I've seen her smash the magic ice of a frost giant before cutting that same ice giant in half. Don't be cross with your mother, she was just protecting you. And one day, she'll teach you how to wield it safely."

Hava laughs when your eyes widen. "Did you not listen to any of the stories? Made from a fallen star, that halberd is your birthright wielded by your family since the First Princess. Anybody can call themselves a king or queen, but unless they wield that weapon, to us, they are no one."

"She's right." You say. "If she wanted me dead, your magic wouldn't stop her. She'd never give this up, not even in jest, not even to lay a trap. It means too much. So why? You have this. Why give this up? It's everything you need."

"That's what I thought. That this stupid hunk of wood and metal would be enough to give us what you had. But your boyfriend's right." When her head rises it's to glare at Loki. "Titles, heirlooms, power, soldiers, none of that could make us the royalty we needed to be. The royalty you are."

Chapter Text

When she asks for a chair.

"You gonna make me tell this story on my knees?"

"Yes."

They deny her.

So Fa'rey sits on the marble and begins.

"Father loves his sister. Be assured of that. But he loves her in the way a slave loves his mistress, he didn't know any better way. My father was the oldest, the smartest, and the strongest. The battles Auntie 'won' during the War of Annexation, were won on his back and yet Grandmere gave her the halberd."

"My father," You object, remembering tales of his valor as the Captain of the Royal Cavalry.

"Was weak and should have commanded no more than stable boys. And when he died, his command should have fallen to my father but it was instead held in trust for you. My father, a prince, could be no more than a palace guard in his own kingdom."

"And his daughter after him.” Loki quips. “Tell me, Fa'rey. Is your righteous indignation on behalf of your father or for you?"

Loki really can't deny the kindred spirit now. He can feel the righteous anger wafting off her, harmonizing with his own. It is not time to talk of succession but when his brother looks at him, Loki flinches.

"Me. It's all me." Her head drops again and Fa'rey considers pressing her forehead to the floor.

"I did it all. Had been thinking about it. Tossed the idea around with a few of the guards loyal to me. They brought over a few more, some even from the Royal Cavalry. We joked about what our kingdom would be like under King Fa'dan and justified our sedition by covering it up in contempt for Asgard. 'King Fa'dan wouldn't be Odin's puppet. King Fa'dan wouldn't get us tied up in Asgard's expensive and bloody wars. How many of our people came back from Jotunheim, eh?' I got enough people to buy it except the man who would be king. He dismissed it outright. He’s never raised a hand to me ever. He almost did that night.”

It shouldn't surprise you but it does. It shouldn't hurt but oh, it does. "How long have you wanted to kill me? My mother?"

Fa'rey snaps forward. "Okay, I don't deserve the courtesy, but you gotta believe me, Papa didn't kill Auntie!" Fa'rey's shown contempt, humor, anger, but never fear. This time she does launch herself to her knees and press her forehead to the ground. If Thor or Odin allowed her any closer she'd kiss your hem in supplication. "He didn't kill her. Please. Believe that if you believe nothing else."

"I know Fa'rey calm down."

And even if you didn't, if you hadn’t seen Loki’s vision of the battle, your head throbs and the ring around Fa'rey's heart shimmers yellow. It breaks into jagged edges that stab and prick, she's afraid.

"I know." You repeat watching the ring cool and smooth out until it is black and heavy again.

It's guilt you realize before another sharp stab of pain prevents you from asking more. Your fingers squeeze Loki's hand in reflex.

"Hurry it up, your presence is painful."

"His bird came back first, telling me auntie had died in battle. I took it as a sign from the stars. Danda is a lover and a fighter. He loved manmae, even now after all this time, and he lost her. He loved his sister and he lost her too, right before his very eyes. He didn't know what to do. In his letter, mi'isah, he was so scared, beside himself with fear. He knows you're your mother's daughter, that you'd do the right thing and uphold the pledge between our kingdoms. 'When Asgard calls and yadda yadda yadda'. He was so scared that another war would take me too. So I preyed on that fear and pain and convinced him it was time for a change.

“Yeah, I did it for me, for power I believed was mine. But I did for him too. Danda's all I had. My mother died when I was too young to remember her. And I didn't have a Hava to hold me or a Se'rasa to bring me sweet horseshoes. I didn’t want him to be afraid. I wanted to make him happy. He was all I had."

"You had me too!” You don’t sway when you shoot to your feet. “Did you forget! When Se'rasa brought me those pastries did you forget I shared them with you?"

Fa'rey bears your fury unflinchingly. She answers, barely audible.

"When I found her body, I remembered.

"Princess. It wasn't...I didn't mean for it to happen this way."

Loki clicks his tongue. "Lie again and I'll kill you." He threatens, noting that not all of your countrywomen are as horrible at deception as you are.

"And I'll let him." You agree, seeing the black curtain over her heart turn dirty grey, knowing it's covered in falsehood.

"Don't you two make a pair? Fine. What do you want me to say? That for a moment I was glad of what happened? That I delighted in purging the palace of you and your sycophants until I found her body crumpled in a hallway? I knew right then this was a mistake but it was too late to take it back. Then I thought if I had father bury everyone, that if we buried Se'rasa, and your mother, her soldiers and your soldiers with full honors that the guilt would pass?! It never passed! It's here,” Fa’rey thumps her heart with her fist. “Sitting on my chest like a stable's worth of horses. I can't breathe for all the guilt!”

“You killed a palace’s worth of people. Don’t expect my sympathies.”

“I don’t.”

“So how did you do it? How did you convince a kingdom to forget about your slaughter?”

Fa’rey laughs, sickly and sour, it falls out in broken chunks. “Wasn’t easy. Wasn’t pretty.

"We lied. Told everyone that news of Auntie’s death sparked a coup with the palace that was swiftly and brutally crushed by the dead queen’s grieving brother. No one survived. And you were lost in the chaos. Fled or dead. The people mourned. My father cried, beat his chest begging for forgiveness. For what? Oh for the innocents who got caught up in his slaughter. No one could look at the body of Se’rasa and think her a scheming separatists. The lie worked, everybody blamed the carnage on his grief and nobody wondered anymore how or why a palace full of people died in one bloody night.

"But when the dead were laid to rest and the blood washed from the walls, people’s senses cleared and they remembered you were not among the buried.

"We faked every attempt we made to bring you home--sent scouts and letters, made offerings to the stars-- while we slowly and carefully assumed the power that was supposed to be yours. Consider the optics, The Niece and Uncle of the missing Princess dutifully taking up her crown while they forever searched for the true heir. Oh, we searched for you for sure. But we were hoping to find your body.”

Fa’rey turns to Thor. “Sorry about your balls. And thanks for the heads up. Fortunately--or rather unfortunately for us--King Odin’s son solves the mystery of the missing princess. We were cautious, made sure we put him in front of the right people and kept away the ones who’d ask too many questions. Our ‘rebellion’ would have ended then and there if we hadn’t. Our heads would probably still be on spikes right now.”

“Pity.” Frigga adds.

“Pity indeed.” Fa’rey agrees.

“Minor victory in hand, there was still the issue of what to do about you. But you can guess how we tried.”

“You wrote a letter.”

“Aye. Promising safe passage and yadda yadda. You weren’t gonna make it very far beyond Asgard’s gates. You’re lucky. Lord Odin’s shrewdness saved your life.”

“My son saved her life.” Odin nods at Loki, acknowledging his younger son’s very obvious ‘I told you so’ sneer.

“So you’re alive and even worse, we’ve no way to get to you to correct that.” Fa’rey drops her head, so hard it looks like she tired to snap her own neck.

“So we lie again.”

“What did you do?”

“In the first days after the massacre at the palace, I went out with my most loyal guards to find you. Were it not for Hava you would have died. You couldn’t have gone far, all I had to do was catch up to you. You both were injured and near death. How far could you have gone?

“Not very.”

You shake your head. “But you never found me.”

“You’re right. I didn’t.”

You shake your head again for a different reason. Dread drenches you and you freeze in it. “Fa’rey no.”

“But I found someone.”

“Fa’rey.”

“A body in a fresh grave laid with flowers. Buried with honor.”

“Please.”

“I was ecstatic, but I had to be sure. I got in the dirt and dug up that grave with my own hands.”

“I swear to you, I’ll kill you if you keep talking.”

“H-hava was a soldier once. And the soldier in me wanted to leave her be. She gave her life in service, she deserved peace. But I ignored the soldier that day. I took her home. Ostensibly to lay her to rest with everyone else but I…”

“Do not speak!”

“Swore my guards to secrecy then hung on to her, like some kind of morbid insurance. I wrapped her in some of your clothes, and buried her in a shallow grave outside the palace. Then, after Thor left, I sent scouts out on another 'search mission' and praise the Stars, you were found. But by then you were so decayed, no one could tell..."

“Fa’rey enough!”

“It wasn’t you.”

There is no magic in the halberd. He knows this. But you move so quickly it could be nothing but. The blade of the weapon cleaves the marble, leaves a divot a foot deep. But Fa’rey has all her fingers, both legs, and regrettably, her head.

Chapter Text

“Hava deserved better.” You spit.

“I know.” Fa’rey nods. “If it eases you, she was treated like a princess. And she rests with your mother, which is what she would have wanted anyway.”

You two are foals of the same mare. When you cry, the tears slip down her face.

“You missed, mi’isah.” Her eyes cut to the halberd, her voice splintering on sorrow, not relief.

You throw her, recoiling from hearing ‘beloved cousin’ from her pathetic mouth.

“I know. Finish, then I won’t.”

Fa’rey nods again deciding to die on her feet, she stands to finish her tale.

“Guilt does us in, slowly. My soldiers started having changes of heart. They started confiding to me that maybe this was all a mistake. They started dying, my friends, the best of my friends, the last of them, started dying leaving messages like ‘I’m so sorry. Please forgive me’. I couldn’t tell if they were talking to me or you.

“Father became paranoid. This was the Stars’ Judgement of course for the wrong we had done. He withdrew, locked himself away in the temple praying every day that my life would be spared. And without the king, the government could barely hold on. It was around that time a rumor started circulating that the dear Princess we just buried was alive and well and in Asgard, protected by Lord Odin himself.

The people were beside themselves, marched on the palace with torches, screaming. ‘It was a trap.’ I lied. Invoking Odin’s trickster son. Orchestrated by the throne in an attempt to annex us. If it was her, why hadn’t she come back? She would be welcomed. If she’s alive and well and has been so all this time, why remain?

“We would have killed you of course, and blamed it on the spooky separatists. But you didn’t so…”

“I almost did. At the head of an army.”

Fa’rey grimaces. “Shit. Had you done that you woulda made my job easier. Showing up at the head of an Asgardian army?” She clasps her hands together in mock drama “‘Our beloved Princess is has been made a mindless slave! See how she clings to that silver-tongued snake? She is clearly his thrall!’ Gather arms soldiers! Saddle your horses. We must defend our home from these invaders and liberate our dear princess. Oh! She fell in battle? Well...she’s free now Stars Bless.’ Damn mi’isah, I almost wish you had.”

Fa’rey is a master manipulator. Queen, in her own right, of propaganda if nothing else. The Stars do love their humor, Loki thinks. That he would fall for the princess most unlike himself. Though if their positions were reversed he would probably hate Fa’rey for the precise reason being too much like himself.

The Stars and Their Humor.

The Stars and Their Gifts.

“Well it worked. Most bought it. Crisis averted.” Fa’rey twirls her finger weakly. “Yay.”

“You’d think avoiding a counter rebellion would inspire more gratitude.”

“Yeah you would. But for every 20 people I convinced, there were 2 I didn’t. And those pairs found each other. Then found more pairs who also didn’t buy it.” Fa’rey slumps again, not to her knees but she might as well be down there.

“I found out about it just in time. About the all the ones who didn’t buy it. Caught them before they could storm the palace, execute me and my father, and take control of the kingdom until you could be restored. We weren’t...I never thought father was a bad ruler. He wasn’t. He isn’t. We did right by the people and they still pinned their hopes on this ‘imposter’. So we stopped doing right by the people.”

Fa’rey’s heart is a black stain in her chest indiscernible from the rest of her. You don’t see it beat, or break or shudder, you see nothing. Emptiness.

“I executed the conspirators. Publically. Personally. Made the people, as many as I could fit in the palace square, watch. ‘They wanted to take advantage of our grief and bring Asgard’s boots on our neck.’ I said. I called them separatists and blamed them for everything from your death to crop failure. Then I made the Sages describe the murders, because that’s all they were, in detail and sent the descriptions to every corner of the kingdom. It was a message to the people and any of my soldiers considering a similar change of heart. ‘This is what happens when you oppose me.’

“I wanted the love of the people, Princess, same as you had it. But I wanted power more. So I didn’t care that the people feared me instead of loved me. I didn’t care that from then on everyone was afraid of me. Bodies started cropping up with notes again. To be honest with you, I wasn’t too upset about it. The primary folks dying were my guards, the only people outside danda who knew we didn’t put you in that vault. Then the murderers stopped bothering with fake notes. Every day seems like, another one of mine died. And I didn’t care. Everyone lived in fear. That either palace guards would come and murder your family or Odin would come and wipe us out like he did the Frost Giants.”

“So what changed?” You ask.

“What do you mean?”

“I saw you celebrating. Feasting.”

“You saw that? What you turn the Watcher on us or something?”

You rub your eye and pinch the bridge of your nose. “Something like that yes.”

“I was content to hold on. The Palace guards held the capital and the soldiers out on the border heard only rumors. Death was an almost daily constant but when is it not in life? I was going to rule. Over a pile of corpses or kingdom. I didn’t care. But Father finally emerged from his long vigil looking like death warmed over. And he told me he was tired and he said….”

Fa’rey sniffs, balls her fists and finishes her tale.

“‘I’m going to save you from yourself,’ he tells me. Says he’s going to Asgard and he’s going to bring you back. Then he’s going to throw himself to the people’s judgement so long as it guarantees my life.

“‘Ok danda, ok. Can I ask you one thing?’

“‘Anything,’

“‘Can we have a party first?’

“And you know Dad. You know he loves a party.

“So we threw a party. That’s what you saw. I got him good and drunk then beat him at his own game. I imagine he is very upset with me right now, but he’s all I got. He won’t die for what is my mistake. I will. And so I’m here, Princess, to give you back what I stole and a bit of vengeance with it. Take my life, I really don’t want it anymore, but spare his. And then go home.”

Chapter Text

She knew better than to hope her first real feast would turn out better than this. You’re gone. Prince Loki is gone. Queen Frigga and Prince Thor are also gone.

Which means she’s alone.

Well she is with Niti.

Which means she’s not so much alone as she is…

“Kiddo! Hold my wine and watch this!”

The sitter to the baby; the overgrown, overindulged, baby.

Se’risa sighs and takes the glass from Niti’s hand, sniffing it to see what all the fuss was about. She sloshes the pale gold liquid around while Niti instructs a young woman on how to dance, her hands placed on the woman’s hips moving them side to side.

“There you go, you got it!”

Niti will forget about her wine soon, and then Se’risa herself. So Se’risa, bold and curious, downs the wine in a choking gulp.

She expects an adult to find her mid-swallow quipping about her being too young for wine. But the adults are well watered, a legion of servants filling glasses as soon as they are empty. No one pays the child any mind, she is a bump on the floor to be stepped over or around.

Drunk adults are interesting to watch but they hold no real entertainment for her, not even Niti and her antics. Se’risa’s mind wanders, wonders, about what’s going on behind closed doors. You left her behind, she is a princess but you think of her as a child too, not mature enough to handle whatever you plan on doing with Lady Fa’rey.

She is not someone Se’risa thinks about often, not the way you do. When Se’risa thinks of that horrible night she doesn’t see Lady Fa’rey’s face, she sees yours, and her mother’s, and the man you killed to save her. Her blood debt is paid, for as much as a child can shoulder that kind of debt. She supposes Lady Fa’rey bears some responsibility for her mother’s death, by her order did her mother die, but when she thinks of Fa’rey she isn’t angry. Maybe there’s some vestigial anger on your behalf for the suffering she put you through, but Se’risa just can’t muster the hate she thinks she should feel.

A servant rudely shoves into her almost knocking her to the ground. Se’risa makes a noise of protest the man doesn’t hear so she follows him as he meanders through the thickening crowd ready to demand an apology or extract one if he proves stubborn.

“You’re a Princess,” Loki told her once during a lesson. “If you cannot command respect, take it.”

But through the swishing robes and dresses of the partygoers she loses him. More and more people crowd the floor, generously flowing wine translating into gracelessly flowing bodies. People are everywhere, the hall is choked with them, the brightest stars in the Nine Realms shine here tonight in honor of Lord Odin and the light is too much for her eyes.

So she shades them, whispering the magic spell Lord Loki taught her hoping it would aid her in catching a glimpse of the rude servant.

“Mute the bright colors and the twinkling light to focus on your target filly.” She remembers from his lessons.

But the room does not dim as she expects, it explodes.

Red, everywhere there is red, bright crimson strings of magic tangle in the air like a thread pulled from a never ending loom. Se’risa blinks, adjusts her magic but the image does not change.

There is magic everywhere.

And there always will be, she knows this. This is Asgard, ambient magic saturates every space the same way air does so magic users learn to ignore this noise. But this red is a singular spell concentrated in this singular space hidden amongst the mundane magic like a whiff of smoke in a windstorm.

“You miss 100 percent of the things you don't look for. Always look. Then you'll find your own fun."

Curiosity overcomes her. Se’risa adjusts her magic again hoping to pick apart a singular thread to follow to its source. She weaves through the crowd, spooling the red magic around her finger dodging feet and fallen over bodies until she reaches the doors to the hall.

The guards pay her no attention, don’t stop her as she passes through. The halls are the same, draped in red, the magic flowing in one direction.

Se’risa follows, winding through the palace, opening doors and walking down stairs following a familiar path. She’s somewhat familiar with these spaces having used them in her two brief stints as a scullery girl. These are the servant corridors, what the palace’s army of maids and footmen and valets use to pass to and fro on whatever business their masters require.

They should be full. These passages should be as choked as the feast hall is, servants shuffling back and forth with snacks and more wine but these halls are empty and soundless, more like a crypt of the dead.

Se’risa finds another red thread, darker than the rest, snaking on the floor. She tries to pull on it with her magic but it doesn’t respond.

Because it is not magic.

But blood.

Too much to be from a cut on broken glass or a knife, Se’risa follows the trail until it thickens into a river streaked across the floor ending at a door.

She won’t open it, she knows better.

Se’risa hikes her skirts and runs. She thinks of calling guards but whoever had done this is likely nearby. She keeps quiet, mutes the sound of her shuffling feet to hear any who might discover her.

She makes it back to the main hallways now filled with revelers and servants, the feast spilling over from the main hall.

She looks for a familiar face, for a guard, anyone to tell about what she’s found. But there is red everywhere, too thick to pull apart. She’s not strong enough to see who is clean.

“Se’risa isn’t it?”

But she can see, she doesn’t need that kind of strength to see who is the dirtiest of them all.

The Duchess smiles at her. “Where’s your princely escort?”

She is dressed in gold but Se’risa sees only the red, wrapped about both arms, threads of magic extending from all ten of her fingers. She is the seamstress and only now can Se’risa see that illusion is what she is weaving.

“It’s you. It was always you.” Se’risa whispers.

Ylva follows the child’s wide-eyed stare from her hands down to the floor, across the hall, and up the hem of a servant’s robes.

The servant smiles at the duchess and gives away the game.

Sighing, the duchess nods back at the servant and starts a war.

“Attack.”

Chapter Text

You start with a soft nervous giggle, overwhelmed by the possibility now certainty that you can go home. But the giggle gets away from you, exposed to air it hardens like a shell around you and soon you are doubled over on the floor, your halberd dropped, seized by a hysterical fit of laughter.

You hold your stomach, laughing at the greatest joke ever told, howling until tears leak from your eyes.

“Has she gone mad?” Thor asks.

“Possibly,” Fa’rey answers.

You have, you think through gales of laughter. Ever since you woke in this palace you’ve dreamed of returning to your own. And until you fell for your prince and even after, it was the only thing you desired with your whole heart.

But as time went on, you ignored that dream, securing it away on the unreacheable shelves of your heart though you still reached for it. So long as Fa’rey and Fa’dan ruled, so long as you thought your people were happy and well cared for, your dream came second, third even. Love for Loki and Se’risa taking its place.

You stopped reaching for the unattainable.

And the very second you stopped, that dream deferred explodes, falling neatly into your lap demanding attention while you still scramble to pick up the scattered pieces of yourself.

You can’t help but laugh.

“You’re scaring me, love,” Loki whispers to you. “I like it.”

He makes you laugh harder even though now it starts to hurt, aggravating the migraine that’s steadily pulsing in your brain. You find your feet and your halberd, mad enough to strike a killing blow with a smile.

“Very well Fa’rey, receive your punishment.”

Your cousin nods and bends her head exposing her neck to your blade.

Thor objects. “Is this the time or the place for an execution?”

She ignores him and so do you intending to ignore any other calls for mercy or delay.

“Swear. On your honor swear that only my head will roll.”

Loki’s seen you take lives in self defense and in the haze of war, but to witness you take one in vengeance thrills him. He knows you are good, your heart is the purest thing he’s ever held but to see the slivers of shadow your light casts, oh he loves it. He is all darkness with bits of light and you are all light with bits of darkness.

Together you make Stars.

“On my holiest honor, I hereby swear that I, Princess...no Queen --”

The servants who enter the audience chamber do not know they’ve interrupted an execution. They come with trays of wine glasses and horns of ale.

“My Lords, Ladies, libations?”

Frigga can’t say she’s annoyed. She did instruct her servants to ensure every empty hand had a glass. She makes note of their faces.

Brugar.

Delvar.

Marna.

She will reward them later for their attention to detail and for potentially stopping a murder.

You also make not of their faces.

Red.

So much red.

Red pulses and swirls around all three of their hearts, the foulest and the reddest standing closest to Lady Frigga.

“Thank you all. Please serve my guests.”

“With pleasure.”

“My Lady! No!”

Delvar serves her no glass, but a knife, Brugar and Marna drop their trays to reveal swords.

“Mother!”

“Frigga!”

Frigga’s family cry out together as Delvar stabs her, close and quick to plunge the blade three times into her chest.

He is struck thrice, one for each blow inflicted against the Allmother. Once by lightning, once by thunder, and once by your very own hand. He is cleaved, electrified, and exploded before he can draw a breath to scream.

Only Loki has no time to contribute to the slaughter, catching Frigga as she falls bloody to the ground.

“Mother! No!”

The room breaks apart into screaming, bodies flood the room, bringing in chaos and carnage from Stars knows where.

“The King and Queen! Protect them at all costs!”

“Save us they are killing us!”

“Kill them all, leave not one alive.”

“It’s the servants! It’s a rebellion!”

“They keep coming, where are they coming from?”

Palace guards strike indiscriminately, if it wears a gray robe, it dies. Servants die fighting, swords in hand, others die screaming begging for mercy. War erupts in the audience chamber and all hands commit to fighting the nearest enemy, whomever they may be.

You cannot fight, suddenly struck half blind. You see nothing but a sea of red, murder all around you like your eyes are filled with blood. You fall, struck in the melee, exquisite pain flaming across your left side.

“My eye!”

All you feel is a hole, brutal pain, and gushing blood.

“There! She is who was promised! Get her! Bring her head to me!”

**

Loki lifts his mother in his arms, screaming for guards that suddenly appear bringing war instead of aid.

“The King and Queen! Protect them at all costs!”

He is surrounded, cut off from the fighting by a phalanx of heavily armored guards. Assassins disguised as servants crash against the wall of shields, screaming for his blood and that of the precious cargo he holds.

“Kill them all, leave not one alive!”

His brother fights with his bare fists, Mjolnir somewhere close and getting closer punching through walls of marble and stone to get to its master.

“Mjolnir. To me!”

His father fights his attackers and his guards who urge him to give up the battle in favor of a retreat to safety.

“My Lord, we must away, the palace is filled with an army!”

“Cowards! Fight for your home! Frigga! Where is Frigga?”

In his arms, kept alive by his magic.

“My eye!”

Loki hears your shout cut clear across the battle, over and above his father's and brother's bellows and the screams of dying servants and guards.

“There! She is who was promised! Get her! Bring her head to me!”

He sees hands fist in your hair, an assailant yanks your head back hard enough to pop the bones in your neck. His other hand holds a sword ready to chop.

Loki can abandon his mother.

Or abandon you.

Or split himself between two forms diluting his magic, making it potentially too weak to save you both.

“Lo-!”

**

The man who holds you by the hair has taken many lives tonight but yours will be his first head. He is frenzied in his bloodlust, the red violence around his heart shimmering into a swirling maelstrom of purple craze that your eyes just see like it’s a feature on his face, as plain as his broken nose or snarling mouth. His fingers pull your hair out from the root and you can’t think for the hurt, can’t fight through it, your feeble hands bat at his wrists.

Your neck is stretched so far back you can’t scream. His name comes out a strained whine you think no one but you will hear.

“Lo-!”

And it’s cut off with your scream.

Chapter Text

Fa’rey wields the halberd as though it is her birthright and not yours. Your attacker’s hand slides free from your hair as the rest of him slides free of his hand. Another effortless swing and your attacker slides free of life.

Your cousin lifts you up. “I’ve got you, let’s get out of here.”

“Die whore!”

Another gray clad servant lunges for you both, Fa’rey twists, interposing her body between the attacker and yours. Her arm twitches he is dispatched. Another servant is nearby, Fa’rey lunges for him before he has the chance to surprise you.

“No!” You shout. “Yellow. Yellow. Fear. Not him. Not him.” You see it, yellow cowardice cringing in the corners of his ribs and heart.

“It’s a damn rebellion! He’ll put a sword in our back if we don’t put one in his belly.”

“No please! I’ve done nothing! Some of us attacked but I’ve done nothing!”

“Liar!”

“No!”

“No!” You agree.

“How do you know!”

“I can see! I can see it!”

“You are half-blind mi’isah! What do you mean you can see? Look at me!”

You do, lifting your head to stare at her.

“Holy stars. Your eye.”

It’s not gone but ruined, white and iris blotted out with blood, red tears leaking from its corners.

“I see,” you say head lolling, heavy with nausea, delirious with pain. “There. That one!”

There is another servant, rocking on the ground, huddled over like a rat. But her cringing form conceals a dagger, she slices at feet when no one’s watching and stabs hearts when they fall. Her treachery makes her entire chest glow orange.

“She has a dagger.”

“She’s literally wailing.” Fa’rey protests, the distraction enough to let the other one slip free. He disappears under overturned furniture, hiding from guards and murderous servants alike.

“A dagger! I see it!”

Fa’rey carries you, carries her weapon in the other hand. “I’m innocent please!”

“Show me your hands.”

“What?”

“Your hands! Show me empty hands and you live!”

With no time to throw away her weapon, the servant attacks and dies, hands empty, her dagger lodged in the meat of Fa’rey’s shoulder.

“Shit. I can’t carry you and fight mi’isah. Show me where to take you to safety.” Fa’rey tenses as a phalanx of guards approach. They encircle you, a bulwark of shields against the chaos.

“Lady Fa’rey!”

You know that voice, it lifts your head, clears the fog around you. “Loki.”

His mother is in his arms, her heart pink like the flesh of a new scar, wounded. Gravely.

Loki is...

Colorless.

His heart makes no noise, you see nothing but him and the pain your eye throbs just a bit less.

“Get her and follow me, the guards will get us to safety. Thor!”

“I’m busy!” He grunts, hurling an attacker over his shoulder.

“You can return to battle once we get Mother to safety you bloody oaf!”

“Then go, brother! I’ll cover your escape.”

Loki snarls but relents. “Fine! Come then, we have to get them both someplace safe!”

“Lead the way.” Fa’rey tugs but your shuffling feet suddenly leaden.

“Mi’isah, c’mon. You’re alright, I’ve got you.” She pulls harder on you, but you actively wrench away.

“No. Not going.”

You can barely stand, can barely breathe or think, but it doesn’t take much effort for you to understand what is required of you now.

Se’risa needs you. Niti and Edvard too, but Se’risa most of all.

“Se’risa.” You say and Loki’s face drops.

“She’s...the filly...” She’s safe, he knows it. She’s a smart girl, a powerful girl. The best, taught by the best. She’ll be fine.

But he can’t bring himself to say it.

A guard dies screaming, tearing a hole in the wall of shields around them. It collapses in, more assailants attack, daggers and swords and bloody fingernails eager to tear the royal family apart. The guards falter, some die, but the wall rebuilds and holds, Fa’rey lending some of her blood to mortar the stones.

“My lord we must get you to safety!”

Frigga is heavy in his arms, you are heavy in his heart. He cannot carry both.

“Princess. Please. And I never say ‘please’ but my mother--she’s… I can’t look after you both.”

“Don’t. Take Frigga. I’ll bring... Se’risa...back.”

“And who is going to bring you back!”

“I will.” Fa’rey steps back from the line of guards, halberd dripping with blood. “I will.”

“No! You think I’ll give you the chance to hurt her again?!”

You sway on your feet, teeth sawing the insides of your cheeks to pulpy flesh trying to regain strength in your legs and clarity in your mind. You can’t see for the color. The red murder and the yellow fear and the stalwart grey of the guards who sheild you from the worst of the fighting. But they crumble every second, yellow dripping down the grey like oil ready to catch fire and burn.

You’ll fall before you find Se’risa. Your body, whatever plagues it, has left you too weak to do this alone.

“Trust.” You murmur as best you can.

“You want me to trust her?! After she admitted to wanting to kill you!”

“Not her...me. I see it. I can see.”

“What! See what?”

You falter before you can answer. The guards crush in again, the thin and bloody wall of bodies failing.

“My Lord. We will fall here. We must retreat to safety!”

Loki is unable to stall longer. He is crippled with inability. With his mother in his arms, he can’t kiss you, he can’t hold you, he can’t even reach for you. All he can do is fix Fa’rey with a desperate stare and hope it’s enough to impart his dire warning.

“You bring my Princess back. Both of them. Or I will personally strike the head off your father when this is over.”

You hear Fa’rey growl, red seeps into her heart before it is quickly blotted out. “Threaten my father and your princesses won’t have a prince to return to. Bet.”

Loki nods, unsatisfied but there’s no more time.

“Ok mi’isah. Are you ready?”

You nod once, and it feels like your whole brain is pushing on one point in your skull, that it may break and slide out of from a hole in your forehead.

“She was last in the ballroom yeah?”

“Yes.”

“Then on three we make a break for the door and your prince makes a break for safety.”

“On three men!” One of the guards shouts.

“Loki.” You pull strength from somewhere, even the act of saying his name provides a three second balm, a moment of clarity where you can find coherent words.

“1.” Fa’rey starts.

“I love you.”

“2.” The guards continue.

He doesn’t hear you at first, focused on the sounds of battle, listening for his father and brother. He registers that you’ve spoken, brain a half second too slow to interpret what you’ve said and offer reply.

“Princess. I lo-

“3!”

Chapter Text

You are torn forward.

The melee splits before Fa’rey and the halberd, separating around you two like skin parts for a knife’s cut. She has no time to be careful, to heed your screams to spare one servant or attack another. She cuts wildly and all fall in the wake of her blade.

Fighting chokes the halls, you’ve never seen this many servants before. The palace is an abattoir and none are spared from the slaughter.

“Se’risa!” You scream but your voice is one note in a choir of howls. “Se’risa!”

Odin’s guards and Odin’s guests work together to repel the murderous servants. The palace is a battlefield but your allies are not gaining any ground, they are losing it.

“Where do we go mi’isah? You know this palace. I don’t.”

You hang off her shoulder, you can walk but only barely. You blink to gain your bearing but all you see is a smear across your vision, vague shapes to denote bodies and colors. So many colors, bright and beating with the hearts the colors surround.

A streak of red hurls towards you.

“No!”

Iron grey blocks its path. They struggle, mixing together before the grey overpowers the red and it fizzles away. “Come on Princess. I can’t fight this entire army while you figure out where to go!”

You know. But you can’t see with your eyes open and you’re just as blind with them shut. You’ll never find her like this. You will be lost.

You wrench your eyes shut. The darkness terrifies you, everything becomes louder, closer. The death wail from across the hall is suddenly at your feet, it’s suddenly yours. You await the last bright flash of pain convinced you’re dying. But you don’t.

You remember. Death can’t have you. Not yet.

“Princess!”

You hear voices call for you and voices have no color. They also don’t hurt as much. Pain still kicks around in your head like tumbling rocks but with your eyes closed, it’s manageable. Your pain eases, not abates, but eases. You tighten your legs and lock your knees. You stop swaying on your feet. You will find Se’risa.
You will not be lost!

You will be lost, Fa’rey thinks. Both of you. Whatever has you messed up is likely killing you. You’ll die, then she’ll die, lost trying to defend you or lost when Prince Loki inevitably blames her for your death.

Fa’rey thought she accepted death. She came here to die at your hand in hopes her life will buy her father’s. She did not come here to end like this, stuck on a servant’s blade in an enemy’s palace.

You will be lost.

If you could see, you would notice change in the determined grey of Fa’rey’s heart, brightening it’s shade like a leaf in fall.

No one would know. You’d be just another nameless corpse on the pile before the prince found you. In fact, if she left now, she could get home and possibly return with an army ready to take advantage of Odin’s weakness.

You will be lost,

“Princess! Over here!”

Her decision is made for her, a bloody hand reaches out of the storm of bodies beckoning them. Fa’rey follows and you hold on, together you are brought into a corner of the palace hallway, carved from tipped over tables and stacked chairs. The wounded and scared huddle here, waiting for rescue, realizing slowly, belatedly that they’re really waiting for death.

“Princess. Oh thank the Stars! I’ve been looking everywhere for you!”

You don’t have to open your eyes, so you don’t, hanging on to your strength. You know that voice, you trust it.

“Niti. Are you alright?”

“Yes. Me. Niti. And no, I’m not alright. The girl...Se’risa. I think I know where she is.”

Fa’rey perks up. “Why are sitting here then?”

Niti smiles at Fa’rey and nods. You don’t see any of it.

“Follow me.”

You don’t see any of it, guided by the arm you keep around Fa’rey’s shoulder. You don’t see how the crude fortification is overrun the second the three of you step away from it.

You don’t see the way the fighting naturally seems to avoid you. Everyone fights around you now, parting for you the way it did before only Fa’rey doesn’t have to fight so hard anymore. In fact, she doesn’t have to fight at all.

“This way.” Niti ducks behind a door and the fighting disappears.

“Where…?” Fa’rey starts to ask.

“I’m a servant. I know secret places. I last saw Se’risa near the ballroom but we’ll never make it going the normal way.”

Fa’rey nods. “Lead.”

She does. And you follow, eyes still wrenched shut lest the little bit of strength you’ve mustered fails you.

So you don’t see when another woman with kohl rimmed eyes and jet black hair passes by the door you just disappeared behind. And after it shuts, you can’t hear her call your name, nor can you hear the frantic shouts of her companion: a tall red haired man with so much loyalty in his heart you don’t need special eyes to see it.

You don’t see any of it.

You don’t need to.

This is Niti.

You can always trust Niti.

And because you trust this servant, Fa’rey does too. Following blindly yet with open eyes as she leads you both down empty corridors.

“Asgard is this damn large? Shouldn’t we be near the ballroom by now?

“Yes. Just a little further! The door is up ahead.”

“Just a little further…”

 

Your heart hesitates for a beat, you falter for a second as a wave of pain returns.

“But this was a mistake! I should have never…Take me to my mother. Please!”

“You alright mi’isah? We’re almost there.”

“I…”

Niti scoffs impatiently. “Princess. Come on! We’re running out of time. The door is just up ahead.”

“Astrid. Come on! The door is just up ahead.”

You stop. Your eyes remain closed.

But you don’t need them to see the truth anymore.

Frustrated at being so close and yet so far, Niti reaches for you, closes her hand around your wrist.

But you feel it close around your neck.

“Princess. We’re running out of time!”

Her hand tightens. You choke, but you can still breathe.

“Ylva! Ylva! Stop!”

When Astrid chokes on her last breath, you scream. You open your eyes and the darkness breaks apart, clarity searing all your senses. You see everything.

Everything.

“It was you!”

“Princess? What are you talking about? What’s wrong? What’s happening?” Fa’rey misses the click, the sound of the lock on the door releasing. Old rusty hinges creak and the door you were heading for swings open.

It’s not the ballroom. But another, smaller room.

“Princess!”
Se’risa is inside, held fast to a wall by chains. She is not alone, kept company by a handful of sorcerers chanting around a sphere of blue light. Bodies come through it, dressed in grey servant’s robes but armed with axes and daggers, not goblets and trays.

A man directs them, heart as red as the blood pooling around his feet..

“Ah. Our hostess finally delivers the guest of honor. Continue the ritual, bring as many through as you can. I want this palace taken by sunrise.”

“What the Hel…”

Fa’rey understands too late, watches in horror as the Niti woman shimmers and melts and changes. Her skin and hair lighten, the kohl around her eyes gives way to long, pretty lashes. Her concerned frown lightens too, into a cruel smile that peels back to reveal perfect teeth. This woman is perfect, in her beauty and in her deception.

Ylva.

Fleeing is out of the question. Fighting is too. You’re done, paralyzed as images of all of Ylva’s evil completely overwhelm you.

Where Loki is colorless, Ylva is the rainbow. You see green jealousy, purple rage, orange treachery, violet lust, and red, murderous and vengeful red.

The assault ends with the vision of Se’risa screaming as Ylva’s hands seize her. You slump forward, body trying to remember how to breathe.

“We have no quarrel with you Princess Fa’rey.” Ylva stands beside the man who sneers with a kind of contempt only royalty can recognize in other royalty. He’s the leader of this army, their prince.

“In fact, our interests align. You see, neither I nor the prince have any designs on your kingdom. Asgard is our prize and we will have it. Surrender that nag to us and you can return home--a Queen--to be plagued no more by usurpers to your throne. Surrender and live. Fight and you’ll die. And she’ll die. And the girl will die.”

Fa’rey is a realist, she knows when a battle is lost. That’s why she came here in the first place: her battle for your throne was lost. She is alone, exhausted, and outnumbered. You are a worthless corpse and Se’risa is a child.

She recalls her thoughts from before.

You will be lost.
“Ah shit.” Fa’rey gives you one last glance then shrugs. “Ok..”

“No!” Se’risa hollers, starts hurling at Fa’rey the vilest curses in your language, words you would never expect to come from such a young mouth. She struggles against her chains. Her magic is good, but not good enough to break them.

“Princess! Get up! Princess! Wake up! Please. Please!”

“Ok,” Fa’rey repeats stepping away from you. “You’re right.”

Ylva grins, nodding. Finally, a plan that works! She steps toward you but the haft of your mother’s halberd suddenly blocks her path.

Fa’rey suddenly blocks her path.

You will be lost.

“I guess we all just die then.”