Sif rarely saw Thor look so defeated, but here he was, slumped against his bedpost, with his head in his hands. She didn’t have to look far to see the source of his trouble either.
Modi Fosterson sat, knees around his chin, staring intently at the wall. The stars had risen behind him, with their light casting a shadow in front of him. His face was blank, but his eyes were unblinking. She sighed- Thor’s son had a reputation for being… stubborn to say the least. He had celebrated his third century not long ago, yet he still did not speak much and most of what he did say sounded unintelligible. He would not play with other children and had even knocked over other children for no apparent reason. He would cry out if he was so much as accidentally brushed, stare into the distance for hours and throw the kind of tantrums that would have the staff removing precious objects from the room. The Palace was abuzz with rumours about the boy and, unsurprisingly, they were mostly due to his parentage.
‘Well, he’s half mortal, what did they expect?’
And that was some of the kinder things said about him. Thor was generally looked on with a mixture of sympathy and a kind of tutting disapproval. He had sired a child by a mortal woman, a strange one at that, and now she was gone and he was left alone to care for him. He must’ve known this would happen. Jane Foster did not live to see Modi walk, he would barely remember his mother- if at all.
Sif coughed and Thor looked up towards her, tired and exhausted.
‘Hello,’ he managed.
‘What happened?’ She asked, walking over to sit beside him.
Thor almost laughed ‘Oh everything happened,’ he yawned ‘and more besides.’
He gestured towards Modi ‘I suggested he go to bed and he did not take kindly to it.’
Thor held up his arm, the bracer had teeth marks in it. Sif winced.
‘That was about three hours ago and he has not moved from that spot, have you lad?’
Modi said nothing.
‘Why yes Pabbi, I have important work to do, staring at the moonbeams is most vital and I simply cannot go to sleep until I have turned your beard grey and shredded your very last nerve!’ Thor added in a sing song voice. Sif smiled despite herself.
‘How much sleep have you had?’
‘Very little, probably less than Modi has had.’
‘You must go to bed.’
‘I can’t,’ Thor got to his feet and rubbed his eyes ‘I can’t just leave him like this. He needs to sleep in his own bed he can’t just…’
‘Stare at the wall,’ Thor threw his hands up ‘but I… I might just lose my temper at him and he… oh…I have already done that enough times this week and I am so very tired…’
Sif held his cheek ‘Thor, can I help? And don’t even attempt to be prideful because you have been defeated by a child.’
Thor barked out a laugh ‘Aye, that I have!’
‘So, let me help you.’
‘What if he tries to-’
‘I have faced a thousand battles and have yet to be bested.’
‘You have not faced my son,’ Thor said, solemnly.
‘Thor, let me try. Stop being a stubborn oaf.’
He shrugged ‘Have at him then.’
It was often a cliche of the old stories that tragic children had their mother’s eyes and Modi had, indeed, the same huge dark eyes as Jane. They were fixed on one point on the wall.
‘Has he been like this long?’ She asked.
Thor’s mumbled reply was something like ‘Since before sunset.’
Sif raised her eyebrows ‘Hmm,’ she knelt beside him.
‘Modi?’ She asked, but the boy did not move.
‘What’re you looking at?’
Sif frowned and asked his father ‘How did he get here?’
‘I thought we could look at the stars together, like we used to when…’ he trailed off and slumped again ‘but he would not stop staring at the wall. Then the sun set and he refused to get ready for bed then… well, here we are.’
Sif tried to follow Modi’s eye line, tried to see what he was looking at. It seemed that was simply fixated on a single point of the wall. She crept closer, trying not to break Modi’s concentration or get in his way and tried to peer at the same point as him. After a while, she realised something was twinkling and sparkling on the wall, almost exactly where he was looking. At first, she thought it was just the random movement of dust motes, but as she stared, sitting at the edge of the star light’s beam, she realised that the little flecks moved in a very set dance, repeating in a clear pattern. It was circling a central spec, almost in a flattened orbit. She glanced at Modi, then at the dust motes.
‘Thor,’ Sif said, getting up and walking back to Thor’s bed ‘I think I’ve realised what Modi’s doing.’
‘Aside from killing me slowly?’ Thor grumbled.
‘I think he’s using magic.’
Thor shot up ‘What?’
‘He’s using magic to make the dust motes move, that’s why he’s concentrating so hard.’
Thor just stared, open mouthed for a moment.
‘Which is why when you tried to move him he got so upset. Does he often stare at walls?’
‘He does, he stares for ages… I haven’t seen anything.’
‘Well, it’s very small, you have to look very keenly.’
He did so, leaping up and sitting down next to his son, carefully, and staring into the spot where Modi was looking. Sif saw him stare almost as hard as his son, then look up at her, then back at the spot on the wall.
‘He… he’s doing that?’
‘He is,’ Sif motioned for him to get up and move away quickly, without disturbing him ‘and he’s using the star light, following it’s progress, that’s why he won’t go to bed. He wants to get it right.’
Thor groaned out a string of swear words and buried his hands in his hair ‘Why did I not… I am a fool…’
‘Thor, you are not a fool,’ Sif put a hand on his arm ‘you were not to know.’
‘But of course he loves star light! Of course he was studying!’ He cried ‘He’s… he’s… so much like…’
He stopped, then swallowed ‘He loves the stars.’
‘No, he loves the star light , he wanted to observe it’s magic, that’s why he’s facing away from the window.’
‘I tried to show him the constellations and tell him the names but he wouldn’t look, he just wanted the wall. He… he used to listen to his mother-’
‘That’s because he was little more than a babe in arms listening to her voice, now he is a child and he wants to understand other things, not just memorise names. I expect he probably knows them all already.’
Thor nodded ‘That makes a lot of sense.’
‘Of course it does.’
‘All I wanted to do was to put him to bed,’ Thor shut his eyes ‘but he didn’t listen.’
Sif hesitated, then took his hand ‘He’s as stubborn as you are.’
Thor huffed out a laugh ‘That is true, but...Why didn’t he tell me? Why could he not just… explain?’
Sif took her own deep breath ‘He cannot. Not yet. You need to find a different way of communicating with him other than using words.’
‘But he surely understands-’
‘No, Thor, clearly he does not,’ Sif said, holding both his hands and looking into his eyes ‘I think… I think it is as if you are speaking another language to him. He does not have a clear idea of what you want from him- first the stars, then their names, then bed… but when he finds something to hold his interest and you try to take that away. He got confused and frustrated… then lashed out.’
‘I did not intend that.’
‘I know, but that is how his mind appears to work.’
Yours works this way too sometimes , Sif thought.
Thor looked at her ‘How do you know all of this?’
‘Funnily enough,’ Sif sighed ‘your mother. She used to talk to me about the children she looked after. She tutored many children like Modi, those who… needed a different kind of lesson.’
He hesitated ‘Father called them ‘Moon Children’.’
‘Never within Frigga’s earshot I expect,’ she scoffed ‘that is a cruel term Thor. Never use it to describe your son.’
‘No… but he is…’
‘Not like other children, but you knew that he would be different,’ Sif sighed ‘all he needs Thor, is patience, understanding and distance. All traits that you possess.’
‘I don’t… I don’t know anything about-’
‘Well, you’ll learn because you love your son and you want him to be accepted and safe and happy,’ Sif smiled at him ‘and I will help. I think I know of a tutor who can teach Modi appropriately in the arts of magic.’
He smiled ‘My son… my son is a magic user.’
‘That he is.’
‘I did not think he… given that he’s half mortal, he would never be able to use magic. That he would be more akin to a scientist, using instruments and numbers like his mother.’
Sif steeled herself for her next words. Thor had become more like his old self, through healing after the loss of his mortal love, but… she still had to be careful about what she said.
‘Thor, this may be hard to hear, but you know that I only mean to help and to do right by you,’ she said, reaching up to stroke his cheek ‘Modi is not Jane Foster. He never will be. You need to understand that he will need different things to her and that he is as part of this world as any other citizen of Asgard. He is of Earth, but only half. He did not live there for any significant amount of time. You cannot raise him in the shadow of his mother. That’s not fair on him.’
‘I… I did not mean to…’
‘No I expect you didn’t, but it feels that way. You place her memory on a pedestal and that is… expected and normal, but for Modi’s sake, you need to let him be himself.’
Thor nodded, eyes closed ‘I know.’
‘If you know, then put it into practice. Let Modi learn magic in his own way, but get him a tutor and an experienced nurse or you will never sleep again.’
He laughed at that ‘You are right, as always.’
‘Not always,’ she corrected ‘but I am probably right about this.’
Thor drew her into an embrace and kissed her atop her head ‘Thank you Sif… I … am not sure what I have done to deserve such wonderful company.’
‘A lot of things,’ she assured ‘and I would appreciate it if you went to bed.’
‘I will stay with him, did I not already agree? Then you shall let him sleep tomorrow during the day.’
‘We have a pageant to attend.’
‘Well, you can go without him.’
Thor hesitated a moment, then shrugged ‘I don’t suppose father will mind. He barely acknowledges his grandson’s existence.’
Sif nodded ‘Then let Modi have the day at home with his magic. I shall send for a tutor tomorrow morning, first thing.’
Thor nodded with reluctance as he went back to bed, slumping under the covers.
‘Good night good lady,’ he managed ‘and thank you… thank…’
He was snoring within minutes and she just sighed and turned back to Modi, who had, to her surprise, looked round to the sound of his father’s sleeping.
‘Oh, you’re finished?’ Sif began, then leant down so that Modi could see her face and put her palms together then held them to her ear ‘Bed?’
Modi copied her actions and said ‘Bed?’ in an almost perfect mimicry.
Sif pointed to him, then repeated her ‘bed’ action. He got up and pointed to where Thor was sleeping ‘Pabbi bed,’ he declared.
‘Yes, Pabbi has gone to bed,’ Sif agreed, rubbing her face, signifying a beard, to show ‘Pabbi’ and repeating the bed action ‘but Modi, you must go to Modi’s bed. That’s Pabbi’s bed.’
Modi looked as though he were about to protest, when Sif held up a hand ‘Modi’s bed.’
His huge brown eyes fixed on her hand then at her face. He appeared to be considering her instructions, then began to walk out of the room with Sif following him. They walked to his bedroom, where his bed had been prepared for hours. Sif thought for a moment, then began a list ‘First,’ she motioned washing her hands ‘wash, then teeth,’ she motioned brushing his teeth. The boy frowned, but followed to his bathroom where Sif sat with him, watching her wash and copying her. Then repeating the action with his teeth.
‘Now, bed clothes.’
She had to help him peel off his day clothes and slip into a clean linen night shirt.
Modi got under his covers and sat up, pointing to his bed side table. Sif followed his direction, picking up objects in turn until she apparently selected the right one- a candle.
‘You want a light?’
He nodded ‘Light.’
‘Of course,’ she pinched the wick, bringing it to life almost instantly ‘but Modi is sleeping not playing. Playing tomorrow.’
Modi nodded and settled into sleep, his face pressed onto the pillow.
Sif cursed inwardly and wracked her brains. She didn’t know any… well, none suitable for a child. She sat with him and asked ‘Which story? Modi choosing?’
Modi leaned down under his bed and pulled out a thin, well worn book that he gave to Sif.
‘Reading,’ he said. He’s a commanding little so and so , Sif thought, he’s more like his father than people think.
She opened the book and winced- it was all in one of Midgard’s many many written languages which she couldn’t read.
‘Modi… I can’t-’ she began before he snatched it out of her hand and opened it at the first page. He read aloud in perfect Midgardian English ‘Coraline discovered the door a little while after they moved into the house. It was a very old house – it had an attic under the roof and a cellar under the ground…’
Oh! He meant to tell me he would be the one to do the reading. She sat and listened to him, his tone somewhat flat, but it was fascinating to watch a previously quiet child suddenly reel off a long passage of text (a story of a little girl on a dangerous quest) in the solemn voice of a learned mage. He read right through to the end, even as his eyelids drooped, finishing to his satisfaction, before handing Sif the book.
‘Good night Modi,’ she managed, bemused at this turn of events as he lay his head and shut his eyes. No reply, but Sif waited until she heard a soft boyish snore before leaving the room as quietly as she could.
Thor awoke in a start, running from his chambers, all the way down the corridors until he eventually found the sitting room where he normally found Modi at this time in the morning. It took a moment for him to register the scene, to comprehend what he was looking at. He was expecting to find chaos, but instead, he found Sif sitting cross legged with his son staring intently at a short table in front of him. Sitting directly opposite was an old Vanir woman dressed in elaborate blue and red robes with simple jewelry, clutching a cloth bag apparently about to pour it’s contents on the table. She looked at Thor as he were the errant child, then at Sif who held up a hand to him before he could bellow something.
‘Wait there,’ she got up ‘please excuse us Lady Máddjá.’
‘How long-’ Thor began, before Sif hissed at him before bustling him out of the room, leaving his son alone with this woman, apparently named Lady Máddjá . They stopped in the corridor outside, where Thor tried again at a whisper ‘How long have I been asleep?! What’s going on?!’
‘You’ve been asleep for two weeks,’ Sif said, calmly.
‘You clearly needed it.’
‘Everything’s alright, I’ve taken care of everything.’
Thor’s stared in abject horror, not sure where to even begin ‘The… the pageant -’
‘I explained to the All-father than you were called away and could not attend.’
‘He believed you?’
Sif raised an eyebrow ‘I’ll pretend you didn’t say that, you’re obviously still waking up.’
‘What has Modi been doing all this time? Did he ask for me? Has he hurt anyone? What in the name of all the Nine-’
He stopped, realising he’d been pacing and pulling at the crow's nest of his hair, whilst Sif remained as level and calm as ever.
‘Modi has been tutored by Lady Máddjá. She’s been here for ten days. Her understanding and experience with children like Modi is unparalleled. She worked with your mother.’
Thor swallowed ‘Did… you send for her?’
‘I did, with approval from Odin. His new Nursemaid has been chosen to, she is arriving later today.’
He pinched the bridge of his nose ‘Since when did my father care for his grandson’s welfare?’
‘Since I told him that Lady Máddjá could help him.’
‘I expect father heard ‘control’ him-’
‘Regardless,’ Sif interrupted ‘it has helped. Modi is far calmer and he has been doing a few basic spells, including a touch of illusion casting and divination.’
Thor’s eyes bulged ‘ Divination?! He’s a child Sif! ’
‘Thor,’ Sif snapped, patience severely tested ‘come into the room and you’ll see what I mean.’
He opened and shut his mouth several times, then gave up ‘Alright, but if I do not like-’
He stopped at Sif’s slight tilt of the head. That stare, calm yet burning, could’ve melted uru and Thor found himself shrinking under it.
‘I am so close to hitting you Thor Odinson, I can already see a broken nose,’ Sif managed ‘get in that room right now, shut up and watch your son.’
He did so, following Sif and sitting just behind Modi, who had not moved or even noticed he was there. At Sif’s instruction, he watched Modi as he studied the rune stones now tipped on the table. Thor recognised a few of the symbols and stared from them to the back of his son’s head, the normally scruffy dark blonde hair now neat and brushed into a wolf tail.
‘Goat,’ Modi said, so clearly that Thor jumped.
‘That is correct Modi,’ Lady Máddjá said, clearly, carefully ‘well done. Can you show me a goat?’
Modi nodded, holding out a hand, a shimmering blue and green light formed and, carefully, Thor moved round to see what he had cast. Sure enough, there was the shape of a little goat, moving stiffly, but recognisable.
Thor’s jaw had hit his chest.
‘Good work Modi,’ Lady Máddjá said, gathering up the rune stones ‘well done. Shall we cast again?’
‘No, thank you, ’ Lady Máddjá corrected ‘then we shall continue later. You may play for…’
She held up an hour glass, tipping it around ‘... an hour, then we shall do some more casting.’
He stood up and turned, catching sight of Thor and smiling, curling in on himself in a way Thor hadn’t seen for a long time, huge brown eyes bright.
‘Hello Modi,’ Thor said, cautiously ‘have you-’
Modi laughed, loudly, making the company jump a little and ran off to find his toy animals. He had the same ritual every time- tip out the box, line them up, then chose the horse, tapping it’s wooden legs over every available surface and humming.
‘Modi-’ Thor tried, but Sif held his wrist.
‘Let him, this is his time.’
Thor gave up and turned to Lady Máddjá with a bow ‘I… thank you.’
‘Odinson,’ Lady Máddjá bowed ‘I am honoured to meet you. It is a great pleasure to serve the house of Odin.’
‘I appreciate all that you have done… and will continue to do?’ He asked, hope rising up.
‘Of course,’ she smiled ‘Modi has a lot of innate talent, but his concentration is poor. He will focus on the basics of the Seidr- the casting of illusion and divination- then we shall move onto more complex principals if and when he is ready.’
‘Divination…’ Thor began, feeling Sif’s glare ‘I… have concerns-’
‘And I shall ease them,’ she beckoned him to sit down ‘and show how divination will help your son learn how to communicate his needs.’
Thor frowned and sat, feeling distinctly silly, as if he were back at school. He had not enjoyed lessons much, preferring to run, climb, fight…
This was where Loki had been most at home.
‘I shall show you a few runes,’ Lady Máddjá selected another bag by her feet ‘these will be the ones for Modi’s everyday use.’
She took one out and showed it to Thor ‘What does this represent?’
He looked at the symbol and, after a few moments study, he realised ‘Pabbi.’
‘I shall place it on the table,’ she did so, Thor still watching carefully.
‘Now, I understand your own skill with magic may not be attuned to Divination,’ she flexed her fingers ‘and there is much misconception surrounding the practice, but if you would picked up the stone, you’ll see what your son will be seeing.’
Thor did so, still feeling Sif look at him, and after a few blinks, he saw himself in the now- sitting opposite Lady Máddjá. It was deeply strange, looking up at himself as if he had shrunk and left his body alone and stranded. He felt both dizzy and a strange sense of melancholy.
‘If I may?’
Thor handed it back with relief as his world view resumed normality.
‘He is not looking at the Fates, if this is what you are worried about,’ Lady Máddjá said, placing the stone back in the bag ‘more a… capture of the immediately impending.’
‘Oh! Like a photo-’ he stopped, remembering Lady Máddjá was probably not as familiar with Midgard as he was ‘- a still image.’
‘Indeed,’ she nodded ‘he will know what to expect and this will allow him to both plan how he must act in the ensuing events and continue his work in the present. His mind is often troubled by the uncertainty of the immediate future and sometimes he cannot truly understand your words. Images however, are far more suited. It may reassure him to know, for example, when you shall return from your travels across the Nine Realms or speaking to the All Father.’
‘And… this is all he shall look at? Just upcoming events to let him know what will happen in the day?’
‘Of course,’ Lady Máddjá said, patiently ‘I would not ask anything unsuitable of your son.’
He nodded, feeling more reassured ‘I am sorry to ask, but…’
‘I understand,’ she reached inside the bag ‘each rune will be what the person holding the stone sees or thinks of when they read the rune. For example, when Modi holds the stone reading ‘home’, he will see an image of what he perceives to be home. When you hold it, I’d imagine it might be something different.’
‘Then… I saw myself when I held the ‘Pabbi’ stone-’
‘Because you have not used that term to refer to anyone else other than yourself I’d imagine. Did you ever call your father ‘Pabbi’?’
Thor couldn’t remember…. probably not since he was still learning to walk.
‘Then ‘Pabbi’ must be you,’ Lady Máddjá said.
He sighed ‘I cannot… I cannot thank you enough.’
‘It was your good Lady Sif that summoned me,’ Lady Máddjá said ‘you should thank her.’
Thor dared to look at Sif, who was smiling softly. He smiled back ‘I will…’
‘Now, I shall need time to set up my Runes for the next lesson, I would appreciate some space. If you would like to play with Modi, now would be a good time before his lesson begins again.’
‘I shall, I… thank you once again.’
She nodded and turned to her table to prepare the stones in her bag for Modi’s lesson, whilst Thor and Sif approached him as he was running a wooden horse over the surface of a rough carpet.
The boy looked back up at him and smiled again, giggling and showing him the horse.
‘Did you miss me?’
The boy laughed again ‘Pabbi asleep?’
‘Yes,’ Thor laughed ‘but I am awake now so-’
Modi suddenly wrinkled his nose and backed away, frowning and shaking his head.
‘What? Do I smell or-’ Thor sniffed ‘Oh… oh dear.’
‘I did not want to tell you, oh Mighty Thor,’ Sif bit back a laugh ‘but you smell like you slept in the goatshed and your breath could kill a Bilgesnipe.’
Thor pulled a face ‘I have been asleep for two weeks… I suppose-’
‘Go have a bath, have something to eat, then return. Modi will be fine.’
‘I have not been with him for two weeks!’
‘He will not play with you until you no longer smell terrible. Go.’
Thor hesitated, then saw his son happily playing again, keeping a good distance from him. He gave up.
‘Very well, I shall return anon.’
‘Good,’ Sif winced ‘because you have no idea how awful it is being this close to that foul stench.’
He laughed ‘You know how to take a man’s ego down a notch Lady Sif.’
‘Especially yours,’ she touched his arm ‘please. Go. Then we need to have a discussion.’
He returned, fed, washed and dressed to find Modi once again at his studies, now casting the image of a chariot, whilst Lady Máddjá looked on in calm approval. Sif motioned to him to follow her away so as not to distract Modi.
‘You must go to see the All-Father, he asked after you.’
Thor groaned ‘Did he now?’
‘I’ll accompany you.’
‘Will they be alright?’ Thor nodded to the room with Modi and his tutor.
‘They’ve survived the two weeks,’ Sif assured him ‘stop being so afraid of leaving him alone.’
Thor frowned ‘You’ve seen his tantrums Sif-’
‘He is a child,’ she reminded him ‘Lady Máddjá has have centuries of experience with children like Modi, she is in no danger and your son is not some mad Berserker Thor. Please stop thinking of him that way.’
‘He’s scared and lonely,’ Sif said ‘in a world that does not seek to understand why he feels this way, he did not ask to be your mortal-born son. If you love him, you will accept him and protect him as he is.’
Thor nodded, trying not to look away ‘I know… I am…’
‘You both have a lot to learn, but you are the one who he needs to look to for safety and stability. Bare this in mind… especially when you go to see the All-Father.’
Thor arrived at the throne room where Odin sat, looking older and more tired than he ever had done. He approached cautiously, Sif close by, until Odin acknowledged their presence with a nod.
‘Good day to you my son,’ Odin leaned on Gungnir a little as he got up ‘I am glad to see you looking so rested.’
Thor frowned, already feeling on his guard.
‘I am Father,’ Thor replied ‘you summoned me?’
‘That I did and I am glad to see the Lady Sif here also,’ he nodded his head to her ‘I need to discuss something of great importance.’
‘You can see how weary I am growing and how tired,’ Odin sighed ‘and I have given you many many years to grieve Thor, but that time must come to an end. You must take the throne.’
Thor clenched a fist ‘Father-’
‘I do not want to have to order you as the All-Father,’ Odin’s voice was soft, more like it had been before… everything. Like he had been when Thor was a boy.
‘So please, I am asking you as your Father. Take the Throne, you have put it off too long already.’
‘I…’ Thor began, standing up ‘I understand this is difficult but-’
‘It is more than ‘difficult’,’ Odin descended the dias ‘we risk Asgard being leaderless because of your… I do not know what to call it. Selfishness? Pride?’
‘I am not trying to be selfish,’ Thor managed, teeth grinding ‘I do not want to be King for that very reason. I am not suited to the throne Father, surely that is obvious.’
‘Hmm,’ Odin snorted ‘I sent you to Midgard in the first place to become suitable.’
‘Midgard taught me much,’ Thor reminded him ‘including the corrupting nature of power.’
‘You think I have become corrupted?’
‘The All-Father I knew would never treat his own grandson like some shameful stain he is desperate to cover up!’
‘Is that was this is about?’ Odin’s tone grew hard ‘Because I do not care to acknowledge one of many mistakes you made on Midgard?’
Sif groaned inwardly.
‘Mistakes,’ Thor repeated flatly.
‘I would have thought that you would have let this foolish infatuation go, it has been long enough.’
‘Father,’ Thor growled warningly.
‘How many more years must we watch you feel sorry for yourself?’
Thor strode towards him ‘What about Mother? How many years will you need-’
‘Thor!’ Sif hissed, making her own move to stand between them.
‘Watch your tone son of mine,’ Odin snarled ‘or I could send you back to Midgard? Or perhaps not, it did not work the first time, all that would happen is that you would just father more bastards-’
‘You dare -’
‘Both of you!’
One day, Sif would reflect on how she stood between the two men she swore fealty to, both powerful forces of nature, like a teacher breaking up a school-yard fight. She would reflect on it and shudder.
‘Please,’ Sif glanced from Odin to his son ‘stop before any more is said.’
She took a breath, turning to the All Father ‘I understand your frustration and your sadness All Father, but you also must understand your son’s position. If I may?’
‘Of course Lady Sif,’ Odin relaxed a little, but still held his one eye on Thor ‘you may speak.’
‘Thor fears for his son, for his future,’ Sif hoped Thor would hold his tongue long enough ‘if he were to become King, what would happen to Modi?’
Odin shrugged ‘What does it matter?’
‘Would Modi be in line to the throne?’
The colour drained from Odin’s face ‘Absolutely not.’
‘Perhaps this is no bad thing,’ Sif glanced back at Thor to let her finish ‘it may well be that he is not suitable.’
‘Of course!’ Odin agreed ‘The boy is a-’
‘However,’ Sif interjected, quickly, sensing Thor’s rage boil beneath the surface ‘he is still of your bloodline, no matter what your reservations may be.’
She took a deep breath ‘If Thor were to be King, Modi would be his only successor.’
That gave the All Father pause for thought.
‘Upon taking the Throne, Modi would be a successor by default.’
Odin said nothing, Thor held his peace as well.
‘I know you fear for Asgard,’ Sif said ‘but Thor is right… he cannot be King just yet. I… think he needs a little more time. I have only just established a routine for Modi that will allow him to settle, such a big change will only make things worse.’
‘You involved this good lady with your offspring?’ Odin snapped.
‘No All Father,’ Sif held up a hand to Thor ‘I offered my help. I like spending time with Thor’s son, I always have. Modi is a gentle and charming young man with an innate talent for magic.’
Odin raised an eyebrow ‘Oh really? Magic?’
‘Yes,’ Sif assured him ‘he could become a gifted mage.’
‘Hmm, how fitting,’ Odin muttered ‘considering what happened to the last half-breed magically gifted child I took under my wing.’
The air had frozen around them.
Sif was struggling to maintain a semblance of her own calm ‘What happened to Loki may well happen to Modi if he is not given some idea of his place, of what is expected of him. Surely you must see that?’
She felt as though she were on thin ice as well, but she ploughed on regardless ‘Modi is full of fear and anger, but he is not a mindless beast. He is a child. You do not have to love him All Father, but at least let Thor care for him a little longer. At least until the boy has a sibling-’
She heard the strangled noise from Thor, but she ignored it.
‘-or he becomes more assured in himself. I ask this as a humble warrior in your service. I have always proven my loyalty to this house and I have been Thor’s friend since we were but children, I… had my own reservations about Modi’s… parentage… but he has done nothing wrong.’
‘Asgard’s future is in the balance Lady Sif,’ Odin pointed out ‘I understand you have grown attached to the boy, out of your good heart, but one child cannot outweigh the needs of a whole Realm.’
‘We are not at war,’ Sif countered ‘we are stable and, Norns Will It, we shall remain so for a little while yet. If some emergency does arise, then Thor will step in and lead Asgard, but for now… let him be a father.’
Odin turned Gungnir in his fingers, glancing at it in thought.
‘You make an excellent case Lady Sif,’ he conceded ‘and whilst I… sympathise, to an extent, I still must be firm.’
Sif took a breath to speak but Odin raised a hand ‘However, I shall give both you and my son time to… raise this child. I will ask my son to stop hiding behind you like a coward however and address me with respect.’
Sif could only imagine how much strength it took for Thor not to summon Mjolnir at his father’s head for that. He took a step towards his father and faced him.
‘What is it?’
Odin looked at him, then, with a tap of the spear against the stone steps he declared ‘I will allow you more time, to ensure… Modi is of a civilised disposition. However , when the boy has turned his fourth century, you will take the throne, by my order as the All Father. Is that clear?’
Thor hesitated but a moment, then, looking to Sif, then back to his father, he sagged.
‘I will only agree… if you swear that you will officially name Modi as your blood.’
Odin’s eye twitched ‘Why?’
‘So that he will be offered the chance of protection, of safety, as your grandson.’
He laughed ‘You named him Fosterson and now you want me to-’
‘I did, because I thought he’d need only a reminder of his mother, since he’d be taken into my family without question,’ Thor stopped him ‘because I thought that you were the same man who adopted an innocent baby without thinking. Out of compassion. I did not think I’d need to make you care about Modi. I was wrong.’
Sif hesitated, allowing Thor to continue ‘I will take the Throne, if it means some guarantee of my son’s position. I love him. Not just because of who his mother was either. I would die for him a hundred times over. I would certainly face you… and rule this Realm, if I must, to protect him.’
She looked to the All Father’s face, which now stood, unreadable.
It seemed to stand a long, long time, whilst the two men faced each other.
‘Then… we have an accord,’ Odin said, finally, like a single drop in a vast lake ‘he shall be a son of this house and… you shall be King.’
‘When Modi has reached his fourth century.’
‘Yes,’ Odin looked to Sif ‘you bare witness of this agreement Lady Sif?’
‘You swear to testify to this arrangement in an official ceremony?’
‘Then... a bargain has been reached.’
He finally turned away to ascend the stairs ‘You may leave, both of you. Good day.’
They arrived back to see Modi picking at his supper, Lady Máddjá sitting close by, eating her own meal. There was someone else at the table to- a young elven woman; tall, slender, dark eyed, with light brown skin and long silver-white hair tied into a series of woven plaits at her nape. She wore practical robes over her thin frame and she watched Modi with fascinated and compassionate eyes.
‘Uh-’ Thor began, too dazed and stewed in his own unspent rage to form a proper greeting. The elf stood up and bowed ‘Good Day to you Odinson. I am Nyna Vatris, I am here to be your son’s Nursemaid.’
Thor was taken aback ‘I uh- did I send for you or…?’
‘Lady Máddjá asked me to come, but I have already spent a lot of time with Modi under the supervision of Lady Sif,’ Nyna explained, nervously ‘she… said I could do a small demonstration of my skill and allow you to judge whether I’d be suitable as your son’s caregiver.’
‘I trust her Son of Odin,’ Lady Máddjá assured them ‘and she is very capable.’
‘Um,’ Thor felt far too stupid to discuss this ‘I… would like to spend some time with my son for a while… please, make yourself comfortable and I will then… arrange this with you.’
Nyna nodded, looking to Lady Sif who smiled at her ‘If Lady Máddjá vouches for you I’m sure it shall be fine, but for now, Modi has not seen much of his father these past few weeks.’
The elf nodded and sat down, glancing at Modi, who looked up at her. The elf stroked her chin, in a gesture Thor recognised- it meant ‘Pabbi’- then pointed behind him. The boy turned and saw Thor, his huge eyes lighting up and his smile spreading across his face. Thor’s heart melted in an instant.
‘Hello my boy,’ he sighed and sat with him ‘are you well?’
‘I am good!’ Modi declared.
‘I am glad,’ Thor looked at food in front of him ‘finish this first and then we shall play?’
‘Finished!’ Modi stood up, dropping his spoon.
‘You should-’ he started, before Lady Máddjá said ‘He has eaten enough, but make sure he has a little more before he goes to bed. He should spend some time with his Pabbi.’
‘Pabbi!’ Modi fell on Thor’s chest, arms around his father’s neck ‘Pabbi home!’
‘Yes,’ Thor sniffed and blinked ‘Pabbi home… uh, what shall we play Modi?’
‘Modi choosing?’ Lady Máddjá reminded him. The boy looked at her then Thor ‘Horses?’ He asked.
‘Is that…’ Thor shrugged ‘Modi, show me horses.’
Sif sighed in relief at the grin on the child’s face. For now, Modi was happy and settled and at peace.
‘I will let you two be alone,’ she said, kneeling beside Modi ‘I’ll go back to my-’
‘Sif! Staying!’ Modi said, in a tone that suggested both a plea and an order.
‘Oh!’ Sif smiled ‘I’m staying am I? What does Pabbi think of this?’
‘Pabbi,’ Thor looked at her, eyes bright with unshed tears, but smiling regardless ‘would very much like Sif to stay, unless…’
‘No,’ Sif rolled her eyes ‘I will stay. I could never resist the charms of an Odinson.’
Only she heard the whispered ‘Thank you.’
After a while, Lady Máddjá retired, leaving her elf apprentice to begin her nursing demonstration. Nyna proved herself to be very talented with Modi- her patience was seemingly unending, even when Modi appeared to be very stubborn about attending an unwanted lesson about weaving. Thor was about to question the purpose of teaching Modi to weave, when Nyna explained it would be good for Modi’s co-ordination.
‘Part of his frustration comes from being unable to truly grasp the world around him, so teaching him to control his focus and grip will help him in the long run.’
It soon proved to be beyond difficult to teach Modi how to use a loom, so Nyna changed tack and gave him a simpler task which she allowed Modi to choose. In the end he soon grew fascinated with threading a series of colourful beads onto a long thread, even persuading his father to join in.
‘This will suffice for now,’ Nyna said, as he tipped the beads back onto a tray and started again ‘it is important to allow him some control over his choice of lessons, so that we may learn where his passion lies and then allow him the proper tools to pursue it.’
‘But…’ Thor remarked as Modi was threading a bead and humming ‘surely it’s obvious where his passion lies… with magic?’
‘Magic is vast field,’ she explained ‘there are many disciplines. Modi might excel in many, or just one. Once he has the freedom to explore, he shall discover it.’
He nodded, about to say something else, when Modi grabbed his chin, pulling his beard and tugging his head around to get his attention.
‘Modi,’ Nyna warned ‘asking.’
Modi let go, then tried ‘Pabbi threading please.’
‘Yes, yes,’ Thor threaded a little glass bead in demonstration ‘see?’
‘Modi, that is much better asking,’ Nyna soothed, lowering her voice to Thor ‘try to encourage his voice. He is nervous to use it, but once he feels like he can talk to you, he shall develop his speech.’
‘I see,’ Thor looked a little admonished ‘I talk to Modi often.’
‘I know Odinson, but please understand,’ Nyna sat beside Modi ‘and I mean no offense, but it is important that he speaks to. More often than not, I think it’s more that he does not find the chances to speak.’
‘I… let him talk, he does not talk back.’
‘It’s more than that your son speaks only another language, one that you must learn in order to facilitate his speech.’
Thor glanced at Modi, who was concentrating and humming.
‘I… understand his mother was mortal?’
Thor nodded, bracing himself with the guarded looks that usually followed ‘Yes.’
Nyna nodded, seemingly keeping any judgement to herself ‘Does he speak any of Midgard’s tongues? I understand there are many.’
‘He can speak in English,’ Thor shrugged ‘with the All-Speak I can understand, but when I speak to him it is as if he cannot hear me.’
‘Did his mother speak to him in English?’
‘Yes…but it was such a long time ago.’
Nyna looked to Sif, who sat close, listening in. Sif saw she was looking to see if she could continue, looking to her for authority. Sif, in turn, gave her a nod.
‘I believe that mortal-born children like Modi have difficulty with the All-Speak. It uses a part of our minds that is not easily accessible if it is… different. He cannot simply use it to understand all the tongues of the Realms as you can.’
Thor stopped ‘There are other half-mortals?’
‘Some,’ Nyna confirmed ‘but from a long time ago. In the years that Midgard was separated from the Realms, interaction has been… lessened. Those children are now far far older. Modi is the first for many millennia… as far as anyone knows.’
‘Is there… anything I can do? Besides use Midgard English?’
‘That is one solution, though only a short term one. He can understand a little Aesir on his own without the All Speak, that much is clear, but not enough and it is part of the source of his frustration. This is why signing and the use of the Rune stones are so important. We will also continue lessons in very simple Aesir and you must try to adapt your language in a way that he can understand.’
‘Be clear in your meaning and intention, one instruction at a time, ensure you do not take his turn to speak. You must give him the means to speak, not speak for him. He has a voice, he has ideas and thoughts and words, but he shall need patience and understanding from you. Let him use English from time to time as well, allowing him to enjoy a time of relaxation from the pressures of conversing in such a complex tongue.’
Thor hesitated ‘Is his… condition from his heritage?’
‘If you are referring to his… outbursts and his strange fixations… No,’ Nyna shook her head ‘I’ve tutored children of many Realms with similar behavioural needs to Modi. It is not as uncommon as many would believe, although it is not as heard of amongst the Aesir. It’s just… exacerbated by his difficulty with the All Speak. I’d imagine… it’s like trying to hear through a wall. All the time. You can understand him, he cannot understand you.’
Thor sat, turning a bead in his fingers ‘I…. see.’
‘He can learn Aesir, in fact I’d say he already knows more than it appears, but… it might well be that he will never be able to speak as you or I. Not in all cases, but it… can happen. We will only be able to tell as he grows up.’
‘Hmm,’ Thor looked at his son, taking in his huge brown eyes, thick dark blonde hair and tried to wonder how life would be for a young prince who could not speak.
‘Is… is there nothing I can do?’
‘Accept him,’ Nyna said, gently ‘give him space, make adjustments and ensure that his needs are being met, but do not be afraid to challenge him in small ways. He will surprise you.’
‘I see,’ Thor nodded ‘I will try.’
‘It won’t be easy, given that there will be expectations of him, but you are in a powerful position to change those expectations and to give him choices I suspect were not awarded to many other princes of Asgard,’ Sif supplied.
‘His life need not be a struggle,’ Nyna assured him ‘all you need is to listen to him. He will tell you what he needs, even if he may not use words.’
‘That is true,’ Thor said, thinking of the deal he had struck with Odin ‘I am.’
Some… sadness settled in his heart, despite himself. He was brought out of it, ironically, by Modi’s insistent voice.
Modi sighed ‘Pabbi helping , no talking.’
Nyna looked a little scandalised, Sif snorted in surprise.
‘Very well,’ Thor assured, with a smile of exasperation ‘I’ll stop talking.’
‘That’d be a first.’
‘Unjust!’ Thor spluttered as she failed to bite back a smile ‘I’ve often accused of being better with my fists than my words, now I’m actually using my words-’
‘Pabbi! No talking!’
Thor went back to threading as Sif went red with the effort of holding in her laughter. Thor really didn’t realise just how much Modi had taken after him.
Modi returned to his lessons eventually, after a calm and relatively uneventful period of Modi showing Thor how his horse could traverse different surfaces in the room. He repeated this game more or less every day, but Nyna assured Thor that it was a ritual important to Modi, therefore it was wise to let him finish. He knew it’s purpose and that was enough. They ate together, Modi managing to eat more than he normally did and even let his father swing him around in a circle, laughing and giggling fit to burst. Sif found herself unwilling to leave, her heart light from watching Modi and Thor so happy for the first time in so long.
Once bedtime was upon them, Nyna walked him through his night time routine, Thor nearby, watching and learning, reluctant to leave Modi’s side. Once Nyna had put him in bed and the boy had fallen asleep, Thor finally felt ready to walk away as cautiously as he could.
‘I cannot thank you enough Nyna,’ he said, taking the elf’s hand.
‘I appreciate that,’ she replied, with a blush ‘but he is the one working hard, I am simply helping.’
‘Well, in any case, you must go to bed yourself,’ Thor indicated her new quarters ‘I understand Sif has arranged for you to sleep nearby?’
‘Indeed,’ Nyna curtsied ‘so… am I to take it you approve of my service?’
‘Oh- um, yes,’ Thor laughed ‘I am sorry, I didn’t- yes. You are now my son’s Nursemaid.’
‘Thank you ever so much,’ Nyna curtsied again ‘it has been an honour, I wish to go to bed if that is acceptable?’
‘Thank you Odinson. I bid goodnight to the both of you. I shall be awake to tend to Modi before breakfast.’
They watched her go, waiting until she left the room, before both visibly relaxing.
‘That went very well,’ Sif moved towards Thor ‘agreed?’
‘Yes… yes it did, I am most impressed with her and with Lady Máddjá.’
‘Then… why do you not seem happy?’
His rubbed his eyes and sat down, deflated, tired despite all his sleep, and let out a long breath.
‘Aside from the deal I just made with Father?’ He said, distantly ‘I feel… did I… I never intended for this life for him. I had hoped that… I knew that it would difficult to grow up without his mother’s guidance, but I never imagined that he’d… he’d not even have the guidance of his own senses. Of his language. How is he to be a prince? How is he to deal with the pomp and ceremony? He will struggle, every moment of it. I condemned him to this life… just to…’
‘No Thor,’ Sif interrupted, pulling up another chair beside him ‘you did not condemn him to anything. He will… have difficulties. He will not have his blood-mother, but he has a caring and loving father, a Palace, a life with people who love and care for him. How many other children can say the same?’
‘Once I become King,’ Thor blanched at the thought ‘I will not be there half as much, he’ll hardly see me.’
‘He has a tutor and a Nursemaid,’ Sif pointed out ‘and he shall have me to. He’ll hardly be lonely.’
Thor looked at her for a long moment ‘He’ll… have you?’
‘Of course!’ She exclaimed ‘I have been here for him as well.’
‘I know and… you have arranged for all of this and I am truly grateful,’ Thor turned to face her, gaze fixed intently ‘I just… why?’
‘You have to ask?’ Sif rolled her eyes ‘Aside from the fact that I am your friend, I have fought by your side many a time and I know when you need my help. Even when you are too stubborn to admit it.’
Thor smiled ‘But… you are helping him, directly, that can’t just be for my sake.’
‘It isn’t,’ she admitted ‘it is for him as well. I cannot help but feel… attached to him. I meant what I said, he is as charming and as sweet as his father when he wants to be.’
‘He did not get that from me.’
‘He did,’ she took his hand ‘his… passion and his curious mind… that he got from Jane. Everything else is entirely you.’
Thor sniffed ‘If you say so.’
‘I am right most of the time, burdened as I am by having a touch of common sense.’
He barked out a laugh ‘How did I ever win a battle without you by my side?’
They both laughed at that, until, by some strange closeness, perhaps just because of the length and intensity of the day passed, they found themselves with Sif’s head on his shoulder and Thor just lightly resting his lips atop her crown. They stopped.
‘If… I were to be King,’ Thor asked, quietly, carefully, considering every word ‘I would still wish you to be part of my son’s life… and mine’
‘I thought that would go without saying,’ Sif retorted, a little offended, until Thor lifted her chin. The gesture caught her by surprise.
‘I mean… I cannot thank you enough,’ he shut his eyes then tried again ‘I… cannot think of my time as a King without you there.’
‘I will be,’ she whispered.
The moment settled and fell around them, sealing it until one of them dared to move. Sif shifted slightly, a little away, to meet him right in the eye. She could tell when he was hesitating, pausing in the act of moving and considering. Had he been trying to ask her…?
‘Sif,’ he managed, so quietly she almost didn’t hear him.
She couldn’t remember the last time she had been speechless around him, if there had ever been such a time. It was Thor, a man she had known for most of her life, how… how had she now lost her tongue?
She knew why. Why she had held her silence for so, so long. Finally, after what felt like a minor eternity, she gave up. She had been hesitating for centuries and if she was going to jump, now would be the best time, before she lost her nerve.
He still tasted of the wine they had drunk at dinner with Modi and the women charged to help him. When she leaned back, bracing herself for his next move, her whole body so tightly wound with what she had just done-
It took such a long moment to realise he had followed her, repaying her kiss in kind. The warmth of him taking time to reach her. It had not happened for so long she had almost given up the hope that it ever would. When it all finally became undeniable, when she believed the evidence of her own fingers threading into his hair, his hands wrapping around her waist and pulling her closer to him… it all seemed as if they had been doing this all along.
It had just never occurred before.