It was not so long ago, she thought, that the great throne hall of Gladsheim had been full of the worthies of Asgard for another coronation. That day they had been roaring, stamping their feet, clapping their hands in delight under the flapping red-and-gold banners of the brother who would have been Crown Prince. Now, they still cheered, but even her ears could pick out the discordant note, the sound of uncertainty. Things had happened so quickly – too quickly – were still happening at a speed that made Sif wonder just how far they would plummet until at last they were caught and stopped.
“Are you ready?”
She looked up from where she’d been examining her shadowy reflection in the polished stone floor (fitting that what she could see was darkness, they seemed close to falling into it) and looked over at her queen. If she would smile for nothing else today, she would smile for Frigga, who only sought to keep the realms she loved so dearly intact.
It was a good plan they had hatched, too. If it worked, it would be an even better plan.
“I am, my queen,” she replied. Sif did not fidget, or fuss with her outfits. She had broken herself of these nervous tics one by one, not wanting to give away any tells to those who were not her friends. But the urge to fuss with the plaited cloth-and-leather that wound up her arms under gold bracers was strong, the desire to smooth unusually sweaty palms over thighs covered by a dress made of the finest fabrics in any of the nine realms almost enough to make her give in.
Almost, but not quite. Sif was a warrior of Asgard, a shield-maiden who had proved wrong all those who dared say she was unworthy to carry her glaive and shield and unworthy to serve the king. She would not let herself break that image, that knowledge of herself, on this or any day. Frigga, though, had an uncanny sense for when someone was in distress and simply smiled at her, resting a hand on Sif’s arm lightly.
“It will be all right,” she said. “Nobody will have anything ill to say of you or your bravery on this day.”
“This is not the sort of valor I had hoped for, my lady.”
“I know.” Frigga let her hand drop and took a breath, and Sif watched as the woman’s shoulders came back and the head that had been bowed under the apparent weight of a diadem cunningly wrought in the shape of a heron’s crest lifted proudly. Before her stood a queen, where before had been a woman. “But it is still valorous to do what you have agreed to, do not doubt that. And never doubt that I love and care about you as though you are one of my own.”
“Truly, I will be one of your own ere long,” Sif replied, and they both laughed, the sound too nervous in the cavernous space.
“Do you remember?”
“When you have taken your place on the dais,” Sif recited. “I will go to the top of the ledge, wait a full breath, and then approach. Slow, measured steps, not...” she recalled the words Frigga had used before “…galloping ahead like a warhorse.”
“Just as we practiced,” Frigga reminded her. “Remember to breathe.”
Then Tyr was approaching to escort the queen through the curtains to the heart of Gladsheim, and with a last smile Frigga vanished through them, and Sif was left behind. A breeze stirred the cloth lazily and she approached unto the final set, weighted so they did not billow so much. Though the ridge of stairs before her blocked most of her sight she could see the throne dais. She really did not need to; quiet settled on the hall as soon as Frigga, regal as ever, took her place.
Her head buzzed as she ascended the steps between the antechamber opening and the ledge that ringed this part of the hall, where only the peerage could stand. Above, in two and three tiers, were others who had privilege enough to be nominally in Gladsheim but not so close. Arrayed outside – behind her, stretching far out into the parade courtyard before the palace, were the many thousands who had assembled this day. Sif had stood before them all, but never like this – never in a silk gown embroidered heavily in green and gold, with the gold ceremonial armor and the whole trappings of what she was to become hence. But she schooled her face and paused on the ledge, as a sigh rippled through the assembly. Frigga had spoken truly; she looked the part, if she was in turmoil inside.
The rustling approval grew as she made her way to the dais, but Sif looked neither left nor right, she held her head high, and focused only on the green cape rippling down from the shoulders of the one she would take her place beside. His banners flew from the heights today alongside the scarlet-and-gold of the house of Odin, green and gold and bearing his sigil, and placed above the flag of the realm – the king was in residence, it said. Sif remembered her etiquette lessons, though she’d taken them but hatefully at first, then less so at Frigga’s gentle insistence.
She was at the base of the dais now, though – when had she reached it? When she had stood above it the aisle had seemed to go on for leagues. And now she was at the base of it and ascending, and reaching up to lightly slip her hand into Loki’s. Sif took small pleasure in seeing his own indicators in the way his throat worked as he looked at her, his eyes unable to (or perhaps allowed not to) clamp down quite fast enough on the flicker of approval and something else, something less appropriate in his gaze. Then Sif thought that perhaps he’d meant to show her that too. Loki was not often purposeless in his actions.
“You look queenly,” he murmured as they ascended the last few steps together, to stand before Vár, who held the scrolls that detailed every oath she witnessed, and before the sage who would wed them. As King, Loki technically had the power to do so himself as he would do for any members of the peerage who wed, or other citizens who requested specially that the King officiate but there were certain protocols to be followed.
“That was the intention,” she hissed in reply.
“Then it was effective.”
They knelt on green velvet cushions before the two officiating, and Sif let herself be lost in the words; they had rehearsed them several times previously. She did not mistake their weight – though there was little magic normally held by the people of Asgard, these words were old, the runes inscribed in the great book having been put down even before the birth of Odin Allfather. They bound together and held, for all eternity, those two upon whom they were laid. They promised fidelity, honor, respect, and honesty, and laid out the price for the breach of any of these. Upon Sif they laid an extra layer of duty, for this was her coronation as well, and she was bound to the realm in a way that went beyond the oaths she had taken as a warrior.
Those were somewhere in Vár’s scrolls, too. Sif remembered making them, remembered smearing her blood on the scroll and watching it soak into the parchment, a physical sign of her fealty. That was a large part of why she had agreed to do this thing, to marry when she had thought never to do such a thing. Hateful as she found Loki’s actions, Sif knew her duty to her realm – to all the realms.
At the end of it, after the ceremonial exchange of slices of one of the golden apples raised by Idunn, after they had pricked their thumbs on a jeweled dagger (she had eyed it as she made the tiny wound in Loki’s thumb, hefted it in her hand, and decided it was useless for anything but this function) and smeared their blood on Vár’s scroll and watched it absorb, Sif felt the heavy weight of magic settle on her shoulders like a mantle.
Nothing for it now, she thought. You agreed to this and you have sworn before fire and blood and blade; you cannot go any way but forward, as ever.
Beside her, Loki rose to his feet and walked across the dais, boots making no noise on the stone floor as he took the diadem made especially for this day from where it had been on a covered pedestal beside Vár. Sif remembered the many arguments over this particular bit of uselessness, and pressed her lips together to keep from scowling. It was not strictly tradition for a husband and wife to have similar headwear for formal occasions – Frigga had her Heron crown, for instance, opposite Odin’s Eagle – but Sif had flatly refused to have two filthy great horns on her head, and so she had argued with the metalsmith in charge of the forging. In the end they had come to an agreement, but the diadem here was the worst of it. Her ceremonial helm was much more satisfactory and practical, but unfortunately she would not wear it today.
The diadem in Loki’s long fingers was a coiled dragon; wrought of the same gold metal as Loki’s ceremonial armor, its wings were furled at the sides of her head, but its eyes were glittering emeralds, glaring from the very crown of her head. Cunningly crafted onto the wings were the faint impressions of feathers, though the body was scaled. It was part of what Sif had insisted upon when the question had come up.
She glanced up to see Loki’s face but by the time he turned back to her with it he had schooled his expression into neutrality, if there had been any reaction to her choice of design at all. It was doubtful he missed many details, but his thoughts had ever been his own until he chose to share them, if he chose at all. Then why was it, she wondered, that he wanted her to see the flicker of triumph upon his face as he placed the crown upon her head? What purpose would it serve for her to know that in this moment, he felt victorious?
“Rise, Queen Sif of Asgard and the Nine Realms.”
She came back to herself and placed her hand in his to rise in one fluid motion, her heart beating quickly because she knew well what came now. In rehearsal they had never done it, could do no more than look at each other (Loki keeping his face void of any emotion, Sif wondering how many ways she could make a quick jab to his stomach look like an accident if he tried) but now was the real thing. Loki brought his hand to her cheek, thumb stroking along the bone in a curiously tender motion, before pulling her in and kissing her. She could not but react, and not only because all who could were watching, waves of applause rippling outward from the dais and through the thousands arrayed outside, for whom she was now a queen. No, there was much more to it than that, enough for Frigga to have seen and remembered in a time of need.
It was not a bad kiss, either. Loki had some skill at the art, she had to admit as they broke apart. He seemed pleased with himself, at any rate, but she had seen that expression on his face before. As though he’d some private joke that only he understood. It irritated her.
“Shall we?” he murmured, and offered her his arm. As she tucked her hand through it, he added, “My queen.”
All knelt as she passed them, the soldiers with their fists over their hearts and the ladies and nobles in their finery that pooled around them as they bowed their heads and bent their knees. Sif did not look at them; could not look at them, for some had been ones she had known in the ring when training as a girl. All that seemed very long ago, in a time before and in the life of someone else entirely, and to think that the very warriors whose faces she’d ground into the sand during training or who had ground her own face into the sand in turn were the ones who would now be calling her my queen.
They stepped through the curtain veiling the antechamber and immediately the noise level dropped. Their arms slid apart, and she watched as Loki took off his helmet with what seemed to be relief. There was a faint sheen of sweat on his brow.
“You will have to wear that thing again shortly, you realize,” she told him. Loki gave her a short look.
“I will have it off as long as I can,” he replied, and tucked the helmet under his arm. “It is heavier than it appears.”
Sif, who had held this particular helmet in her hands before and knew it was light as a feather and yet stronger than the hardest stone, thought she knew his meaning. The dragon crown was the same.
A rustle of fabric and footsteps behind them made them both turn as Frigga and Tyr came through the curtains. Sif had to keep herself from dropping her eyes and making her manners, as she had always done in the presence of the queen. But she was queen now, and until Odin awakened it would remain her title. Still, Sif felt wrong not acknowledging her, and so she bowed her head, and when she looked up again Frigga was smiling gently at her.
“You both did beautifully,” she said, reaching out to embrace her son and Sif. “And I am very happy for you. But there is somewhere we all must be.”
“Yes,” Loki muttered dryly. “We must stand on a balcony and have all of Asgard gawk at us.”
“Don’t be rude,” Frigga told him mildly, but whether out of habit or his own motivation Loki remained quiet. “It is an important thing, and will only last a while. After all, some of us must change.”
It was Sif’s turn to make a sour face as they walked through the columned halls with their honor guard of Einherjar. She had four outfits for the day. Four! And each one a new exercise in discomfort and restriction, though not all of that was been relatable to the garment itself.
Ahead, through another set of curtains, was a wide balcony draped with green and gold banners. In the cracks between them Sif could see bright sunlight, and the roar of the crowd waiting to view their king and his new queen consort was deafening. It was, Sif thought, like being on the very edge of battle. They were calm here, hidden from view, but just beyond was an army waiting to overrun them all.
Loki let go of her arm as the Einherjar and Frigga went first, putting his helmet back on and adjusting it so that it was just so. Then he took her hand, and before she could think about it the curtains were pulled aside and they stepped through.
Usually, the chance to fall into bed was a welcome thing after a day of being paraded around, as today had been. Sif was exhausted, and if asked, would have been willing to concede that perhaps battle was less tiring than a wedding, particularly a royal one, and especially her own.
But there was one more costume change to endure, one more act to the great scripted drama that had been today. Her dresses from the day were arranged around Frigga’s own outer chamber, the one with the door that led to the base of Hlidskjálf where Odin lay aslumber. There was the dress she had worn to breakfast that morning (White With Gold Detailing) then the ceremony’s gown and accoutrements, then Artfully Draped Purple Dress. The last, though, was the one she slid on now. Indigo Slip With Sheer Overlay was made of the finest silk; the sheer fabric over it embroidered in gold with designs that looked like flowering reeds. Laced at the back, the material of the dress warmed against her skin while she sat before Frigga’s vanity and let the handmaidens fuss over her. They pulled the pins out of her hair so it fell, rippled and curling, down her back, and removed the jewelry she had worn at the feast. Sif sighed in relief, and Frigga laughed.
“That was always my reaction when I could at last take my hair down,” she said, and paused in brushing the kinks out to rub Sif’s shoulders. The old queen’s hands were warm and put her at ease. The crown and her ridiculous hair might have been heavy, but Sif’s thoughts were heavier, and had been since Frigga had touched her and Loki on the shoulder at the feast with a look in her eye that none could mistake. Amid bawdy remarks and shouts of encouragement (apparently there was doubt as to whether or not Loki could in fact perform, or at least whether or not he would want to), the two of them had risen, made their farewells and final thanks, and left. Sif had taken comfort in the fact that none of the Warriors Three were adding to the din, at least not with lewd comments. With Thor gone, these three were her closest friends now.
Frigga rested a hand on her shoulder again, and Sif covered it with her own before she let Frigga resume brushing her hair and let the other handmaidens wash her hands and face and rub scented oil into her skin until it gleamed. It all seemed to be an absurd level of trouble to go through; Loki wouldn’t care, and Sif had only done this for the high feast days and had hated it then too.
“Was it as awkward for you as I imagine it will be tonight?” she asked, quietly. Frigga laughed a little, though Sif could see the lines of tension in the queen’s face and hear the strain in her voice.
“It will be much less so for you,” she said. “When I wed the Allfather, they were all in the room with us.” She caught Sif’s horrified expression and some of the tension eased. “They will remain outside the bedchamber tonight, though, I have seen to it. Do not think of us, Sif. Think of yourself, and of my son. Loki will not do ill by you, not tonight.”
“How can you be sure?”
“A mother knows. I know, or I would not have asked this from you, Sif.” She paused, setting the brush down and considering a collection of Sif’s own few jewels that had been laid by, at last selecting a serpentine hair comb and using it to pull back one side of Sif’s hair. “There. All is ready.”
Frigga’s chambers were not far from the suite she would now share with Loki – the royal suite, for such time as Loki ruled. It had been two weeks since the Allfather had fallen into the Odinsleep, however, and none could say how long it would last, not even Frigga. She said that Odin would awaken when Fate decreed and no sooner, but when Sif had visited the chamber that morning and knelt before her sleeping king to tell him she would be his good-daughter from today forward, she had come away deeply disturbed.
Now, though, she felt mostly nervous. She and her retinue passed into the outer chamber of the suite. Here would be where they would receive personal guests, or high-ranking outsider dignitaries, as a couple. It was done in warm bronze and an almost maroon color that put her in mind of her armor, both serving to offset the chilly gold of the palace. There were several people arrayed on the couches already, and Frigga took her place among them with a last gentle brush of her fingertips on Sif’s arm as Loki and his attendants came in through another door.
Their eyes met as he reached for her hand, and Sif was surprised to see the flicker of a rueful smile on his lips, an almost apologetic expression in his eyes, as if he wanted to say to her It is all right, I don’t want them here either.
“The day has been long, and my lady and I are weary,” he said. “We will retire, and speak to you again on the morrow.”
There were bows and murmurs of thanks, but Sif did not listen to them. They made their way to the bedchamber door; Loki opened it for her, and she stepped through. The click of it shutting behind her seemed too loud, in the large room.
Sif immediately saw that she would have to have time to adjust to this room; the corners were all in shadow, as was the high ceiling. While Loki made ready for the night, she paced around the room. Behind a set of heavy emerald curtains was a small seating area, and beyond that, an open-air patio, looking out over the city. Sounds of revelry drifted up from below; today and tomorrow were rest days, by royal decree. Sif did not feel very restful, all full of nervous energy as she was. Were this battle she would take it out on trolls or whatever they happened to be facing, but it was not, and all she wanted was sleep that would not come until later.
“I suppose being king has its benefits,” Loki said behind her. He had changed into loose sleeping clothes, and padded barefoot toward her with a glass in each hand. “Wine,” he said, at her questioning glance. “To perhaps make things… easier.”
She took the glass from him, returned his little salute with it, and then downed half of it in one go. Loki raised his eyebrows.
“I did not mean to make them that easy,” he said. Sif gave him a sharp look, setting her glass down.
“We are expected to share a bed as a wedded couple.”
“There was a wedding earlier today. You were there.”
“A royal wedded couple. With people listening.”
Loki’s expression became pained, and he took a rather large swig of his own wine. “Yes,” he said. “I am very aware that we have an audience, all with their ears probably pressed to the door right at this very moment.”
The image of it made her smile, just a little bit. To her surprise, so did he. In that moment, a bit of the stone she had been keeping over herself the whole day crumbled away, and Sif felt a lift in her spirits. Those hidebound, wrinkled fools (well, except for Frigga, who probably would rather not listen to her son and his new wife) wished for a production? Sif had ever hated being put on show and paraded around as a freak when she was earning her place as a warrior of the realm, but now she would have lain with her husband on the rug in the receiving chamber, and watched their scandalized faces defiantly all the while. They expected her to perhaps shy away from this? She would not do it, for it had been far more difficult unlearning her desire for a dark-haired, pale-faced princeling than it would be learning it again.
Perhaps that was what Frigga had meant, earlier. Or perhaps—
Cool fingertips brushed against the back of her hand, and Sif looked over. In the light, half of Loki’s face was in shadow and the other half thrown into sharp relief.
“You were not even in this realm,” he said. “Do you have your half-brother’s gift of sight, then?”
“Would that I did have Heimdall’s gifts,” she replied. “I would have seen this day coming before it ever reached us.”
Something, a shadow darker and yet more transparent than those on his face, passed over him. “Would you have stopped it, then, as an enemy at the gates?”
“I suppose that will depend on how the day ends.” Sif considered the remaining wine, and then finished off her portion of it, throwing her head back, eyes closed (she could not, therefore, see how Loki swallowed at the long line of her neck as it briefly became limned in gold) and set her glass back down, making her way back through the patio. “And that, my king, depends in part upon you.”
It was well and good to have bravery in one’s cups, and while Sif was hardly drunk – she had barely been able to stomach the mead the wedding toasts had dictated and had mostly stuck to sipping chilled water the day through – she could feel herself sobering as they took their places on opposite sides of the great fur-covered bed. Now that they were back inside she could hear the faint rustling of the people in the next room, could see the rapid pulse in Loki’s neck. Her own heart hammered in her chest, loud enough that she half-hoped those waiting for the show to begin mistook it for passion and left.
“I suppose,” Loki said, and at last his nervous habits seemed to escape their carefully-hidden places. “We had best… get on with it.” She stared at him a moment, until he looked away. What, exactly, she wondered to herself, did he ever do to earn that Silvertongue nickname?
“We had best,” she agreed. Neither one of them moved. Finally, Sif rolled her eyes and kicked the embroidered slippers off her feet, pulling her skirt up to kneel on the bed. The air was cold on her bare knees as she grasped the hem and made to pull it off, scowling when she met with resistance.
“These bedamned laces,” she muttered. Sif had had quite enough of ridiculous gowns and their various methods of pulling in, shoving together… “You’ll have to untie me.”
Loki froze as he crawled onto the bed. “I beg your pardon?”
“The laces. On the back.” She twisted, reaching around to pull out the knot at the back. “You’ll have to loosen them enough for me to get this off.”
“Your garments are unnecessarily complicated,” Loki remarked, pushing her fingers out of the way and tugging enough to make the dress go slack around her shoulders.
“Speak for yourself,” she replied, crossing her arms to hold up the top of the dress – not that she had any idea why she was doing it, he was about to see her in all her unclothed glory anyway – while he worked on it. “How long did it take you to get laced and buckled and tied into your formal armor? Though truly, it cannot compare with the fact that by the time I was finally bound up for that ceremony, I felt certain that the layers of fabric alone could… stop an arrow…”
Sif trailed off; Loki had since come to kneel opposite her, their legs brushing, and stopped her words, fingertips pressed to her lips. She had rarely been close enough to see the flecks of green and grey in his eyes, but now she was once more, the blue not nearly as clear as it seemed from arm’s length, the distance he usually kept everything and everyone at. Letting one side of the shift drop, she reached up and cupped his cheek. He was cool to the touch, but not uncomfortably so. More like the cool side of the pillow. Fascinated, Sif watched as his eyes shut, but she only had a glimpse of his lashes, dark against the dark circles that had sprung up under his eyes in the two weeks since he had been given the power to rule Asgard. Because he was kissing her again, and it was not a thing put on for show, to make it seem to others that they were doing more than acting the part of glad-hearted royal newlyweds. But that did not mean it was gentle, either. Exploratory, yes, but there was an edge of actual need that tugged at her insistently.
They broke apart, and looked at each other. Loki’s eyes strayed lower; when she’d let go of it, the shift had slipped down her arm, baring one of her breasts. Sif felt self-conscious, in a way that she hadn’t since she had taken to bathing with the others in their little group, all of them mother-naked and without a care in the world, or so she’d thought. But she took the dress in her hands and pulled it up over her head, bare again as she had been on so many summer days when they’d all made a dash for one of the spring-fed pools in the forests around Asgard.
This was not harmless play, though. This was real, and the way Loki’s lips parted when she dropped it unceremoniously onto the bench at the foot of the bed was not something done for the benefit of others; if there was meaning inherent in it, it was lost on Sif, suddenly aware of her body as she was. He reached out, touched two fingers to her collarbone, trailed them down over small, hard breasts and well-formed abs.
“You said something about getting on with it?” she asked.
Sif was hardly a stranger to the concept of sex; unlike some other realms she had visited, Asgard did not espouse the barbaric practice of putting out bloody sheets, nor did they generally police virginity for either men or women though it was none-too-quietly encouraged among noblewomen to remain unbedded until marriage. Certainly she had had other partners, and as far as she knew so had Loki, but for some reason all that previous experience seemed less than useless.
It wasn’t unpleasant, but it was hardly what she would have called good from herself. Perhaps it was the fact that there were horrible, voyeuristic sages out in the other room, listening for the appropriate inappropriate sounds, or that less than two weeks ago Sif had never even contemplated the idea of marrying Loki, or that they were both nervous or exhausted or any number of things. He was attentive enough, but the way his brows drew together, almost as though he had to concentrate too much on the task, was enough to belie that Loki was not at all at ease. The knot of tension in her belly did not dissolve after she climaxed, though her limbs felt loose and pleasantly tingly, as they usually did, and Loki had that half-apologetic look on his face again.
Sif sighed and let her head fall back against the pillow, and as she did she felt her comb tumble out of her hair. It had come loose during their little interlude. Loki plucked it up from the bedding, turning it over in his fingers as he lay beside her.
“Here’s an unusual thing,” he murmured, tracing its shape with a fingertip. “Like a snake.”
Sif narrowed her eyes at him. “Give that here.” She made a grab for it but Loki held it out of her reach, the comb dancing on the ends of his fingers, and Sif made an exasperated noise. “Loki, I am tired and I just want to sleep. For just one moment could you—“
“Do you remember where you got this?”
The way he was looking at her was enough to make her pause, then drop her arm, letting it drape across his body on top of the furs. “It was from one of the feasts at Yule, the one celebrating the longest night of the year,” she replied. “Someone gifted it to me. I could never find out who.”
Loki smiled a little. It was a tiny thing, and it did not quite reach his eyes, but it was true. “I suppose now that we are wed, I can tell you that it was I who gave it to you.”
She stared at him. That had been years and years ago, before she had sworn herself as a warrior of the realm. “You did?”
“I thought it looked better on you than it did on me.”
Sif punched his arm. “Don’t jest. Why did you do it?”
At her next grab for the comb he let it drop into her palm, rolling onto his side to watch her stretch to place it on the little table by the bed. “I wanted to.”
Her fingers rested on the warm metal. A snake, and the metal was certainly silver but took on an iridescent shine in some lights; she ought to have realized, but she’d never given it the thought. Pursing her lips, Sif scooted back into her warm spot in the furs, pulling them up to her chin. “Well, I want to go to sleep, but not if we’ve still an audience.”
Loki made a face. “I should hope we put that one to bed – ah, so to speak – but… a moment.” He held out a hand, and waved his other one at Sif when she began to ask what he was doing. He passed a hand over his palm and there was a tiny mouse, glowing green-gold and incredibly lifelike for all of that. Loki and the mouse looked at each other a moment, then he blew gently at it, and it dissolved into a stream of light that snaked across the bed and went under the door.
“Quite a trick,” Sif said. Loki, watching the crack under the door, said nothing. In a moment the stream of light was back, reforming into the mouse as she watched and skittering across the furs into Loki’s palm. It made a chittering noise, and Loki nodded solemnly (a thing that would have been comical had Sif not been watching somewhat amazed) before flicking his fingers and dispelling it.
“We are alone, Fates be thanked,” he said, and settled back into the bed looking far more comfortable. “You may rest easy knowing that you will not be spied upon by crusty old sages hoping to prove our, ah, consummation.”
“I shudder at the very thought.” Sif muttered, but closed her eyes and tried to relax. It felt strange to have someone else in the bed with her. The lovers had never stayed the night, and she preferred to sleep alone anyway. “Goodnight, Loki.”
When he replied, his voice sounded soft and very far away. “Goodnight, Sif.”
When she woke the next morning – not at dawn but not long after it, certainly – it was with a groan and the intense desire to let her head drop and go back to sleep. Sif could feel every muscle in her body protesting the fact she was trying to move from where she’d passed the night apparently sprawled across half the bed and Loki, who was still asleep. She shifted off him and paused, lying on her stomach a moment to watch the rise and fall of his chest under the furs. He looked calm, brow smooth and lips parted slightly, and not at all like the cold, power-hungry man he had appeared to be that day on the throne.
Had they been any other couple or had theirs been any other kind of union, Sif supposed she could have woken him with a kiss or somesuch like that, but a shift of her hips and an accompanying grimace put paid to that sentimental thought. She slipped from the bed and padded naked into the bathing room. A good thing about being queen, she thought, turning the knobs on the great tub, was that she had no need to share tubs or wait for hot water.
When the water was high enough she sank into it with a hiss, the heat flushing her skin. It felt good, and she took a moment to relax, letting the warmth soak in to tired and tense muscles before getting to work. Taking a handful of the granular, scented soap, Sif scrubbed all over her body briskly, not minding the sting. When that was done and she felt cleaner in body and mind, she took a breath and slipped under the water, letting her hair drift around her face and staring up at the surface of the water until she could hold her breath no longer and rose, scrubbing the soap into her hair now and dunking again to rinse it out, tipping her head back and floating a bit in the water to make sure she got the last suds out.
When she went back into the bedroom, wrapped up in a towel, one of the royal attendants (Sif had met them all but could not for the life of her recall this one’s name – Sigrid? Astrid? Something like that) was speaking to Loki, who was being dressed.
“We have one last function to attend,” he said, and Sigrid-or-Astrid left off speaking to him and came over to help her into a green frock that sparkled with jewels. “An official breakfast.”
The gown might have been pretty to her if Sif had not been completely fed up with the whole damn event. She had thought it would all be over and done with yesterday, so crossly, she snapped, “To celebrate the fact we fucked last night?”
Loki was facing away, but she met his reflection’s gaze defiantly. He had the grace to look embarrassed, at least, even if his reply was “Don’t be crude.”
“It’s the truth.” Sif’s fingers tightened, the knuckles turning white as she gripped the edge of the vanity while the attendant tightened the laces of the dress. She was truly weary of being tied into things, forcing herself to be quiet when she was screaming inside. It was how she had imagined her life had she tried to be what her parents had wanted her to be – a lady of the court, rather than a warrior. If that became her fate now…
“Even so,” Loki said, as their attendants left. “It is our duty, as king and queen of Asgard, to make such gestures for certain of our citizens. Believe me, Sif,” and as the attendants were gone, she could see that he looked uncomfortable himself, “I would rather not have to do this. There are more pleasant ways to spend breakfast the morning after one’s wedding. I had thought…”
She waited for him to finish, but instead watched in silence as all his gates slammed shut again, the locks slid smoothly into place from years of use. Apparently there were limits, Sif thought.
“Nothing for it,” she said. He nodded, and came over to her, offering her his arm as he had yesterday. She took it, and kept her chin up defiantly as they left the royal chambers.