"They are not made like us," Frigga says. "All of them can bear children."
"Sounds unnatural," Thor says, watching Sif as she strides across the hall. "And disgusting."
"Your father might be a different king if he'd been forced to bear you."
Thor snorts. "As if mere childbirth could change that man."
Frigga sighs, and puts her hand to Thor's scalp. "I miss your lovely hair," she says.
"I like it better this way. No one keeps entreating me to run a comb through it." Sif has disappeared from sight, so Thor turns her attention fully to Frigga. "Are we at war, then?"
"You should ask your father that, dear." But her jaw is tight and there is a strain in her voice.
"Aye," Thor says.
They are at war for twenty years. Asgard trembles, but does not fall. It is Jotunheim that does, in the end of the long and bloody struggle. Thor is exhausted: she has no more comrades to lose, no more blood to shed. In the final battle, when they finally breach Jotunheim's defenses, Sif leans over on her horse and beams, her smile tired but beautiful, always beautiful.
"It is almost over," she says.
"Indeed." Thor raises Mjolnir to the sky. "For Asgard," she says.
"For Asgard," Sif echoes, louder, and everyone follows suit.
The prince looks like a mere boy, but he could be older, she cannot tell. They are all identically ugly to her. This one has sorcery, but Thor is prepared, and it only takes a moment of his distraction for Thor to wrap the collar around his throat. He screeches, and Thor slams Mjolnir into the side of his head, sends him flying into a pillar.
He, Thor thinks later. But what does she know, other than how to maim them, how to kill them, how to negate their power.
Laufey falls, the casket is secured. Thor returns home with Mjolnir bloodied, but cannot conjure the energy to do more than fall into bed. It will sort itself out in the morning. Or perhaps ten mornings from now.
"Your presence is requested by the king, Milady," an attendant says.
Fandral shooes her away. "What she means, Thor, is get your scrumptious behind up and make yourself presentable."
Thor sits up on the bed and wipes at her face wearily. "Now? Must I?"
Fandral is staring at her chest. Thor falls back down onto the bed.
"You are a pig," she says.
"I am a man, and you are naked." His face beams down at her.
"This is not the first time you have seen me without clothes."
"Aye, but mostly covered in blood, not silk. This is most preferable."
"I can't," Fandral says, without much sympathy. He holds out a hand. "Come on, love. We mustn't be late."
"Did I not make myself clear?"
"No, I understood the words, they were just nonsense, that's all."
"Thor," Frigga says, but there is a smile deep in her voice.
"Surely you do not think this is a good idea." Thor turns to her. "Tell him."
"Thor," Odin says. "Your mother and I both discussed this. It is the only way to ensure peace between the two realms."
"I thought us defeating them ensured peace," Thor says.
"But for how long? The Jotuns are not our only enemy. Even now others circle, sensing our weakness from this war."
"And you think a treaty with these barbarians will protect us? No. I refuse."
Odin rises from his throne, ignoring Frigga's hand on his arm. "You say you are ready to lead Asgard? Then you should first understand that sacrifice is the biggest part of it."
"Then perhaps I do not want to be Queen after all," Thor says. She does not mean it: she has fought so hard, after all. Harder than most. Harder than anyone. Her chest constricts. "Do not make me do this."
"It is your choice," Odin says, and sits back down. "If I had a son, I would put this burden upon him. But I do not."
Thor tightens her grip on Mjolnir. It hums, hot with power. "Aye," she says. "If only you'd had a son."
After she has destroyed a table, five chairs and three unfortunate flower vases, Thor manages to calm down enough to sit, curling her knees up to her chest and hugging them.
A body sits itself down next to her. "Nothing could be so dire that you would destroy the Queen's prized lilies, surely." She rests her head against Thor's shoulder, and Thor twines their fingers together.
"It is worse," she says.
"So I've heard."
"Have the rumors already spread then?" Her shame is now entirely complete.
"Frigga says Laufey has three children. You will be allowed to choose which one."
"It's as if I am asked to choose which of my goats I wish to copulate with. I would rather, in fact. They smell better."
Sif laughs, but when she raises her head she is not smiling, "It will be all right," she says.
"You cannot promise that," Thor says, and she looks away.
Thor refuses to wear a dress, puts on her armor and hooks Mjolnir from her waist. Frigga does not say anything, but she winds her arm through Thor's and says, soft, in her ears, "You must be gracious, dear."
"Because you may not see it that way, but we are the victors. You must always be gracious in victory."
Thor tightens her lips. "I am being given away as a prize, how is that victory?"
"This is how we have always carved out treaties," Frigga says, as if Thor does not already know this. "Choose a spoil, marry him, then be done with it." Her palm comes up to Thor's cheek. "I know you will make me proud."
There are three of them. Three sons or three daughters, three ugly beasts that she will be expected to breed with, at some point, despite what Mother says. But even Thor can tell they are displeased as he is over this arrangement. She is prepared to choose the biggest, presumably the strongest.
Almost wishes she could challenge them to a duel to see which one is worthy of seeding her womb: in the heat of battle, sometimes only that they are a match for her matters. Sif smiles at her, and Thor shakes her head.
The boy. Thor had forgotten him: as she casts her gaze over the three of them their eyes meet, and he lifts his chin up, sneers at her. The collar around his neck is gone, and when Thor touches her hand to her throat his eyes narrow spitefully, glare deepening.
"That one," Thor says, her voice ringing clear across the hall. "I choose that one."
"I will not wear the robes," Thor says. The attendants throw their hands up in despair. Thor laughs at them, until Mother comes into her chambers and starts in on her. "You said yourself that they have no gender. Or two genders. Or - I forget what you said. Let the boy wear the robes. I will wear my ceremonial armor. It's what father married you in."
Mother sighs, but nods her heads at the attendants. "At least let them oil you."
Thor agrees to the oil, and tolerates their fingers on her skin, her scalp.
"I would have thought," Mother says, "That you might have chosen Helblindi. He is the oldest, and they say the fiercest warrior of them all."
"He cannot be that fierce," Thor says, batting away an attempt to put a crown of flowers on her head. "If I have never heard of his prowess."
Mother sighs, yet again. "Perhaps I should not have let your father raise you as a son. You might have some manners."
"I have manners. Just little patience."
"Did you not even bother to learn their names? Your groom. I will see how he feels about the robes. Someone must wear it, or the marriage is not bound by law." She says this with a long suffering glare at Thor, who merely shrugs.
Loki. What a ridiculous name. It strikes her: "How young?"
"Old enough for marriage," Mother says airily, which is not an answer at all. But she is already leaving, swirling around and marching off with purpose.
The prince - princess? Loki. Agrees to wear the robes, or is given no choice. It is no doubt of a finer material than he has touched in his entire life, and yet when he stands in front of Thor it is with haughty disdain, and he fingers the folds of the dress as if they displease him.
"Not good enough for you, Loki?" Thor says.
"Fit for my servants, but I can hardly expect more from your kind."
Thor blinks. She's only ever heard him screech.
Loki turns his head; Mjolnir seems to not have affected any lasting damage to his skull at all, the protruding bones look even, and hard as granite. There is a darker band of blue though, across the base of his throat.
"You are the youngest prince, yes?"
"Oh do spare me your pitiful attempts at conversation. Let us just get this over with before I reconsider my decision not to kill myself."
Thor opens her mouth. Shuts it. "You are very rude."
"And you are hideous. We are none of us perfect."
Ceremonial horns ring out, sparing Thor an attempt at a proper rebuttal. They both turn to the stairs, Thor falling to a knee when Odin appears. After a few moments, and a glare from Farbauti, Thor notes, Loki does as well. "How long is this expected to last," he says, his voice low.
"Far, far too long," Thor says. She offers Loki a commiserating smile, and is rewarded with a scowl, and a pointed aversion of his gaze.
Child. He is a child. Did she just agree to marry a child? Surely not.
Her clothes feel tacky with sweat under the armor, the heat overwhelming. She bows her head even further, prays to the Elder Gods for it to be over soon.
Her prayers are, predictably, not answered.
"And so you shall both be wed, and our realms be bound together in blood and promise, forever."
"Forever," Thor repeats, blinking.
Loki blinks as well, and if Thor has fared badly during these interminable hours, Loki seems to have fared worse. The blue in his face has lightened, his red eyes dimmed. He is still capable of glaring at Thor with malevolence though. Thor stares at him, and swallows. She forgets what comes next. Fingers grip her elbow. Mother. Ah, that then.
Thor leans down, and Loki's eyes widen. But he does not pull away, instead tilts his chin up so their lips can meet. It is all teeth, submerged violence.
Thor breaks the kiss, staggers back with her hand to her mouth. Loki smirks, and Thor wishes for Mjolnir, wishes for, yet again, the satisfying thunk of Loki's body hitting stone. She barely notices the cheer that breaks out in the hall until Mother takes her elbow, leads her away.
"To family," Odin says, standing up at the head of the table to toast. Thor ignores him, stares instead at whatever it is on Loki's plate. "You eat that," she asks dubiously.
Loki casts a dismissive glance at Thor's own plate. "You are in no position to judge."
"This is the finest food across the realms."
"Why do you not have hair," Loki asks.
"Everyone around this table has hair growing out of their heads. It's horrendous, but I assume it serves some sort of purpose. You only have this fuzz. Are you diseased?"
"I am not -" Thor clamps her mouth shut, breathes until she can speak again. "It is a choice."
"Unwise choice," Loki says. He picks up a raw piece of meat and bites delicately into it. "You are uglier than even your plainest of servants."
"I have had quite enough of you," Thor says, keeping her voice mild. Loki goes very still. "You will not speak to me with such disrespect again."
"I will speak to you," Loki says, "however I wish." But his hands shake when he reaches for his wine, and Thor has to put her hand out, stop it from spilling.
Thor drinks enough mead throughout the entire miserable evening that even Sif puts a hand over her cup eventually, leads her to a quiet corner of the banquet hall. Thor watches Loki for a while, flitting uncomfortably around the room, surrounded by his brothers. They are far taller than him: why had she not truly taken notice before. "They say he's just a runt."
"They who," Thor replies sourly. The mead has turned to piss in her mouth and her belly burns.
"They. You forget Odin sent a delegation over to negotiate the treaty. None of them can keep their traps shut. Loki," she continues. "Is the runt of the three. Not expected to amount to much, before you chose to marry him."
"Great, so I am married to the weakest of the princes. And I had thought my shame was complete."
Sif's hand lands on her shoulder. "Why did you choose him, anyway. He does not seem your type."
"No," Thor says, and turns her head so their faces are close. "You are my type."
"Me, and every other warrior in the land."
Her smile is soft though, and she does not stop Thor when she leans in close, presses her forehead to her cheek. "We should be together."
"The mead has addled you. Do you not recall the numerous fights we had? Odin complaining because the farmers were upset that it was always raining and their crops would drown?"
"Aye," Thor says, and breathes in her scent until she is pushed gently away. "I recall other things as well."
"Enough," Sif says, and laughs lightly before another push sends Thor out into the light. "Behave yourself."
Loki is staring at her, eyes dark-red and expression blank. Thor flushes and glances away.
She puts it off for as long as she can, but eventually there is no more time that she can waste. Frigga takes her hand, squeezes it gently. "Do not be nervous," she says.
"I am not nervous."
"I was nervous, my wedding night."
"Were you a virgin?"
"No, but your father and I were strangers as well."
"I bet you were a beautiful bride. As you are now."
"So are you," Frigga says, her hand coming up to cup the back of Thor's head. "I do wish I could have forced you into a dress once in a while beyond your sixth year, but you were always impossibly stubborn."
"And yet here I am," Thor says. "Married without a choice."
"You had a choice," Frigga says, and her voice steels. "This is the one you made. At least you get to stay home, surrounded by those that love you. Most brides are not given that option."
"Lie back and think of Asgard, Mother?"
"Think of our future, Thor."
"Aye." Thor kisses her on the cheek. "Always."
Loki is already waiting in her chambers when she returns to it, furiously wiping at his skin with a cloth. "I tried to tell those girls of yours I do not require oil, but they are all apparently deaf."
"Not deaf. Just determined." She turns away and slowly strips off her armor, until she is clad in nothing but her shirt and breeches. When she turns back around Loki is standing. He has untied the sash around his waist and let it fall to the floor, leaving him naked save for thin strips of brown leather around his wrists.
Thor has never bedded a Jotun before. There was Agni, and Sif, and a few others, quickly forgotten trysts borne of boredom and lust.
She allows her gaze to travel downwards, from the cut of his shoulderblades to the narrowness of his waist to what must be his cock, nestled in between his legs. Thor rejected all attempts to get her to learn Jotun physiology; she regrets it now. Does it grow? How do they bear children, where does the seed go? Jotun and Aesir have bred before, surely they cannot be that different.
Loki is staring rigidly ahead. "Are you done staring," he says, harsh.
Thor fights the blush across her face. There are patches of blue darkening on his skin, the patterns carved into it standing out with even starker relief. "Are you cold?"
"I am a Jotun," he replies, in a manner that indicates he thinks of her as dumber than a slugworm.
"We should sleep," Thor says. She moves to the other side of the bed and slides in under the covers. Loki does not move for the longest time, but finally he turns around and gingerly sits down on the bed. There is a tension across his shoulders that Thor does not understand.
"Are you not -" but he shakes his head instead, and lies down, turning his back to Thor so she can see each individual knob of his thin spine, each intricate swirl across his skin.
"He is not a boy," Sif says, as she parries Thor's thrust.
"I am certain I do not know what you mean."
"Please," Sif replies. Thor kicks out at her and she falls, only to drag Thor down with a swift swipe of her leg. "You are as subtle as Volstagg when dessert is served. He isn't a child, just a runt. I have been telling you."
"Well he certainly behaves like one," Thor says.
Sif flips her over onto her back, and presses a knee to her chest. "I believe that particular affliction is called being born of royal blood."
Thor beams up at her, before throwing her off and pinning her to the ground. "It doesn't matter. He still remains a brat. I will have nothing to do with him if I can help it."
The warriors three surround them when they are done, both on their backs and heaving. "So how was the wedding night," Fandral asks. "I heard they have cocks the size of a forearm, and that they come with ridges sharp enough to cut. Is that true?"
"If it were true she would not be able to walk today, Fandral," Volstagg replies.
"Do you three feel inadequate or is it jealousy I hear in your voices," Sif says.
"I did not say a word." Hogun extends a hand to each of them.
On her feet again, Thor grins. "As if I would let some Jotun's cock keep me from challenging all of you." She cracks her knuckles together. "Who's next?"
In the healing room afterwards, Thor drowsy as steam floats around her and efficient hands knead her aching muscles, Sif asks, with some hesitance in her voice, "Did the two of you not?"
"No," Thor says.
"Thor, you know the marriage is not valid unless it is -"
"I know," Thor cuts in miserably. "I know. Don't tell anyone, please."
"Of course I won't. But Thor."
Even the mere thought of his cock inside of her, his hips between her knees. Thor rubs the blush from her face, wills the image away.
Loki is rummaging around in her closet, muttering to himself. "They have not brought enough of my clothes," he says.
"Oh do you wear them?" Thor asks. "I was given to believe you only wore loincloths like savages."
"You really are an imbecile, are you not?" He purrs with some satisfaction and drags a long, flowing robe out. "We only wear these for visiting barbarians," he says. "I suppose I will have to get used to them."
"Loincloth," Thor suggests mildly, and it earns her a dirty look. "I am told our presence is expected at lunch."
"Is it," Loki says, his expression mirroring Thor's feelings.
"Aye," Thor replies. "Might as well get it over with, then."
Thor kisses Mother on the cheek, ignores Father. Loki smiles and greets them both with such polite mannerisms Thor almost raises an eyebrow in surprise at him. So her groom is only ill-behaved towards his bride, then. Comforting to know.
"I admit I'm surprised you managed to procure such fresh plaice," Loki says at one point, as Thor watches him eat his disgusting raw food. "These are hard to come by, especially during these end months."
"Our chefs on Asgard are unparalleled," Mother says. "I have no idea how they do it, honestly. But do enjoy."
Thor loses her appetite. There is a Jotun among them, having lunch and conversing with his parents as if they were equals. There is a Jotun among them, bound to her by marriage. The room spins, quite suddenly.
"Thor, are you well?" Mother rises to her feet, but it is another hand that grips Thor by the arm and hauls her to her feet. Cold, surprisingly strong grip.
"Come along," Loki says. "I will take you back to your chambers." She tolerates his touch until they reach the privacy of her rooms, before she shoves him away and heaves herself onto the sheets. "What is wrong with you? Are you mad?"
"I have been forced into marriage with you, that is what's wrong with me." There is no response, long enough that Thor manages to drag herself out of the throes of self pity to crack open an eye.
Loki is still, staring blankly at her. "I have been taken away from my family," he says. "Brought to this forsaken land, forced to marry a brute that flirts with someone else on her wedding night, left without my books, my friends, everything that I have ever known. And you are the one sulking on your bed?"
Thor sits up indignantly. "It is not like that. It is humiliat-"
"Humiliating? You chose me, remember? You should have chosen Helblindi. It was expected. All you had to do was choose the right mate."
"Is this not a boon for you? You are married to the heir of Asgard. You will be king of Jotunheim when I ascend."
Loki puts his hands together, claps a slow clap. "Ah, so now I get to be your whore while Odin rules us all. That was always my ambition, if you must know."
"That is not what I meant."
"I know exactly what you meant, Aesir."
Not a child, then. Thor cannot imagine why she had been so convinced. Or perhaps it was what she was meant to believe, in order that she would choose the right mate. A warrior's mate.
But she had chosen him instead. She still does not know why.
Loki says, "I would leave you to your tantrum, but I have no place to go."
"I," Thor begins, her throat tight. "We have gardens. A library. You may explore, if you wish."
Loki merely shakes his head, and it is Thor who leaves in the end.
She saddles her steed and rides out of Asgard, does not return for a month.