Chapter 1: Prelude
Chapter 1: Prelude
Odin studied the warriors on the field. The stone under his hands was worn from dozens of centuries of his family standing in this exact place to oversee the training. Being of Asgard was not for the faint of heart. One learned to occupy oneself, for age alone would not incur new experiences.
But age, in his case, haunted him. He was tired. He’d tried to hand off the throne to Thor, to give himself a precious few years of peace with his queen. But Thor had not been ready.
He tried now to pretend Frigga was merely in another room, not lost to him until he reached the Halls of Valhalla. Frigga would have known what to do with these fractious sons of theirs. Had he rebelled so fiercely against his own father? Odin could not remember.
Though Loki’s trust had been lost years ago, Thor’s wariness was unmistakable. His sons were not quite united against him, but he sensed they were not far from it. Had his boys became weak in his absence?
Perhaps only Thor had, for his besotted son had little to occupy him beyond his mortal wife and infant child. The powerful warrior was a pitiful creature with no more sense than a colt at the moment.
He berated himself. This time of transition needed strong fathers and sons. Frigga’s death and Thor’s treasonous acts--absconding with Jane against his explicit orders and freeing Loki from the prisons--had been more than Odin could bear in his weakened state. He’d been grasping for a solution when Loki appeared and offered him one.
His youngest son had been eager to take on the role of king, even in disguise. For all that Odin had been able to discretely investigate the boy had managed adequately enough—even if he had dismissed the Great Council in favor of having a handful of advisors. The war on Jotunheim had been fought and won. The Nine Realms still honored Asgard as the protectors.
But the time Loki had purchased for him had come at a price. None of this had gone according to his wishes.
And Thor was ready now. Though Thor’s betrayal had cut deep, it had proven that he was willing to do whatever was needed for the good of Asgard and the Nine Realms. But Odin had not expected Thor to leave Loki on the throne. And for what purpose? To pursue Jane Foster. The mortal had destroyed all of Odin’s plans for his son. Frigga was dead because of her. The creature attracted trouble wherever she went.
Odin knew he had not long for this world. His heart ached to be with his queen. But first, he would correct his mistakes.
Since his return, neither of the boys had done much for Asgard. Thor kept to his chambers. For that matter, Loki spent a great deal of time in his brother’s quarters too. The Asgardian citizens seemed to be at a loss for what to do with the younger son. With neither Odin nor Thor making apologies for the Loki’s reappearance, most of the Asgardians simply avoided him.
Odin crossed his arms, impatient for his sons to respond to his summons. The seed he’d planted after Laufey’s death had borne fruit.
Paired footsteps announced their arrival at last. Odin turned, noting the comfortable ease between them that had never existed in their youth. Not for the first time, he wondered what had passed to bring about such a thing. Loki, of course, had been less than forthcoming. Thor merely shrugged, advising his father to leave it be.
They walked with the same confidence, neither leading nor following. It occurred to Odin that Loki’s slavish bid for acceptance was gone. So was the mischievousness. Whatever this new personality was, Odin did not know. There was a stillness about Loki that bothered him more than the former ever had.
And what did Jane Foster have to do with this? Loki accorded Thor’s young wife with a respect Odin could not share. Odin had only to look upon Jane to see Frigga lying on the stone floor. Bitterness and grief flared. How in Valhalla had Thor managed to sire a child on such a creature? The Nine Realms would be destroyed by having such a weak thing take the throne. Odin could not allow Thor’s infatuation to bring down Asgard.
Neither of his sons accorded him much formality as they strolled to his side, but once they approached, Thor and Loki straightened. “All-Father,” they said in unison, according him proper salutes with fists to the heart. Odin was mollified and let out a soft chuckle. They’d done that since they were waist high or less.
“How fare my sons on this day?”
They exchanged glances. Thor spoke first. “It is good, Father.”
Loki lifted a shoulder. “Rather boring, if one must know.”
“You were never one for idleness, Loki. I think I did not keep you busy enough as a child, for you had far too much time on your hands for mischief. Perhaps you’ve had more to occupy your time in recent months.” Loki merely returned his look, neither agreeing nor disagreeing with his assessment.
Odin continued, “Loki, you know the Jotuns want you for their throne. It will not be easy, for that realm is poor and has been mismanaged through Laufey’s reign. It would be to your credit if you could bring about its renaissance.”
“If?” Loki admonished. “You drop a gauntlet hoping that I will pick up the challenge. I think you want me out of the way so you can put Thor on the throne of Asgard.”
“I’ve always wanted Thor on the throne. But I’d hoped you would be with him.”
Loki arched an eyebrow. “As what? An advisor?”
“As your mother did, leading the Great Council. A great many siblings have been powerful influences to the kings and queens of Asgard,” Odin remarked.
“But this is not, I think, for me,” said Loki, shaking his head.
“Then you wish to take the Jotun throne for yourself?”
Loki shrugged. “Until I find something better, it will serve.”
Thor chuckled. “I told you,” he said under his breath.
“Shut up, brother.” But a smile played around Loki’s lips.
Relieved, for Loki could have easily declined the throne on no more than a whim, Odin turned to his oldest. “Thor, when you were born, I created a weapon for you, one that you wield now with honor. I expect you will carry it as you rule Asgard.” Thor flexed his fingers, though Mjolnir wasn’t here.
Odin put his hand on Loki’s shoulder. Not a flicker of emotion crossed his son’s face. But Odin continued anyway, his heart breaking a little more at the loss of his youngest son’s affections. “I have been remiss in creating an equal symbol of power for you, Loki. Though you have carried other weapons in your quests, they have not belonged to you. Alas, I’ve not the strength to correct my error.”
He ordered, “I charge you, Thor, to create something worthy of the throne to which Loki will ascend. This will be his mark of his authority and he will pass it on to his children. It should be a symbol of Asgard in Jotunheim as a permanent reminder of Loki’s heritage.”
Thor scratched his beard. “I have not attempted something of this magnitude.”
“And I had not with Mjolnir. Nor have I done since,” Odin reminded Thor. “But you created the new Bifrost. It is much the same.”
Considering the directive, Thor nodded with a glance at his brother. “How much time do I have?”
Loki answered before Odin could. “Sooner, I think. I’m losing subjects daily.”
“Then I’d better go to it.” Thor flicked a glance at Odin. “Father?”
The impatient look said it all, as had Thor’s appeal to Loki. Odin had lost his oldest son’s regard. Perhaps he was a foolish old man now. “Create something magnificent, Thor.”
That arrogant smile flashed. “I already have, Father.” With that pointed reminder, Thor pivoted and left the balcony.
Loki gave Odin a polite nod. “Thank you, All-Father.” He followed his brother out, catching up long enough to sneer at his brother’s prowess.
Odin studied the pair as they traded insults all the way out of the grounds. He was glad for them, yet his heart ached.
Chapter 2: Trust
Thor creates a weapon for Loki
Chapter 2: Trust
Thor wondered what his father was thinking, wanting such a powerful weapon for Loki. But it would not be the first time Odin’s intentions had been opaque to him. He turned toward the Science Room, ignoring the odd looks the Einherjar still gave his brother. “What do you want?” he asked Loki, hoping to distract him from the glances. “A rod? A sword? I know you prefer your dagger, but it is too small as a symbol, I think.”
Loki mused. “A scepter of my own, perhaps? Engraved with my sigil? The Chitauri scepter was rather clever, but too clumsy to make into a real weapon. Father’s staff is particularly suited for his kind of magic. I’d prefer something I can conjure as I can with the Casket of Ancient Winters. I don’t like carrying too many things.”
“That’s why I can call Mjolnir to me.” Thor grinned. “Hmm, the Casket is made entirely of Oridicon. The crystals focus the frost magic.” He paused. “Father is right. You’ve had experience with powerful weapons.”
“But none made for me.”
Thor muttered as he considered the request. “You ask for much. A rod which directs your green magics, yet gives you something like the powers of the Casket.” He shook his head. “It is too much power for one weapon, Loki. And would do your heir no good if he or she does not share your magics.”
“If it’s too hard—“
“I didn’t say that.”
“Do you need me to start the fires?”
“Do I need you to leave me alone while I think on this?”
“It might hurt your brain, Brother. Perhaps we should invite Jane? She is far cleverer than you.”
“Shut up, Loki.”
“Can I have the Casket instead?”
“Ask Father. If he’ll allow it, it will save me the trouble,” Thor retorted they entered the Science Room. He waved his hand, sending out a pulse of magic at the same time. The holographic grid that would allow them to construct and test the weapon’s design came online. “Why does Father want you to have such a powerful tool?”
“Still don’t trust me, brother?” Loki asked lightly.
Thor caught the note of sadness. “You avenged our mother, saved my wife and daughter—do not think I am unaware of the ways you have protected them from harm. If Father wants me to create something for you to wave around on Jotunheim, I owe you more than that.”
Loki touched the hologram, making it longer and thinner. “I like having you in my debt. It adds a whole new dimension to our sibling issues.” He separated the ends so they spiraled around each other.
Rather than needling him on a sore subject, Thor studied the image. “Not too long, you can’t use it as a proper weapon. Look here—“ He stood in the middle of the beams, capturing the hologram to demonstrate how shortening it would give Loki more leverage as he gave it a practice swing.
As he took the image from Thor, Loki countered, “I need a focus for the magics, if it is too short, it will diffuse and I won’t have a center.” He lengthened it again, though not as long as before.
“Will the green magics pass through the scepter? Do your illusions need a focus?”
“Yes, on the first, and, no, of course not, on the second. They work on the mind, not the physical. That’s why a touch will dissolve the illusions.”
“I know that, Loki, but you have, on occasion, taken a form that seems solid enough.”
Loki flicked a bit of lint from his sleeve. “I’m very good.”
Thor heaved a sigh loudly enough that his brother grinned. “So what do you want the scepter to do?” he asked.
“Cast the magics so that I have a longer range. And frost makes an excellent weapon.”
“I can do that.” Thor replied, nodding. “Father used uru for Mjolnir. I can do the same and infuse it with Oridicon. The crystals will focus the power of the frost and give it strength, though not as much as the Casket of Ancient Winters.” Curious, he asked Loki, “Do you really need help with the conjuring? I thought you did that on your own.”
“At times, it is more difficult than it looks.” He slid away from the subject. “And I really don’t want to carry the scepter around all the time.”
Thor accepted that Loki would not be more forthcoming. His brother had never admitted exactly to what he could do and how far his magics extended. Each time Thor thought he had it figured out, Loki broke the rules yet again. “Mjolnir comes when I call it, but I see your point.”
Loki disparaged the weapon. “Mjolnir breaks things when you call it.”
“Only if they get in the way,” Thor retorted. The light from the hallway shimmered as a figure moved into the doorway. He ducked out of the hologram, smiling when he saw Jane. She carried Val in a sling she wore across her body. A cloak over her shoulders kept the pair of them warm.
She was beautiful. With stresses of pregnancy gone, Jane had recovered to the pinkish blush of health. Her hair had grown long in her time on Asgard. She wore it loose to her elbows, usually with braids woven into and under the tresses. She’d foregone the usual hairstyle of the women of this Realm. It had not gone unnoticed that both Jane and Sif, two of the most powerful women, wore their hair thus. The younger generations were following suit.
Thor dropped a kiss on Jane’s lips, and stroked his sleeping daughter’s pale cap of hair. In the past few days, it had taken on a shade of red that made him think of his mother. “You found us.”
“With help. What are you two working on?”
“A weapon for Loki to take to Jotunheim. We’ve only just begun.”
He wholly expected a spark of interest. He wasn’t disappointed when her eyes lit up. “Don’t let me stop you then. Mind if I watch?”
“Of course not.” He took Val from Jane long enough for her to settle into one of the chairs lining the wall. Kicking her shoes off to the floor, she tucked her feet under her gown and laid the cloak across her lap. He gave the sleepy little girl back, and Jane cradled Val against her chest.
Thor and Loki went back to engineering the scepter. Loki tended more to the artistic, wanting to create something fanciful. Thor kept him grounded into the metals and magic to make it all work.
Jane was mesmerized by the conversation as it wove within scientific analysis and pure magic—and a double dose of brotherly insults. Fortunately, Val was very good at letting her mother know when she was hungry.
An attendant brought food. Val nursed and napped at will. She occasionally watched the two men with that vague stare of a newborn while she played with her fingers.
Late in the night, Thor and Loki had a design that almost worked, but the green magic still would not cast as Loki desired. Val became fussy. Thor decided she must be wanting her father as she’d heard his voice for most of the day and seen little of him. Jane rose to leave, not wishing to bother them.
“No, let me have her,” Thor said. He hefted the little one to his shoulder, where she promptly curled her hands around a thin braid. She stuffed it into her mouth. “Feel better?” he asked Val. She ignored him, staring with unfocused eyes over his shoulder at the glowing lights—or maybe at Loki. Thor was never sure what passed between the pair. He only knew that his brother was unsettled by his daughter.
Jane circled the design. With a finger she traced the flow of magic. “Loki, if I’m following the logic, then if Thor puts your sigil here and here--” she touched the points, “--can you channel your magic through them?” Loki and Thor exchanged looks as Jane manipulated the design. Loki put his hand to the hologram and pushed his magic through it. A laser point of green magic shot out.
Loki considered. “Broader, I think.”
“I see it, Jane.” Thor reached out to enlarge the sigil on one side and rotate it a few degrees. “Try again,” he told Loki.
Loki took the hologram from where it was suspended and aimed. A green flash coated a column on the far side, turning into a tree, complete with bark and an enormous blinking owl on the lowest branch. Jane walked up to it and laid a hand on it. “It feels real,” she said in wonder. “How long can you keep it up?”
Loki flicked a glance her way, then turned blue as he concentrated on the hologram once more. Frost emerged, coating another of the columns in the room in a thin sheet of ice. “That’s it.” He released the hologram, his eyes changing from red to green as he walked around the image. “It’s elegant, though I still prefer my dagger.”
“Then we’ll begin tomorrow.” Thor walked around the finished design, pleased with the design.
“How long?” asked Loki.
“Three days to create the uru, three more for the forging. Perhaps another to polish it.”
“That will be soon enough. Perhaps I should pack?”
Thor laughed. “When did you ever?”
“I usually choose my lodgings with more care.”
Early the next morning, while Thor was occupied with metal, Loki had another bit of business to see to before he left. He waited until he sensed Val getting sleepy, and then intercepted Jane just as she came out of the nursery. Here in her own space, she wore Midgardian clothes—loose pants and a simple green t-shirt. Which would do nicely for his purposes.
“You have good timing,” she commented.
“Val is asleep?”
“Excellent, then we have work to do.”
Jane gave him that odd searching look--a little wary, more than a little curious--as she descended the stairs through the sculpture of Yggdrasil. “What’s on the agenda for today?” she asked. “I think I’ve walked every last inch of Asgard with you.”
“Asgard holds many secrets, I think.” He flipped the dagger he’d given her upward.
She caught it, hilt first, midway on the steps. “I really hate it when you do that,” she complained. “What if I missed?”
She inspected the dagger and sighed. “Were you digging through my desk again?”
“Thor still doesn’t know you have it?” He grinned as she mumbled something about not having the time. “Good. You’ll give him a surprise one of these days. Strap it to your calf.” He handed her a sheath as she came down the stairs.
She sat on the bottom step and buckled the cover in place. “Slide the dagger in,” he ordered it. She did, and the whole contraption vanished.
“Loki,” she breathed, entranced by the magic. She pulled the dagger out and both reappeared. Put it back and it disappeared again. She closed her eyes and ran her hand along her leg. “I can feel it … but I can’t.”
“As it should be. You can wear that anywhere on your body and no one will know it’s there. ” Loki was proud of his creation. He couldn’t say why, but he’d freely spent hours creating an intricate piece of magic that even Thor wouldn’t be able to detect.
She blinked. “Does it have to touch my skin, or can I layer over my clothes?”
She grinned at his American response. He’d picked it up after hearing her say it to Thor a dozen times or more. “Okay, I just had to ask.” She played with the dagger and sheath for a minute. “Oh! It’s just like yours. What about--”
Loki looked up at the ceiling, dredging up reserves of patience. “Jane, shut up.”
“I’m going to show you how to draw your weapon without anyone being the wiser.” He indicated the way, though she led them to Thor’s practice ring. She stopped once to ask Eyre to keep an eye on Val.
By the end of the session, Jane was drenched with sweat. Loki hadn’t expected her to master any particular skill. In truth, she was hardly proficient in any of it. But she had made improvement. Against an Asgardian warrior, Jane would only have the virtue of surprise to increase her chance of survival. It wasn’t much, but if it bought her time for someone to come to her rescue--
“Try again,” he ordered. Exhausted, Jane nodded. She ran toward him, ducked his reach, rolled, and came up with the dagger in a reverse grip in her hand. She held blade at the point just under his sternum. He caught her wrist. “Can you do it, Jane? Can you pierce the flesh with your blade?”
She automatically shook her head. “I—“
He jerked his hand, so the tip of her blade slid into his flesh. He automatically suppressed the pain with his magic, while her eyes widened. “Oh my god, Loki.” She tried to let go, but he held her wrist hard, forcing her hand to close again on the hilt.
“You know now how it feels, Jane. Do not hesitate. Not with a mortal, not with an Asgardian. You will drive that dagger home and run. Even if you miss the heart, you’ll stand a better chance of surviving.”
As he released her wrist, she looked at him in horror and backed away. “Why are you doing this?”
The dagger clattered to the floor, blood staining the tip. “Because my foolish brother thinks he’ll be able to protect you. There is more to ruling than pageantry and glorious battles.” Loki retrieved the dagger. He wiped it on his sleeve and handed it to her, hilt-first. Jane pressed her lips together as she took it back. Her dark brown eyes caught his.
Whatever she saw made her nod.
Unnerved, he jerked a chin toward the nursery. “You’d better go, Val is waking.” When Jane glanced at the doorway, Loki cast an illusion, vanishing from her sight. She stared at the now blank spot for the longest time before going to her daughter.
He let out a sigh of relief and used the connecting hallway to his own quarters.
With blood staining his tunic, he headed for the bathing room. He shed bracers and shook off his boots. As he reached for the back of his tunic, Anundar stepped into the room. With all the confusion of the past year, Thor’s attendant had decided to take on Loki’s needs as well. Loki hadn’t minded. In truth, it was easier this way, for now.
“My lord, I would fix that,” the attendant nodded at the blood seeping into the tunic. Anundar kept a carefully neutral expression on his face as Loki stilled.
No one had seen the scar Kurse had left behind. He’d kept it covered with fabric or illusion. But to be treated properly, he could have neither. Resigned, Loki nodded and pulled off the shirt.
Anundar raised an eyebrow. “It’s not the first time you’ve taken a blow there, my lord.”
Loki glanced down at what was left from the Dark Elf’s blade. “No, I think not.”
“I wonder why you still carry the mark.” Anundar said with curiosity as he let the stone do its work on the neat slice the dagger had made.
Loki said nothing, though he wished he knew the answer. The scarred flesh refused to heal beyond a twisted vertical mess that would serve as a reminder of all he’d lost that day.
Val brushed up against his unhappy thoughts, radiating contentment. In spite of himself, Loki relaxed and sent out an echoing sentiment.
As for Jane, he’d done what he could to keep his promise.
Jane had spent her fair share of time taking in the incredible view of Thor at the forge. If she had to confess, she wasn’t quite sure if it was the sweat-covered expanse of yummy or the sizzling display of magic while he created the metal that fascinated her. Good thing she didn’t have to choose.
But Val lasted only a little while before she wanted to eat or needed to be changed, so Jane took in the gorgeous scenery in small doses.
Magdahilda seemed to pop in on Jane every other day now that Val was here. In truth, Jane didn’t mind. Even though she’d read three or four dozen books on babies before she came to Asgard and had the better ones loaded on her Kindle for reference, this was definitely a case of theory and practical application having very little to do with one another. Jane had gathered from Erik and Deandre that she wasn’t the first to think that, but throw in a little Asgardian DNA and no one truly had any idea what to expect.
Magdahilda and Jane had spent a couple of weeks before Val’s birth comparing growth rates and milestones. From what Jane could tell, Val would mature at a similar rate during her first six months, then the milestones gradually grew farther apart. She might not walk for a couple of years. The toddler years were finished after the first decade. Early childhood around the fifth.
Jane remembered Thor mentioning adolescence around the end of the first century.
She tried not to think too hard on that. The Asgardian DNA she herself carried might earn her a reprieve of a few years, but Jane didn’t have a lot of hope that she would see her daughter to adulthood.
Determined not to go down that particular path today, Jane kissed Val on the forehead and stole a sniff of her hair. What was it about a baby’s head that smelled so good?
“How is she today?” Magdahilda asked.
Jane tickled Val in the middle. Val squeaked, then wrapped her hands around Jane’s fingers and pulled herself up to sit. She promptly fell over and opened her mouth in a gummy smile. “Very proud of herself for her new trick.”
“It’s a good one, Val,” Magdahilda told the infant. “Shall we go to the Soul Forge and take a look? I think you are a perfectly healthy little girl, but your papa will be much happier if I tell him for certain.”
“Thor asked you to come?” Jane asked as she gathered up Val’s carry sack. Really, it was the Asgardian version of a baby bag, minus a decent zipper.
“Daily,” Magdahilda said over her shoulder as she carried Val through the halls of Valhalla to the Healing Room. Siglyn escorted the pair of them, followed by two of the Valkyries—as Sif’s all-female guard had been dubbed after Val’s birth. They were stopped no less than eight times by those who had to take a peek at the Crown Princess.
Jane was amused by some of the differences between Asgard and Earth. One of them was the complete lack of strollers. With so few children about, there were always those wanting a turn at holding or carrying a little one. Jane, surrounded as she was by Thor’s friends, Anundar, Eyre and the Valkyries, had more help than she really needed at times.
Loki was the sole exception to that rule, and speaking of whom, he fell in step with them just a few steps outside the Healing Room. Jane wondered sometimes if Loki wasn’t going to Jotunheim merely because he was bored of Asgard.
“Is she ill?” he asked.
“No. Just a routine check-up,” Jane replied.
“Check-up?” He aimed a dark look her way.
She sighed a little. “Examination,” she translated. Though she spoke basic Asgardian, she still occasionally mixed in English words and idioms when her brain couldn’t supply the proper word. Most of the citizens just gave her kind looks of indulgence. Thor would give her the correct words when she asked. Loki snidely pointed it out every single time.
Magdahilda laid Val on a warmed blanket on the table. It was thick enough to make a nest so that Val wouldn’t immediately try to roll out of it. She hadn’t mastered that yet, but it wasn’t for a lack of trying.
The healer brought up the Soul Forge as Eir, the senior mindhealer, joined them. Loki looked on, idly leaning against a column.
Pure gold danced in the quantum field generator in the vague shape of Val. Energy shifted to and fro with Val’s wiggles. She reached up, trying to touch the magic.
“You are like your mother, Val,” Eir said. “That was the first thing she did too.”
Loki raised an eyebrow. “I think I missed that one.”
“There was a mention of goats,” Jane said crossly. “You were … inconvenienced at the time.”
“Ah.” Wisely he let the subject matter drop.
Eir studied Val’s image. “She is of Midgard and Asgard, that much is clear.”
Thor ducked into the room then, his hair damp from a quick wash and clad in only minimal armor. His face lit up when he saw Jane and Val. “Have I missed much?”
“You are just in time, my lord,” Eir acknowledged. “She is in perfect health. You were correct in your suspicions. She is fully Asgardian, though I can clearly see the influence of Midgard in her life force. She has magic, though of course, we will need to wait to see how it manifests. I am less sure if it will be as powerful as yours, Thor, but it will be formidable.”
“How can you tell,” Jane asked.
“Hold your hand under the Soul Forge,” Eir told her.
Jane’s hand appeared, as it had before, when she held it up.
“My lords, would you care to demonstrate.”
Thor and Loki both held their hands over the table.
The image of Thor’s hand was thick with slow-moving energy, almost solid in its form, whereas Jane’s was almost ephemeral. Loki’s burned almost as brightly as Thor’s, though with a curious spikiness rather than a smooth swirl.
Val took after her father. There was no mistaking the absolute satisfaction in Thor’s smile. He reached across the table for Jane’s hand and kissed her knuckles with his blue eyes sparkling.
Jane was so rattled by the intensity of his expression that she missed the looks exchanged by Loki and Magdahilda.
Thor carried Val in one arm as they walked along the terrace to join the Warriors Three for a luncheon. Loki promised to join them later and vanished in the opposite direction.
“You’re smug,” she remarked.
He drew her in with his other arm. “Jane, I will admit to harboring a fear that Val might not have enough magic to hold the Asgardian throne. That concern has been allayed this day. It is something I will tell Father with great joy.”
Jane folded her arms across her middle. She hadn’t realized. Thor had told her, early on, how his family had come to power—by virtue of incredibly strong magic without equal. Jane hadn’t considered that her own DNA might dilute Val’s potential.
“What would you have done if Val—“
Thor silenced her with a kiss. “I knew she had magic, Jane. When she saved you. It is legend that Asgardian blood always breeds true. My mother was born of Alfheim and Asgard. Though Light Elves are not as long-lived as Asgardians, Mother reached four millennia and was only considered of a middle age. It stands to reason that Val’s magic will be of Asgard and Midgard.”
“Earth doesn’t really have magic,” Jane disagreed.
“Think you not?”
“Well, I know it does now. You sent an Asgardian to teach some of them.” Jane bit her lip. “How does Earth magic manifest?”
He touched her forehead. “Here.”
“Thor, I don’t have magic.”
“And you connected to Yggdrasil how?”
“Not the way you do.”
“Of course not, Jane. I am of Asgard. Each realm manifests differently. It is for the good of Asgard to add those strengths to our own. Val is going to be a powerful queen.”
Sometimes, when Thor was so utterly sure of himself, Jane was dazzled by him. In these moments, she had to pinch herself to believe all of this was real and not just a figment of her imagination. But then Val let out an unhappy noise, her only warning that she was hungry before going into a full scale cry.
Thor gave a Jane a slightly panicked look, then searched for a nearby bench so Jane could feed her. They found one underneath a tree full of white blossoms that occasional drifted downward. Jane settled against Thor’s side, uncovered a breast and Val latched onto it without hesitation.
Jane leaned her head back on Thor’s arm. As warm as it was today, he had on only the lightest of armor and had forgone the sleeves. She rested her cheek against his bare skin, relaxing in the sunlight that streamed through the branches.
“I never grow tired of seeing this,” said Thor.
“What, Val nursing?”
He reached across to caress the curve of Jane’s breast, then Val’s tiny hand resting on it. “You. With our daughter. I find I am envious of the bond you have with her.”
Jane laughed. Loud enough that an old man fishing on the bridge gave her a dark look. Even Val pulled off long enough to stare.
“Oh ... I think I’m scaring the fish,” Jane giggled. She stroked Val’s cheek and the girl renewed her interest in her lunch.
“Why do you laugh at me, Jane?”
“Because there is no question that Val adores you. Who walks with her in the middle of the night?”
“And gets her to burp. She won’t do it for me.”
“Thor. Okay, so I feed her. She kind of has to like me. You? It’s purely her call. I think you’re covered.”
Thor kissed her on the temple. “I love you, Jane Foster.”
“I figured as much. The whole rearranging the universe thing. It’s flattering. Mind-boggling, but flattering.” She laid her head against his arm again. “I love you, Thor Odinson.” Out of the blue, her earlier thought made her suddenly sad, “Thor?” He tilted his head toward her. “Promise me you’ll tell Val how much she is loved.”
“When I’m gone.”
Thor closed his eyes, his arm tightening around her shoulders. “Jane, this I will not promise, for I plan to keep you by my side.”
“I know not. But we have come this far. I will not give up hope. And neither will you. Deal?” She nodded, slowly, then turned to lay her face against his chest. The armor felt cool on her skin, but she huddled against him anyway, Val nestled in her arms.
Chapter 3: Reign
Loki takes the Jotun throne.
Chapter 3: Reign
Stripped to the waist, Thor pounded at the Oridicon-infused uru with Mjolnir. Each strike threw off sparks of gold as Thor fed his magic into the uru.
The pale blue crystal glowed white not long after the metal turned red in the fire. A steady stream of visitors passed the open windows, curious to the creation of a magical weapon. Thor did not dare think he was creating something on the scale of Mjolnir, but he hoped the finished scepter would serve his brother’s purposes – whatever they might be.
Burn marks dotted his arms where stray sparks had landed. But the heat and sheer physicality of the work felt good. He enjoyed this sort of thing, much as he preferred to spend time on the training grounds. Thor missed the days when he could spend the entirety of one perfecting a single offensive strike.
Duty called him at the present, not to war, but to manage the peace. Though Odin had taken his rightful place, he had handed over the responsibility of ruling to Thor. The duty set heavily on Thor’s shoulders, and he wondered how long Father would remain on the throne before handing it over in fact.
For now, he would revel in the last days of his freedom. Freedom that Loki had purchased for him—as was the joy in his new wife and daughter. The debt weighed heavily. A well-crafted weapon might somewhat even the scales.
On this last day of the forging, Thor sent a messenger after his brother. Loki strolled in, covered in his own sheen of sweat as he’d been working the horses. It was a love they shared, and one Loki was sure to miss when he left for Jotunheim.
Loki took a long look at the dull piece in Thor’s hand. “You expect me to carry that?”
Thor raised an eyebrow. “Father said to create something suitable.”
With a snicker, Loki reached for the rod to inspect it. “Not bad. I do believe that was a proper insult.”
Thor scraped his hair out of his face and retied it with the leather thong. No, he wasn’t getting better at sarcastic remarks. He just didn’t keep them to himself anymore. Loki used to fly into a rage whenever Thor jested with him when they were younger. But they didn’t seem to have that problem these days.
He kept it up, needling his brother a little more. “It’s a wonder you recognized such a thing.”
“Insulting my intelligence? This coming from my dolt of a brother?”
Thor nodded. “A dolt? I think not. I am more than a match for you. In any case, I need your magic.”
“My magic? Is yours not adequate enough to finish the task?”
“Shut up, Loki,” he grinned. “Start with Mother’s magics.”
All business now, Loki shrugged out of his coat and overtunic. He stripped down to a thin shirt, leaving his arms bare. “Very well.”
Thor boosted the heat on the forge higher so the rod glowed blue-white. He drew a thick padded glove on one hand and wielded Mjolnir with the other. “Go,” he ordered.
Focusing on the metal, Loki poured green power over and into it. Thor used Mjolnir to aim his blue-white magics, creating a channel for Loki’s and twisting them--as he did with Jane’s pendant--carving thousands of runes into the metal from one end to the other. The process was slow, tedious, and Thor was drenched with sweat from concentrating for so long.
When it was finished, he yanked the rod out of the heat with a pair of tongs and plunged it into cool water.
Loki released his magic to peer at the rod, sweat streaming from the exertion.
Thor panted, wiping the moisture from his face. “Can you do that one more time with the frost magics?” he asked.
“Can you?” Loki sneered.
“The forge has to be hotter to counter the cold, but yes, of course.” Thor dialed up the forge yet again, giving his brother a smirk. Daring him to complain of the heat.
Turning blue, Loki crossed his arms. “I’m waiting.” Sweat dried in small white patches of amid the raised marks on Loki’s skin.
Laughing for real, Thor set the rod into the forge again. This time, Loki poured cold fire into the rod while Thor etched runes again. When it was done, Thor again plunged the whole thing into water.
While it cooled, Thor upended a nearby jug of water onto his head and handed one to Loki. But Loki only laughed, drinking it rather than saturating himself with it. “I think I’m finished with being affected by the heat, Brother.”
With a grunt and a grin, Thor agreed. “That’s handy enough.” He almost didn’t ask, but he with his brother soon to be gone, he pointed to Loki’s skin. “Can I see?”
“What did Jane call it? My new party trick?” Loki seemed insulted.
“I have not truly seen your Jotun heritage, Loki. I am curious, that is all. If it makes you uncomfortable, I will not ask again.”
Loki blinked in surprise. “That’s novel. No demands. No insults.”
Thor shrugged. “Jane said I had to ask nicely.”
Green magic flashed as Loki blurred the windows from onlookers. He might have been a statue for all the expression he wore when pale skin darkened to blue, eyes changed to red, and the characteristic marks of a Jotun rose from his flesh. Loki waited, eyeing Thor to see his reaction.
Thor looked, circling Loki and memorizing his brother’s new features. “I suppose if I were to ever encounter you on the battlefield your height alone would give you away. I’ve never seen a six foot Jotun.”
“I can remedy that.”
“I am certain you can. Loki,” he pondered. “You still look like you. Your features, your build. I don’t think I could mistake you for anyone else.”
“Why would you care?”
“You’re my brother, I am glad to see that I will always know you.” Thor turned then to the barrel and retrieved the now cooled rod to hand to Loki.
Loki pushed a beam of frost through it, then one of green as the color faded from his skin. “Still a dull sort of thing. I’m certain it will inspire all who see it.”
Thor was annoyed. He hadn’t meant to insult Loki. Now his brother seemed disappointed by the scepter. As tired as he was, Thor had intended to finish it in the morning.
But the challenge was unmistakable.
Thor decided to polish it the way he had with Jane’s wedding ring. He held out his hand and Loki laid the weapon in it. “Stand back,” he ordered.
Loki eased away until Thor nodded. He aimed Mjolnir, pulling energies into the hammer until it crackled blue-white. Lightning struck the rod, electrifying it. He spun the energies until the metal gleamed in shining silver. With a final crack of power, he marked his own sigil to the base of the scepter. He released the energy, shut down the forge and turned with the finished weapon in his hand.
Thor tossed it once, liking the balance as it shimmered in polished sliver. Crystals spiraled up the shaft and Loki’s eyes lit up as the scepter gleamed. He reached for it, eager now to see it.
But Thor tucked it under his arm, carrying the scepter and Mjolnir together. “You’ll get it on the morrow,” he said with a grin. He walked out of the forge with Loki cursing him all the way.
Since Odin’s celebratory feast for Loki’s ascension was scheduled for tomorrow, Jane insisted on hosting a more intimate one tonight.
“If we don’t hold it, Loki will hide out in his rooms and sulk,” she said.
“No, for I would have taken him out to some feast or another.”
“But he deserves more than that, Thor. Something special.”
Thor brushed a kiss on her forehead. “Of course. It is what Mother would have done, and I have failed to think on it. Thank you, Jane.”
Anundar and Eyre outdid themselves with the food preparation. Jane merely placed food wherever she was ordered to set it down. Fire pits and torches were lit. The crystal Yggdrasil climbing through their chambers glowed over the enormous fireplace roaring below.
Fandral and Volstagg had brought in a high-backed chair from somewhere and decorated it with jewels, a pair of swords and golden chains. Jane hung a traditional English crown off one corner and draped the throne with a long red cloak with white trim. She hoped Loki would remember the conversation they’d had regarding royalty.
Jane peeked at the jewels and wondered if they were real.
“They are,” Sif answered to Jane’s unspoken question. “A gift from us. We have had our differences, Lady Jane, but we would wish him well.”
“Is Hogun able to come?”
“No, he sent his regrets and that dagger with the fat ruby. His eldest daughter is getting married in a few days on Vanaheim.”
Other warriors and a trio of horse trainers arrived, friends of Loki’s who had been invited to this private celebration. All came bearing gifts for the prince.
When Heimdall appeared, Jane passed off Val to Sif and bounced up to give him a rare hug. In those first months, he had been the one person she’d trusted and had proved to be a real friend to her since. She had only seen him a few times since Val’s birth almost three months ago.
More people trickled in, including Deandre and her children. It wasn’t long before Jane discovered their quarters were full. With the party in full swing, Thor led Loki through the door.
Jane had never seen Loki caught truly by surprise when he saw the “throne” decorated in precious metals and gems. A variety of weapons were propped up around it, all marked with the sigils of their former owners. Sif had explained to Jane that Loki could call on any of those people as allies.
Loki brushed fingertips lightly across the weapons then let out a laugh at the crown and robe. He flicked a glance at Jane. She shrugged, admitting guilt. With a grand gesture, he seated himself.
“My friends, I thank you for your kind consideration this evening. My brother and sister,” he nodded to Thor and Jane, “You have overwhelmed me.”
As with any good Asgardian party, they told stories on each other. Toward the end of the night, long after most the revelers had left, Jane curled up in her chair to listen to the better ones being told in the intimacy of their closest friends. Loki had been as much a part of Sif and Warriors Three as Thor. The six of them had been everywhere together. The Old Norse stories told on Earth only scratched the surface of what sorts of trouble these warriors had caused.
In theory, Volstagg and Hogun were to have led the team as their trainers. Fandral and Sif were close in age to Thor and Loki. Their families were distant cousins somewhere on the Asgardian royal tree. But over time, the six had become close friends.
Not for the first time, Jane wondered how lonely Loki would be on Jotunheim. Loki caught her looking at him and raised his eyebrows just enough to remind her she wasn’t paying attention. She rolled her eyes and tuned into whatever Sif was saying.
“If you think that’s complicated, you should have seen Frigga’s reaction when Thor and Loki came back from Vanaheim with red tattoos covering their faces and most of their chests. They had gone through a whole series of rituals and training and were so proud of them.” Sif gave both of them cheeky grins.
“How did the tattoos come off?” Jane wondered out loud.
“Oh, Asgardian skin will cause it to fade, eventually, but that can take years.” Sif lifted a shoulder. “Frigga probably used magic, but Thor and Loki wouldn’t say. They didn’t come out of the palace for six months and they were terrified of her for years afterward.”
“What did Odin think?” Jane ventured.
“Nothing. Frigga discovered them first. The All-Father didn’t have to say anything at all.” The table roared with laughter. Thor drank of his mead, and Loki—Loki only grinned.
But Jane had spent months watching Loki. Though she couldn’t pretend to know him better than the others at the table, she caught something odd. “You didn’t get the tattoos,” she said under her breath to Loki. Loki heard. So did Thor. They turned, eyebrows raised. Going with her instinct she said aloud, “Thor did. Loki faked it.”
Thor choked as Loki let a real smile out. He chewed on his thumbnail for a second before admitting, “Mother made me use my magic to get them off Thor. That’s why it took so long. I wasn’t very good.”
“You weren’t trying very hard,” Thor reminded him.
“Not at first.”
Fandral eyed the pair of them. “I imagine Frigga inspired you to hurry up as some point.”
Loki poured another glass of wine for himself. “Mother could be rather convincing, yes. I believe it was when Thor tried to drown me in her bathing pool that she decided she’d had enough of us living in her quarters.”
“What did she do?” Jane asked.
“Now that, my fairest Jane, I will never tell.”
She pinned Thor with a look, but he held up his hands in protest. “You’ll not hear it from me.” Despite the catcalls from the others, the brothers were united in their silence. The glances they exchanged only sealed the deal and Thor offered up another round of ale as a distraction.
Jane settled back in her chair, loving the stories that flowed around the table. Thor thrived on this sort of thing. Seeing the rare note of joy in Loki’s eyes, she wondered again how he would manage his solitude.
With all the recent festivities in Asgard, one might think the people had tired of them. But no. When Odin made the announcement of Loki’s ascension to the Jotun throne and forthcoming sending off celebration, the citizens packed the Festival Hall.
Loki was sure it was more for morbid curiosity than for goodwill. For one, Odin still had not publically exonerated Loki for his crimes. For another, though Asgardian memories were long, few recalled the infant child Odin brought home from Jotunheim.
He made the long walk alone, joining his brother and Odin on the dais. Jane and Val stayed off to the side. The little one was humming in his head, pleased by all the excitement.
For Loki, it was terribly annoying to be treading the path Odin had foreseen all those years ago. The challenge was undeniable, true. But there was more. In the quiet of his mind, he knew he had to put space between him and his brother’s family. There were times jealousy ate at him. If not for Val—but Loki cut that thought off. The infant blinked in contentment in Jane’s arms. Her serenity countered the nerves he refused to acknowledge.
The All-Father made a short speech revealing Loki’s origins and the pleas of the Jotuns for the restoration of their king. Odin gave Loki his royal blessing to the confused cheers of the people. Never before had an Asgardian taken the throne of another realm. Only Loki had attempted the deed and he’d been punished for it. The irony of being asked to do the same in another realm wasn’t lost on him.
Then it was time for Thor to pass over the weapon he’d created. Loki had been taken aback that Thor had agreed to such a thing. Their truce still had interesting ebbs and flows to it.
Thor formally handed over the scepter, saying, “Loki, you have a great challenge ahead of you. Do not forget that Asgard is your ally. The All-Father ordered that I create a weapon for you, both as a symbol of your authority and to help you wield the powers at your command. So I give you Tryggr.”
Loki took the scepter, nodding with regal acceptance. “Thank you, brother.” He held it out, taking a moment to admire it. The weapon was truly magnificent, far better than the Chitauri one he’d wielded. He held up Tryggr to the cheers of the crowds, though he didn’t really hear them.
There would be ample time later to decide whether Thor was the biggest fool in the Nine Realms or if he had far more faith in Loki than he should. Tryggr. Trustworthy.
Odin, Thor, Jane and Val escorted Loki to the observatory. The Warriors Three and Sif trailed behind. Jane danced in place, soothing Val. Her eyes were troubled.
Finally, she leaned up on her toes to kiss Loki on the cheek. “I’m still mad at you for New York.”
Jane never pulled her punches, leaving Loki to tighten his fingers around Trggyr. “I know,” he replied. Loki decided he would miss her company the most. They had been working up to some spectacular debates about ethics and technology. He rather enjoyed that sort of thing and few were up to the task.
Val sucked on her fingers, staring cross-eyed in that bleary manner infants did. Loki dared not touch her. The little one was firmly ensconced in his head now, and she burbled happily with him so near. He nodded instead, giving Jane and Val a slight bow. Jane rolled her eyes and he grinned without thinking.
Volstagg and Fandral came in turn to clasp his forearm, as did Sif. All were rather reticent, even Fandral, who was rarely at a loss for words. They could not even offer him the traditional farewell. For Asgard.
But Odin took his arm, putting that awkward exchange to an end. “Loki, my son, your Mother would be proud.”
The feeling of being herded toward a grand destiny was never greater than in this moment. “But not you,” Loki mocked, to cover his unease.
Odin touched Loki’s cheek, as he’d often caressed Frigga’s. “You have given Asgard the greatest gift it will never know. As a father, one could not ask more from a son. Go. Rule wisely. Know that Asgard will always be your home.” The simple words undid Loki, though he would not let it show. He stilled, finally nodding once in acceptance.
Then Thor caught him in a hug, thumping him on the back. “I will miss you, Brother.”
Regret mingled with anticipation as Heimdall opened the Bifrost. Loki walked into it alone. But not without Val’s sudden wail of unhappiness.
He took possession of the Jotun throne with far less fanfare than he would have liked. Asgard had elevated ceremony to a high art. This was, in a word, disappointing. Nevertheless, the throne was his, as was the relic of a crown. An elder had affixed it to his head moments after his arrival on the Bifrost. They didn’t need to know that he’d removed the uncomfortable thing moments later and was currently sporting an illusion of the same.
In spite of the cold of Jotunheim, it wasn’t quite enough to turn him blue without a boost. Loki had to concentrate to change his biology to his Jotun aspect. While he did, he took care to appear somewhat taller. There was a trick to it, adding the extra length to his calves and torso so that he remained eye to eye with his new subjects. He set the protections in place to ensure the illusion would remain even while sleeping. Now he looked Jotun, save for his black hair and the Asgardian attire. Something had to remind these people that they chose him, not the other way around.
When he got his first good look at the remains of Laufey’s hall, he’d laughed. For Laufey, in all his jealousy, had sought to recreate Asgard. Well, if everything on Asgard had been dipped in blue and coated in ice. Not to mention the technology was rather lacking, to say the least.
Those around him flinched at the burst of laughter. But he ignored them as he took in the space. As this was the first time he’d wholly taken on his other form on Jotunheim, Loki discovered that his red eyes took in a great deal more light. He could see details in the rock walls that had remained hidden before. Crystals covered the ceiling. Soft lights on the ground back lit the columns with an eerie glow.
He looked forward to seeing Jotunheim in the morning. Thor had said it was rather an astounding sight, all glistening in a low light that made the ice and snow glimmer, as if from within. So far, Loki had only seen this small portion of the Realm in the latter part of the day. For one raised in sunlight, the thought of eternal twilight rather depressed him.
Three elders waited at the foot of the dais as he strolled into the great chamber. Once settled on Laufey’s—his—new throne, he took him time to study the surroundings, ignoring the elders. The throne room was shabby. Perhaps that was too elevated of a word. Years of poverty and war had left the palace in a crumbling heap. The stones were worn, cracks ran the length of the floors and ceilings, and several of the columns were leaning rather precariously. One had fallen altogether. Loki’s throne hardly had an unbroken carving on it.
Guards surrounded the hall. Though they were attired in the Jotun fashion of leather armor, the tunics were poorly tanned or repaired more than once. Loki decided it was a good thing Jotuns commanded frost magics for their weapons. Metal would dull far too quickly in the ice.
Loki let the Elders stew for a bit, until they shifted from foot to foot as nerves overcame impatience. Then he gave them a regal nod -- another thing Asgard had perfected – giving them permission to speak.
“My king, I am Koenig. I served Laufey and will be honored to serve his son. Where would you like to begin?” said the oldest.
Loki remonstrated, “While I might be Laufey’s heir to the throne of Jotunheim, I am a son of Odin, King of Asgard. You would do well to remember that.” He pressed his hands together, conjuring the scepter to demonstrate the magics at his command to those present. He set the end to the floor, making a pointed thump on the stone floor. It echoed, and Loki smiled at the rolling sound. Odin had always used that to great effect. Here, it had the bonus result of making something crack and fall to the ground.
“Which of you led the armies?”
Koenig bowed his head. “I did, my lord.”
“Was it your idea to contact the Chitauri?”
“No, my lord. My predecessor did that.”
“And where is your predecessor now?”
“Missing his head, my lord.”
“Excellent choice, Koenig. Your answer ensures that you will keep yours. You’re now the Chieftain of the Frost Giants. How soon can you convene the other clan chiefs?”
“Tomorrow is soon enough. We will put a stop to the clan wars in the Realm. We cannot rebuild into a strong world with that sort of thing. Slaughter them, string them up, but violators will be crushed until the civil war ends. I need to know where we are with negotiations with the other factions. It is time to end this bloodshed.”
“Yes, my lord.”
“Yes, my king.”
“Better.” Loki turned his attention to the remaining two Elders. “Treasury? Do we have one?”
A giantess of mixed breeding--for her coloring ranged from blue to green—replied, “Helva, my king,” she introduced herself. “It is all but depleted.”
Loki had expected as much. “I take it you are in charge of it?”
“If you so choose.”
“Good answer. I need an accounting by morning. I am well-versed in your written language. There is no need for translation.” She lifted her head in surprise then gave him a respectful bow. He flicked a glance at her and turned to the third man, an elderly Frost Giant.
The Jotun bowed respectfully. “I am Pelhar, my king. I have no authority here. I speak for the clans at their request.”
“Know you anything of law?”
“We have a Codex, long unused,” Pelhar acknowledged. “Forgive me, my king, but Laufey had little use for it.”
“I want it. Release the prisoners that are left, but give me a list of names and crimes. I would demonstrate mercy first with these people. Let it be known that I will not tolerate dissent.” Loki banged the scepter to the ground again. “Go. Do my bidding. I need information. Sooner is better.”
As the Elders left the hall, Loki smirked. They thought they were getting a figurehead. They just discovered they were wrong. He withdrew his green magics in their wake. For now, the Elders were more or less honest in their dealings with him. He was sure that would change.
Loki strolled along the line of guards, noting faces as he went. “Who is my captain of the guard?”
A Frost Giant who loomed over the others rumbled, “We have none, my king.”
“Then you have just been promoted. Name?” Loki snapped.
“Theeg, my king.”
“I will see you on the practice grounds—we do have a practice ground, I assume.”
“Yes, my king.”
“After I break my fast in the morning, I would see what sort of guard you and your men make. We have a realm to rebuild.”
Loki left his subjects nervous of their new ruler. He would have to tread carefully. The Jotuns were a clannish sort. Family could be more powerful than a ruler, and insult could mean disaster. But the Jotuns abhorred the weak and frail. It would be up to Loki to become a king they both feared and worshiped.
A servant escorted him through the remains of the palace. Loki was bothered to see the level of destruction and scarcity in his new Realm. No wonder Laufey had been willing to do anything to seize the Casket. From what Thor had learned during the battles of the previous year, Jotunheim had descended to a constant string of clan wars where stealing resources meant the difference between life and death. With the Casket, Laufey could have seized those needed supplies from other worlds.
Without it, the wars had become a way of life, leaving the population unable to develop their natural resources to their fullest potential—or to any potential. Starvation was common. Education had become a luxury for most of the Frost and Ice Giants. The Mountain and Storm Giant clans had fared somewhat better as some of their cities were still standing. Those clans would bear watching, for they hadn’t accepted Loki as their king. Daily skirmishes were still being fought, draining what little resources they’d cornered.
But that was for tomorrow. Today, he received a tour of the palace, ending in his new quarters. They were clean at least and stocked with perhaps the best of stone-carved furniture that could be found—old enough, though less chipped than most. An oddly elegant piece of art hung from the ceilings, made of sinew and feathers. Similar materials made up a covering for the floor.
Loki had decided to give Jotunheim a chance to provide for him properly, though now he wasn’t certain if the realm could afford it. Still, it wouldn’t do for him to make over his quarters into an entirely Asgardian décor.
A pair of servants brought him food and a clear bottle he determined contained a strong spirit of some kind. He wondered if he could bring his library here. In a small corner of his mind, Val hummed cheerfully, delighted with some amusement or another. She brought him comfort in spite of his new circumstances.
Loki settled into life on Jotunheim. Val’s noise made a steady burble, like a warm running brook in a snow-covered meadow.
He might have been lonely, but she was a constant companion who unknowingly kept him sane.
Chapter 4: Midgard
Jane takes Val to Earth to see her mom, and stays a little longer than planned.
Chapter 4: Midgard
Thor wasn’t quite himself after Loki left for Jotunheim. He wasn’t exactly morose, but he only truly lit up with joy when he was holding Val.
He did that a lot.
Siglyn has been wrong about Magdahilda and Deandre hovering over the infant. They didn’t have a chance with Thor around. At least Jane had the excuse of feeding the little one every few hours to pry her out of his hands, but she gave it even odds as to whether she would get to hold Val for more than ten minutes afterward. Thor didn’t even mind changing his daughter’s diapers, often using the excuse to freshen her up to retrieve her from Jane.
It was funny to watch. Thor didn’t bother with a sling or any kind of support for Val. He simply tucked her between his forearm and his chest. Then again, for someone who carried Mjolnir around on a regular basis, a nine or ten pound baby girl wasn’t exactly going to strain his muscles.
The citizens of Asgard found the whole thing amusing. So did Jane.
Even Sif came by on occasion to poke fun at her friend. This time, she’d managed to pry Val out of Thor’s arm, but only because Sif had bested him on the practice field that morning. “Mark my words, Lady Jane, there’s been a run on potions from the healers. Asgard is going to be besieged with infants in another five years.”
Jane laughed. “That happens on Earth, too. When all the warriors come home, it seems everyone wants to start a family.”
But Sif gave her an odd look. “It is because we have lost so many that there is potion available.” At Jane’s obvious confusion, she continued, “Asgard can support only so many citizens. Each year, the healers make only as many potions as those who have gone on to Valhalla. We have been at peace for so long that one had to wait many years to have a child.”
Jane tapped her cheek as she remembered something Thor had told her a while back. “That’s why most Asgardians only have one or two children. You don’t want to deprive someone else of being able to have one.”
“Exactly. Volstagg had his last child only during a period of time when many potions went unclaimed. No one begrudged Deandre for having a third, for there are no better parents on Asgard.”
Sif gave Val a kiss on the forehead and handed her back to Jane. “Enough. I have work to do. There are warriors who are in need of training. Since there is no contest to be had from anyone here, I must find it for myself this day.” Thor gave her a mock scowl as Sif sauntered out the door.
Jane was relieved to see Thor in a better mood when she left. He raised an eyebrow. “Is Val going to sleep anytime soon?”
She took her time, letting her eyes drift from his dark blond hair, to the sexy jawbone and the line of his neck to his shoulder, then down the absolute perfection of his chest. She stopped when her gaze reached his the apex of his pants and flicked her eyes up. “Probably not.”
The sound of Thor’s laughter echoed through their quarters. Jane put Val down to nap in record time.
She dropped her cloak on the floor on the way to their chamber then stripped off her tunic. Given that Thor was already stretched out on the bed without a stitch of clothing, Jane skipped pulling off the bracers and other jewelry. Instead, she shed the skirt, leggings and the underwear she’d brought from Earth. Asgardian lace was itchy sometimes.
As she crawled on the bed, she remembered the dagger. She gave Thor an unholy grin and unfastened the sheath. She withdrew the knife an inch and both the sheath and dagger appeared in her hands.
Thor’s eyebrows flew up. “I was not expecting that.” He played with the dagger and sheath when she passed them over to see how they worked. “Loki, I presume.”
“It’s good magic. This blade … he purchased it on Alfheim, if I recall. Said it was small for his liking, but was too fine for any but royalty to wield. It seems he was correct.” He passed it back to her with a smile. “Can you use it?”
She shrugged. “Some.”
“Then we will practice.” Thor reached for her as she set the sheath to the side. “But not now, I think.”
“You think?” she teased.
He pulled her so that she sat astride his sculpted hips. “I know.”
Jane laughed, touching her lips to his.
Anundar brought yet another handwritten supply list to Thor that morning. Val was in his lap, mesmerized by her own fingers. Jane was meeting with the other ambassador to Midgard at the moment, looking for news from her home. Erik and Darcy sent her regular packages, which always brought a mixture of joy and sadness to his wife.
Thor expected her to want to visit there soon, now that Val was old enough to travel the Bifrost.
Loki was not asking for anything out of the ordinary and nothing that Asgard did not have in adequate surplus. Nonetheless, Thor was surprised to see Loki dipping into his personal coffers to pay for them. Oh, the books, wines and fabrics he’d expected, for he knew his brother’s tastes. But grain seeds? Breeding stock? An expert in hydroponics? Loki had neatly itemized particular varietals and beasts that would adapt well to the cold of Jotunheim.
He handed the list to Anundar. “See that these are shipped out. Avaya might be willing to lend her expertise to Loki. Ask her. If not, see who she recommends. And find a willing attendant who wants a change of scenery, even temporarily. Loki hasn’t requested anyone but he is sure to need one soon.” Then, thinking on his brother’s proclivities, he added, “You might consider finding a body attendant as well. Hmm, Thera, if she’s willing. If I recall, they’ve had a preference for each other.”
“They still do. Thera has already mentioned it to me, though she is only willing to visit Jotunheim, not relocate.”
“Of course.” Thor winked at Anundar. “I’ll stand her fees for the first trip. After that, Loki will have to do his own negotiating.” Val wiggled and tried to roll over. She hadn’t mastered it yet but was determined to practice. Thor lifted her into his arms. “Are we done?” he asked Anundar as he settled Val in place.
Anundar looked him over critically. “We are.”
The citizens were amused that their crown prince carried his infant girl all over the city. She usually had a fistful of braid in one hand and Thor’s cloak in the other to steady herself. She did that now as Thor made his way to the embassy. He’d promised to bring Val to Jane for the child’s mid-morning breakfast.
Jane took Val, who had immediately begun to fuss when she saw her mother. With practiced ease, Jane settled into the chair in her office and nursed the little one. Though she kissed her daughter on the forehead, Jane was not happy.
She handed him a printed letter from Erik Selvig. “My mom is sick. Really sick.”
He skimmed Erik’s message. “Cancer. That is some sort of unusual growth, is it not? Can it be healed? What is stage four?”
“Yes, sometimes, and nothing good, Thor.”
Though Jane did not get along with her mother, he could see the sadness in her nonetheless. “When do we go?” he asked.
“Will your dad let you?”
Thor furrowed his brow. “So long as my father sits the throne, I am free to do as I choose. You will need help with Val so you may tend your mother.” He kept his fears of letting Jane take Val on the Bifrost to himself. She was not so experienced with the occasional vagaries of the bridge that he would allow her yet to carry the child. At least he had sense enough now not to mention his thoughts. Jane would have had his head.
Either he made his point or Jane was too preoccupied to argue. “Can we go now?” she asked. “I’ve got Val’s pack. We can get whatever we else need for her when we get there.”
He bent down and cupped the back of her neck. “Anundar can bring her things while you two finish.”
Distracted by the sudden change in plans, Jane nodded, lost in thought.
Thor sent a messenger to Anundar. The messenger returned with another full pack that Thor slipped over his shoulder. When Jane finished freshening the little one’s clothing, she handed Val to Thor and they set off to the observatory. Four of the Valkyries accompanied them, leading the way on the Bifrost.
Val was no less enchanted than her mother with the Rainbow Bridge. She smiled at the dazzling array of color and reached with stubby fingers to try and catch it.
They landed at the embassy. Jane called Erik on the cell phone she carried and kept charged, even on Asgard.
“Jane! Where are you?”
“We just … got here. In Norway.”
“Come to London. Your mother is in the hospital.”
“Why? What happened?”
“She took a turn for the worse, Jane.”
Eyes blurring, she reached for Thor’s hand. “Where do we need to go?”
Leaving the Valkyries to follow by more conventional means, they rode the lightning to the hospital. Val reached out to wave a hand in the shimmering light and giggled when Thor set them down in front of the hospital. It was a good thing that Erik met them at the door as the guard was unable to put two words together.
Erik gave Jane a quick hug and eyeballed Val. “I was afraid you wouldn’t get my note in time.” His face softened. “She’s gorgeous, Jane.” He thumped Thor on the back.
“She is, isn’t she?” Jane bit her lip, unable to hide the worry.
“Go see your mom. We’ll talk later.” Erik nudged her to down a hallway and through a pair of doors.
“Jane?” Mrs. Foster mumbled as they walked in. She was pale and gray-faced.
Jane leaned over to brush a kiss on her mom’s cheek. “Hi, Mom. Do you want to tell me what happened first or do you want to meet Val?”
Her mom gave Jane the first smile Thor had seen on the woman. “Hand over the baby.” Jane passed Val over. The little girl cooed at her grandma’s sing-song voice. “She’s precious, Jane.” Mrs. Foster gave the little one on a curious look. “I thought she’d be almost a year old, but she’s just a little thing.”
“Time moves a differently on Asgard.”
Her mom dismissed the comment. “I remember when you were this tiny, Jane. All pink and pretty. Where did she get the red in her hair?”
Thor rumbled, “From my mother.” As Jane sat on the edge of her mother’s bed to keep a hand on Val, Thor caught her eye and tilted his head toward the door. Jane nodded. “Mrs. Foster, may I take my leave of you? I would have words with Erik Selvig.”
“Of course, Thor,” she waved fingers at him, though she didn’t take her eyes off Val. He raised his eyebrows in surprise, rather astonished to discover Mrs. Foster remembered his name.
After four days of keeping vigil, Mrs. Foster slipped away in the middle of a rare, pretty afternoon in London’s winter. The funeral was simple, and Jane was grateful Darcy had flown in for the ceremony.
Her friend’s perpetual snarky attitude and unwholesome optimism cut through the guilt Jane had for her lack of grief at her mom’s passing. They had gathered at Mrs. Foster’s house the next day so Jane could begin packing it up. It wasn’t easy and Darcy promised to stick around for it. With Val down for a nap, the four of them packed up whatever Jane wanted to keep.
Jane and Darcy slipped into old habits. Darcy began bossing Jane around, keeping her from getting maudlin over the whole thing. “She wasn’t exactly the mom-of-the-year, Jane. She was sort of limited in her perceptions. But you made her happy with Val. Can’t do more than that sometimes.”
Jane poked her friend in the arm. “How did you get so smart?”
Darcy leaned back on the sofa where she was folding linens. “I’ve always been smart. But now I get to be an honest-to-god Poli Sci graduate and do real Poli Sci work for Pepper at Stark Industries. Do you have any idea how many pies that woman has her fingers in? She knows everybody. And Tony is even worse. Pepper hired me to be the official Stark Industries liaison with the Asgardian ambassadors.” She picked at her fingernails. “Since you happened to be an Asgardian ambassador and Thor here is our visiting Asgardian, I’m on official business and getting paid to sit around and watch you load boxes.”
As he wrapped up a picture frame, Thor asked, “Poli Sci?”
“Political Science,” Jane answered. “The study of governments. When did you graduate?” she asked Darcy.
“Last spring. I got major points for the thesis I wrote about the political ramifications of interstellar trade.”
“Did you mention coffee as a major export to Asgard?”
“I don’t think a hundred bags of coffee annually qualifies, Jane. And Asgard flatly refuses to import anything that is a) addictive and b) can’t be produced at home.”
Jane agreed as she stacked books into boxes and neatly labeled it. “The Realm is rather proud of its self-sufficiency.”
Darcy put her chin on her hand. “Thor? I’m dying to ask something. I get that Asgard is the heavy hitter of the Nine Realms, but I don’t recall a lot of visitors or other aliens on Asgard.”
Thor gave her smile. “Trade and political maneuverings take place on Alfheim.” He shook his head. “The court of the High King of is an interesting mix of politics and business deals. Asgard prefers to be separate from all that. We have but one simple rule for those in Yggdrasil’s branches. Can you guess?”
Darcy wrinkled her nose. “Leave each other alone?”
“Close enough. Asgard intervenes only when one Realm would do interfere unduly with another. We do not intervene in trade or politics between or within the Realms.”
“Not interested in dirtying your hands too much.”
“Could any other Realm bring the Dark Elves to heel? Protecting the Nine Realms is a duty we take on freely, though the cost can be high and there is little repayment beyond the respect we are granted.”
“Which is why you keep Asgard self-sufficient. So you are beholden to none,” mused Darcy.
“That is an excellent summation.”
Darcy threw Jane a look. “There’s a lot he’s not telling me.”
Jane shrugged. “I’m not exactly an expert yet. I’m still getting my bearings too.”
Disgusted, Darcy flounced across the room and started filling another box with dishes. “That is a perfect excuse for a neophyte ambassador. Did you think that one up all by yourself?”
In spite of herself, Jane cracked up laughing. “I plead the Fifth.”
“I really don’t think the American Constitution applies here,” Darcy sulked.
With the easy jokes and banter, packing didn’t take long. Jane only had a couple of boxes she wanted to take to Asgard. The rest, Darcy would arrange to have sold and the proceeds deposited in Jane’s account at the Embassy. With a hefty fee deducted for all of Darcy’s hard work, of course.
That night, Thor and Jane took to her old bed. They improvised for Val with the oldest of methods by lining a drawer with a smooth blanket and laying the infant in it. Jane kept Val on the floor near her and suspected the little one would end up between them somewhere in the night.
“Jane, do you want to stay with Darcy and Erik for a while?” Thor asked. “You are well-protected with the Valkyries, and I will send Sif or Siglyn to you when I return to Asgard.”
Jane turned over so that she was encircled with Thor’s big arms. She played with the smooth skin over his nipple. “You don’t mind?”
“Of course I will miss you, but Earth is your home too. You have not been here in more than a year.”
She lit up. “I’d like that.”
“Then stay. I’ll meet you in Leira in two weeks.”
“Better yet, just come to the Stark—I mean, the Avengers Tower in New York. Heimdall can land you there, right?”
“Of course. You don’t mind the cameras?”
“It’ll be secure enough, Tony will get a kick out of it and we’ll give New York a show. Darcy says it’s been way too quiet lately.”
Erik had staked out a nice corner in the Avengers Tower where Tony tended to hover when he didn’t have anything better to do. Jane discovered Ian had moved on to work as Erik’s assistant while Darcy moved into the office next to Pepper’s. Ian and Darcy had gone their separate ways after Jane’s wedding, but they still kept it friendly enough. Stark had insisted that anyone who had been to Asgard belonged in the Avengers Tower under his thumb. Working for Erik was close enough.
“It’s not that I didn't like Ian, Jane, but really, if I’m going to die in the name of science, at least can I make it in the version I have a degree in?” Darcy said as she poured both of them an honest-to-god-cup-of-decently-brewed-coffee.
Jane shifted Val to her hip as Darcy passed one over. The smell was divine. “Is it the political science or the Spandex and leather associated with the Avengers?”
Darcy blushed and shoved her glasses up her nose. “Well, duh. You have your demi-god … I want a fair shot at mine.”
Just then, a dark haired, blue-eyed fallen angel slipped into the coffee bar. Jane didn’t recognize him, but Darcy turned pink when he slipped an arm around her. Jane zeroed in on the metal hand.
“Can I see?”
Darcy poked Jane in the shoulder. “Have you forgotten everything I taught you? Introductions before science, Jane.” She sighed. “Bucky, Jane Foster. Jane, Bucky Barnes.”
He lifted Jane’s hand and kissed the knuckles. “Nice to meet you, Lady Jane.”
She laughed at his charm. “I see you’ve read my dossier. Which makes you Steve’s friend.”
Darcy gave Jane a loud kiss on the cheek. “Oh my god. You just totally made Bucky your new best friend.”
“Does that mean I can look?” Jane asked. She flicked a pleading look to Bucky. “I know a great vacation spot.”
Bucky howled with laughter. “Sure thing, doll.” He shed his shirt, taking time to flex his arm for her. “The first time I met Tony, he wanted me to take it off.”
Jane snapped her head up, hoping.
“Not a chance, sweetheart, not even for Darcy’s best friend.”
Darcy showed her around the tower and to one of the apartments held vacant for guests. As with all things Stark, it dripped technology. And reflected Pepper’s exquisite taste in furnishings.
That night, Jane discovered she wasn’t very good at being a single parent. Val was fussy without Thor there for their nighttime routine. She kept raising her head and looking about in confusion, then collapsing to Jane’s shoulder in frustration.
Jane walked with her for a solid hour and a half before Val gave up and cried herself to sleep. As she laid Val down on her bed, tears dripped along Jane’s cheeks too.
She looked around, and realized that she didn’t have enough clean clothes for Val, or diapers, or any burp cloths that weren’t completely soaked in breast milk. She had planned to hit a Target at some point today and had completely forgotten what she was supposed to do when Darcy had introduced her new boyfriend.
Reluctant to wake Val now, Jane picked up all the dirty clothes and set out to discover if the apartment held a washer and dryer. When she didn’t find one, she threw the clothes into the sink in frustration and dumped hot water and a little dish soap on them.
She absolutely refused to call Darcy or Erik and beg them to bail her out over something as basic as diapers and baby clothes.
A disembodied voice had Jane whirling around.
Lady Jane, I am JARVIS, the artificial intelligence system. It appears you are in need of laundry facilities. If I am incorrect, I apologize for the intrusion.
Jane sniffled. “No, you’re exactly right.”
I am sending a concierge to your quarters. Laundry services are provided to all guests and residents of the Avengers Tower. There is also a convenience shop attached to the Tower and several restaurants. I can have the concierge bring anything you require.
“Diapers and an outfit or two for Val? You can draw on my account. Darcy has the passwords.”
Mr. Stark would be quite upset with me if I were to do that. May I take the liberty of providing a light snack?
Jane agreed, deciding that maybe hunger was contributing to her problem.
A knock on the door twenty minutes later proved to be a kind, competent concierge who brought in five complete outfits for Jane—ranging from dressy to casual—twice that many outfits for Val, and a variety of finger foods and drinks that she neatly stored in the small refrigerator before whisking away the wet laundry in the sink.
She bowed. “My name is Anna if you need anything else during your stay, Lady Jane. We are honored to have you as our guest.”
Jane sat in astonishment after the woman departed. She hadn’t realized she’d become so reliant on having help at her fingertips. Granted, having an infant wasn’t easy, but what had started with Darcy’s assistance had become a real dependence for everyday life. She didn’t like it. Digging around the desk in the apartment, she found a pretty lined notepad and a pen and settled on the far end of the bed where Val slept.
That way, she could keep an eye on her daughter while she made notes.
Two weeks later, while Thor was catching up with Steve and Bruce, Jane had a quiet conversation with Erik. He’d adored Val from the very start and stole her away from Jane whenever he could.
“Come with me, Erik,” Jane asked. “You’ve only been the one time. There is so much I want to show you.”
But Erik declined. “If I go, I won’t come back.”
Jane hugged herself. “Would that be a terrible thing?”
He patted her on the shoulder. “You have your life there, Jane. You don’t need to worry over me. Besides, I’m in great demand as the only expert in the Foster Theory.”
She took another tactic. “When you retire, will you consider it? I already have quarters set aside for you at the embassy.”
He crossed his arms, giving her offer fair consideration. “I might. Give me a decade or two.” He tugged his ear. “How old will Val be by then?”
Jane laughed. “A decade or two … but that’s not what you meant. Two? Three—ish?”
“You won’t miss much.”
But Erik leaned over and gave her an awkward hug. “I remember you at that age. I’d like to see Val too. Don’t be gone so long this time. Even if you just pop in for a weekend here and there.”
“Okay.” Jane leaked tears all the way back to Asgard.
Loki wondered what had changed with Val. More than once in the past two weeks, she’d been inconsolable. His usual pulse of comfort hadn’t worked right away. He’d manifested long enough to ascertain Jane was on Midgard and that Val was unhappy about the change in circumstances rather than any real danger to her tiny person.
So he gathered up a mental “blanket” and sent it to her. As with the first time, she pulled it close, settling down to merely cranky before falling asleep.
Chapter 5: Home
Jane returns to Asgard to chart a new future. Thor has his own concerns, and Loki discovers a little problem with his hitchhiker.
Chapter 5: Home
The two weeks on Earth reminded Jane of how much she missed everything about her home--Erik most of all. And now that Val was old enough to have a real routine, Jane missed her work too. She couldn’t exactly experiment with her theory from Asgard. It was hard leaving it behind, even if it was in Erik’s hands now, and there wasn’t anyone else she wanted working on her research. The idea she had hanging in her office upstairs--now that held some intrigue for a long term project.
She rummaged around her desk to find the list she’d written and found it in the basket where she stashed it in between a couple of composition books she’d picked up in New York. Sometimes, the basics really were the best. Another layer down, she found the package of plain ball point pens. Asgard had a version of the fountain pen that worked well enough, but this was about being in Jane’s comfort zone.
Squeaks from Val’s room announced the crown princess was awake. Jane slipped the pen and the list in a composition book and tucked it under arm. Val held her head up, attempting to see Jane.
“Close enough,” Jane tickled her under the chin, setting the notebook on the dresser to the side. Val waved her fist, trying to grab on to Jane’s hand, babbling when she succeeded. When Jane lifted her into her arms, Val immediately began rooting for lunch. “I guess you’re hungry.”
With Val appeased, Jane relaxed into the chair. Some things were universal, and rocking chairs for mothers and babies were one of them. This one sported Thor’s stylized sigil in the wood above the well-padded cushion at her back, with Yggdrasil branching out on either side. Val’s cradle was carved with the same motif on both ends.
Thor had made a trio of metal and crystal pendants that hung from the ceiling over the cradle. They spun in a slow dance of light and shadow. Jane was usually mesmerized by them and found it easy to let her thoughts drift.
She was definitely finished with the sulking over all that was new and different about her new home. Really, she’d been here almost a full year now. She wasn’t pregnant. Val wasn’t a difficult child, and on the rare occasions when she was, Thor, Eyre, Deandre or Magdahilda were around to give her a hand. And with Sif and Siglyn in her constant company whenever Jane stepped out of her chambers, it was impossible to be lonely.
Thor still hovered, thinking Jane was going to break (she wasn’t), be too isolated (less so, though seeing Darcy and Erik made her miss them that much more), and miss her science (yes, but that was about to change).
Val wiggled, wanting to change sides. Jane rearranged her dress to accommodate her. Val’s hair was getting longer, standing out in a reddish-blonde halo. Jane smoothed it down, only to have it spring right back up. Val grinned at Jane’s touch, letting milk dribble out of her mouth.
“Stop that,” Jane admonished with a laugh. “You’ll make a mess.”
When Val finished, Jane wrapped her in a fresh diaper. Asgardian versions were radically better that what Jane would have used at home. Eyre said it was a particular fiber grown only on Asgard that made all the difference.
Tucking Val against her shoulder, Jane retrieved her notebook and set off for the couch in front of the fire. Val could lay on one of the fur coverlets and practice her new tricks. With a foot propped up between the baby and the edge of the cushion, Jane studied what she written. Val didn’t seem to mind. She’d discovered her toes again and was trying hard to stuff one into her mouth.
A weight on the arm of the couch behind her and a kiss on her head distracted her thought process. Thor leaned over her, his hair tickling her neck as he gave her a quick nuzzle. Val squeaked when she saw her daddy.
Thor held out his hand and tossed a silvery toy into the air. It stayed up, floating, making a tinkling noise that made Val smile. She forgot her toes and tried to reach upward.
“You brought her a ball,” Jane laughed. She nudged it downward so it was just out of Val’s reach.
“Mm, I brought something else too,” he said.
Jane had to tear her eyes away from the toy. “What’s that?”
He placed it in her hand. “One for you so you’ll leave hers intact.”
Blushing as much as she laughed, Jane tugged Thor close for a kiss. “I would put it back together.”
Thor tapped the ball so that it bobbed in the air. Val was enraptured. So was Jane. He laughed, rising to leave them to their separate fascinations, but Jane stopped him. The ball reminded her of her list.
“What is it?” he asked.
“I need a tutor. You’ve been good to teach me as much as you can, but Thor, you’re all but ruling Asgard now. I have so much to learn.”
He rubbed a thumb over her chin. “You held out longer than I thought.”
“I’ve been busy.” She stole a glance at the ball again.
“Do you want a tutor or would you prefer to take classes at the academy?” He trailed a finger down her arm. Which reminded her of Barnes’ metal arm, Soviet technology … and that wasn’t the point of this conversation. She frowned. “The academy?”
“You would call it a university.”
This was the first she’d heard of it. “I almost afraid to ask how long a normal course of study lasts.”
“How long was your education on Earth?”
“Thirteen years as a child, plus another eleven as an adult.”
“Darcy told me once you had three degrees. She said it with a great deal of pride, as if it is not common.”
“I have Undergraduate degree in Mathematics, a Masters in Science, and a Doctorate in Astrophysics. That’s Dr. Jane Foster to you. And no, the average Midgardian does not have three degrees.”
“I’d forgotten about your title, Jane. I thought a doctor was your word for healer?”
“It signifies an achievement in a higher course of study. But you haven’t answered my question.”
Thor pulled at his beard. “Children begin formal schooling after their first decade or so and maintain a course of study through their first five centuries. Loki and I were required to have tutors for twice that many.”
She was fascinated, but not surprised. If nothing else, her time with both Thor and Loki had proven they were well-versed in a wide variety of subjects. “What did you learn?”
“Biology, chemistry, physics, terraforming, astronomy. Mathematics, logic.” He took a breath. “Not only must we learn the language, history and science of Asgard, Jane, but we learn of the other worlds in the Nine Realms--languages, philosophies, histories and political thought. Also, the arts of war and of magic.” He caressed a lock of her brown hair as she nodded in wonder. “Being Asgardian is not for the faint of heart. Where would you like to start?”
Jane laughed. “Since Asgard’s handy language magic doesn’t extend to the written word, I’d like to be able to read.”
Thor’s face fell. “Jane, I have been remiss. You’ve been speaking Asgardian since I came home from the battle of Jotunheim. It had not occurred to me that you had not learned to read.”
She toyed with Val’s ball long enough that the little girl fussed until Jane scooted it close enough for her to reach. “I’ve been able to get by.”
“That isn’t enough.”
“No,” she agreed.
Magdahilda’s sister taught at the Academy and relished the honor of instructing Thor’s wife. Mioll was overjoyed to discover that Jane was more than up to the task.
As soon as Jane had the bare bones of the language, she began working her way through the simple histories. She read aloud to work on her pronunciations, and Thor was amused to hear some of the stories Frigga had told him as a child. Val liked hearing her mother’s voice and often babbled in response.
Mioll pulled Thor aside one afternoon when Jane was putting Val down for a nap. “My lord, you said she was clever, but I was not expecting this. I thought to teach her our language, and perhaps our history. But she is taking all that in while asking questions about politics and science. She is not quite our equal in mathematics, but she is not far off either.” Mioll hesitated, then added, “My lord, she reminds me of Loki—not his constant mischief—but in the way he thinks.”
Thor nodded. “I know.”
Mioll had stumbled onto something he’d only learned for himself in the past few weeks. At a loss to understand Loki’s fascination with Jane, the answer—or at least one answer--had dawned while he’d been sparring with Fandral with a pair of daggers. The similarity of fighting techniques had given him a metaphor for his wife and brother. With like minds, no wonder Loki had been able to impart so much information to Jane.
Still, his brother had demanded far too much from Jane and it taken its toll on her psyche.
With Eyja’s help, he was able to ensure Jane had adequate rest while she learned. Val helped. Jane usually studied in the morning, napped with Val after lunch, and then ministered to Asgard however she was needed in the afternoons. Thor would escort her to feasts, festivals and concerts a few times a week in the evenings; though there were days they simply passed time in their quarters or walked to take in the beauty of the city.
But there was something different about Jane. For certain, the past two years had been difficult. She’d born it all with resolve, but there was something about her now that recalled the first days he’d met her. There was a light and a determination about her he’d seen only in Colorado and long ago in New Mexico. Certainly the Aether had chased it away, as had the war on Jotun.
Jane carried her cell phone everywhere, setting beeping alarms and making notes on it. She requisitioned an Asgardian tablet and spent hours learning to how to use it. He wondered how long it would take her to cross-link the two.
Eyja still kept a close eye on Jane, for Erik had been right--she could become so absorbed in her studies that she could tune out even Val’s cries. But Jane was getting better about anticipating Val’s routine. One of her phone alarms would begin beeping a few minutes before Val was expected to awaken.
At last, Thor began to think Jane was finding her place here. He hoped, someday, she would truly be a queen for Asgard. But that could wait. No one expected her to be anything different than she was for now. So long as that was the case, Jane had time to find her own way.
With his wife healthy, happy, and occupied, Thor focused on his expanded duties. Odin had laid the weight of ruling squarely on Thor’s shoulders. Though he felt inadequate for the task, even he could not deny his father was no longer well. But Odin had said nothing yet about stepping down. He seemed to be waiting for something, and Thor knew not what.
One matter became clear. Odin still resented his choice of wife and refused to acknowledge Thor’s daughter in any manner. The situation bothered him enough that he went to an old friend for advice.
The sharp winds held a hint of winter. The chill reminded him that it was time for the assessors to make their rounds of Asgard. Once a year, every citizen received a visit from a palace official. Thor liked to select reports at random to see what sort of matters concerned his people, though the advisors were far more systematic in their processing. Though the realm was a peaceful kingdom, things still happened on Asgard. Misfortune and age took their toll. Buildings required repair or technology failed. Children coming into their powers inevitably caused magical accidents. Anger and jealousy caused all sorts of interesting conflicts.
Asgardians were a hearty people and not prone to coddling. Still, there were disagreements, occasional mischief and – more rarely—those who had to be disciplined for violating Asgard’s code. Thor, not Odin, did all that now.
And it was he who would attend the High King’s festivities on Alfheim this year. He’d gone before, but always with either the All-Father or, more rarely, in his mother’s company. The current High King was a relative–a cousin of Thor’s somewhere along the family line. Frigga’s grandfather had been the High King of Alfheim in his day, thus his granddaughter had been deemed a worthy bride for the King of Asgard.
Though it was traditional for a king or presumptive heir to one of the realms to present a new bride at the festivities, Thor refused to take Jane yet. He wouldn’t dare take a small child to the Alfheim court, and Jane wasn’t seasoned enough to comprehend how difficult and underhanded the courtiers could be. In truth, he despised most of the proceedings, though he could play the game as well as any. Loki found it entertaining and had spent most of his fostering years with Frigga’s family there.
All these thoughts occupied Thor until he reached the observatory with his friend standing within.
“My lord Thor. Something is troubling you this evening.”
“You see too much, my friend. How fare the stars?”
“Can you see my brother?”
“How is he?”
“Quite well for a new king. Did you expect anything less?”
“Not really. Loki relishes a new challenge. I think one not influenced by Asgard will be good for him.”
“You may be right.”
“I hope so.” Thor took a seat on the steps, indicating the need for Heimdall’s friendship. Heimdall joined him, leaving the sword behind.
“What concerns you?” Heimdall asked.
“My father will not … does not …” Thor hesitated, not wanting to speak the words.
Heimdall finished for him. “He does not see Val.”
“No.” Thor shook his head. “The animosity toward Jane is something I have accepted. But I do not understand with my daughter. She is as much of Asgard as I or my mother. She has magic. Powerful magic of her own. She will be a formidable queen. There is no shame in having a Midgardian mother.”
“We have spoken of the paths. Odin is angered that you and Loki have not walked the paths of his choosing.”
“He likes Loki’s choices well enough,” Thor muttered.
“Loki should not have been lost. Odin knows this. Much recompense has been made.”
“None of this explains my father’s refusal to acknowledge Val.”
“For all that I can tell you, the All-Father’s time is closing. He wishes only to see you and Loki settled into your futures.”
“Then what is there left but to give me the throne, Heimdall? He should be happy to have another heir.”
“I cannot speak for him, Thor. The paths are still unwinding. While I can see them stretching before me, I know not what twists and turns lie ahead.”
Thor folded his hands, resting his elbows on his knees and resting his chin on his knuckles. “I fear, Heimdall. My father is not himself since he has awakened.”
“What do you fear?”
But Thor could not voice the darkest of what was in his heart. He left Heimdall, seeking out Sif instead. She and Fandral were holding down a table with Volstagg and Deandre at a late night gathering.
Fandral raised his mug. “My lord, you have come to grace our table. We’ve missed you.”
“And I, you.” Thor accepted the proffered drink from an attendant and the chair Sif waved him toward.
“And where is our future queen?” she asked.
“Studying, I think.”
Fandral choked. “On a fine evening such as this? What a tedious thing to do.” Fandral was never one to study, a bone of constant contention between Loki and him.
Thor chuckled, settling in with his drink until he found an opportune time to pull Sif from the table. She followed him out to the bridge where the waterfall would cover their conversation.
“What troubles you, my lord?”
“You know me well.”
“Aye. For the good it did me.”
He raised an eyebrow. “I believe you rejected my offer.”
“I did,” she grinned.
Thor slanted his head to Fandral. “Are you happy, Sif?”
“Then it is all for the best.”
“You’re stalling, my liege.”
“I am.” Thor sighed. “I have concerns which I cannot share. But I think you will understand when I ask you to keep Jane and Val close when in the All-Father’s company.”
“Already done, my lord. You might have noted that Siglyn and I split watch now, unless you are personally with your wife.”
“Noted, but I was not certain it was deliberate.”
“I’m always deliberate.”
“Yes, and I am grateful, Lady Sif.”
She smiled. “Go home to Jane, Thor. Odin will come around soon enough. Val is far too enchanting not to win him over.”
Within six months of taking the throne, Loki had executed the most violent of clansmen under his rule. For those who had assumed he would be a weak puppet, they were either dead or had discovered their error and quickly supported the new king.
The Jotuns had not anticipated Loki taking action against the clans who had gathered under him. Perhaps another leader might have tried to consolidate his hold over the other factions first, but Loki wasn’t interested in pursuing a battle on multiple fronts.
Loki cared little about traitors in his house. There was time to root that out later. For now, he needed to quell the bloodshed that was draining Jotun resources. From his personal golden hoard, he purchased supplies from Asgard and spread them around the rest of the clans, buying loyalty outright as the clansmen greedily snatched up seeds and breeding stock.
With a firm grip on the Frost Giants, Loki resurrected the long-unused Codex. It wasn’t a bad, actually, with some judicious editing here and there. A variety of scribes had appeared when asked and were busy copying the updated version. Runners distributed them, along with word about the wealth, cunning and ruthlessness of the new king.
The news would serve in the coming weeks.
Loki tapped his finger on the paper in front on him. Technology was in short supply on Jotunheim, and he’d reverted to writing out his orders and lists in the oldest of manners. He drew the line at using animal blood for ink. As all things Jotun, it was practical for the frozen realm, but Loki indulged in an ink bottle or two from Thor.
He’d hoped to prize loose a few items gathering dust in Asgard’s caverns. Jotunheim’s space fleet lay in a frozen heap where Odin had left it in shambles a millennium ago. Loki had no real hope or need to resurrect it, but a skimmer or two would be handy. If Loki could get his hands on the right tools, the ships could be stripped and a variety of small craft constructed from the scraps.
So far, Thor had been generous enough, though Loki knew there was a thin line between brotherly assistance and preferential treatment. He would have to take care. So far, he’d been cautious in his requests, anticipating a time when he might need more.
By the time Thera accompanied his latest cache, he was more than ready to close himself up in his quarters for a few days to enjoy her company again.
But Loki discovered he had a new problem. Val’s awareness of him had progressed past the point where he could suppress the connection when he chose not to share certain parts of himself. With her awakening mind, he found it difficult to shield Val from certain intimacies.
This time, when he built the block, Val pushed at it. She knocked it over, and the glee at her success made him choke back a laugh, even as her mental strength disconcerted him. She “peeked” into his mind, curious as always.
Loki had to untangle himself from Thera and send her off to prepare a bath for the two of them as he debated the problem.
He went to the center of his library and sat cross-legged. It wasn’t exactly necessary, but Mother had taught him to be grounded whenever exploring his magics. Loki considered the problem while Val waited to see what he would do.
He experimented first with a mental screen, thinking Val might not realize the connection was limited. Val leaned on it, batting it away with a burst of elation. She retreated back to her side, glee and anticipation rolling across their link as she waited for him to do it again.
But Loki waited her out by indulging in one of Thera’s brilliant massages. Thera was far too used to his changing moods to question him. She stroked his neck and shoulders, digging into the inevitable knots to be found under his shoulder blades. He kept his tunic on, not interested in keeping up illusions tonight. Thera never questioned why.
Once Val grew bored and turned her attention to something more tangible, Loki concentrated. With the most delicate of strands, he wove a gossamer thin layer that hung in soft ripples. He theorized that if Val could not feel a rigid barrier, she might not know one existed.
It worked. Val nudged their connection a while later. She brushed against the curtain then withdrew without another thought, content that her Loki was still there. Loki grinned in satisfaction. Now that the framework was in place, he laid in a filter for the intimacies he did not care to share with the child.
He rolled over, taking Thera with him.
Val ignored the whole thing.
Chapter 6: Checkmate
In which Odin tries to set his sons on the proper path.
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
Chapter 6: Checkmate
Jane heeded Odin’s summons again. Now that Thor had his hands full with training, Odin had decided Jane should accompany him as she had Loki. The walks were not pleasant.
With so many new warriors moving up the ranks, Thor made daily rounds to the legions. There were gaping holes in leadership after the battle with the Chitauri, and Thor was making certain the best were promoted and trained to lead. He, not Odin, was arranging Asgard’s army to his preferences. Sif’s Valkyries were now the equal of the Einherjar. Tyr and Sif commanded side-by-side now, though one answered to Odin and the other to Thor.
Odin had been more than willing to hand over the armies to Thor. In the dismissal of the Great Council, the four remaining councilors still reported to Thor as well. Odin hadn’t changed that either. All this meant that Thor, not Odin, was effectively ruling Asgard.
With half a year of Loki’s crash course in queen-training under her belt and a few more with Thor by her side, Jane had picked up some of Frigga’s lesser duties. Odin had not been mollified.
She wrapped her daughter in a thin blanket and settled her in the sling. Jane had been happy to discover Asgardians carried their infants thus. Thor'd been serious when he’d told her children were treasured on Asgard.
Jane had been disconcerted to realize that Val wasn’t going to grow anywhere nearly as fast as a child of Earth. With a lot of questioning and timeline analysis, she and Thor had worked out that he’d been the equivalent of six or so when Odin brought Loki home--or half a century old by then. Jane realized she might not see her daughter as an adult, and suddenly, her time on Asgard seemed very short.
Magdahilda was carefully tracking Val’s growth, hoping in a year or two to have an idea of what they might expect. So far she was growing as any normal Asgardian child. Jane crossed her fingers that Dr. Banner and Dr. Simmons might be right, that the Asgardian DNA in her own body would give her more time.
Eyja touched her sleeve. “Jane?”
She jumped then sighed. “Sorry, I was thinking again.”
Eyja laughed. “It’s one of your finest traits. Is Val settled?”
“She’s sleeping. I’d better go see what the All-Father wants before she wakes.”
“He’s in the Great Hall.”
Jane hid her annoyance as she trekked across the palace, accompanied by Sif this time. Loki had always made a point of meeting her in a neutral place--if not as equals, then as royalty. Odin preferred that she present herself as a subject--or a bug he wanted to squash.
Thank god her status as ambassador meant she didn’t have to kneel to him. Technically, as a princess of Asgard she was obligated, but her foreign status gave her dispensation. Erik had been right about the marriage bargain giving her rights. She hadn’t understood at the time. Now she was grateful for his foresight. A slight bow of the head was respectful enough. Sif waited with Tyr at the entrance to the Great Hall, to give Jane and Odin a private moment to speak.
“You are late.”
The accusation was meant to put Jane on the defensive. It worked, but Loki had instructed her to ignore those kinds of digs. She waited, studying Odin. He did not look good. His hair was lank, his face gray and heavily lined. Jane wondered if Thor realized just how ill his father was. She wondered how long it would be before Odin insisted Thor take the throne.
At last, Odin descended from the dais. “Walk with me,” he ordered. Jane had no trouble keeping to his pace, and didn’t dare flick a glance to Sif, though she knew her friend understood her frustration. Sif had grown tired of Odin shoving Thor in her direction these past several months. Sif and Tyr discreetly followed the pair to the far side of the palace. Jane sometimes wondered if they were insulted by the babysitting duties. They didn’t act like it, and she wouldn’t dare ask.
Odin led her to Frigga’s quarters. Jane had not stepped inside them since that tragic day with Malekith. She hugged Val for her own comfort as Odin waived at Sif and Tyr to leave them. Uneasy, Jane followed Odin inside.
Sif brushed Jane’s fingertips in a mute acknowledgement that she would stay close.
Fell stood his ground. “And what does the All-Father say of this?”
“The All-Father says nothing, you know this. It is my decree. You will begin formal negotiations with Jotunheim for trade items.”
“I do not like this, my lord.”
“I know, and with good reason. I am not asking you to export anything that would risk our self-sufficiency. I am asking you to inventory what we have and determine what surplus we carry—including that which we do not offer at the Alfheim court.”
“My lord, you desire to give Jotunheim preferential trade treatment, we’ve never done that, not with any realm.”
“You are correct. This is the first opportunity we’ve had in nearly two millennia to negotiate peace with Jotunheim. With my brother on the throne, it is expected that Asgard will offer assistance.”
“But my lord—“
“My lord Thor.” One of Heimdall’s messengers came to his side, panting slightly from the flat out run. “Heimdall requests—insists, he says—on your presence in the Queen’s chambers.”
“Not Jane. Your mother, Frigga’s, quarters.”
In three steps, Thor was in a flat out run, his hand out for Mjolnir. There was no room to fly within the palace, but the Hammer ducked around columns and people as it closed in Thor.
He slowed when he saw Sif and Tyr guarding his mother’s door.
“It is locked, my lord,” Sif warned.
“My father and Jane are within?”
“Yes, my lord.”
Finished with her nap, Val squeaked as she stretched. Jane went to a divan and settled her on the breast, for the little one was always hungry when she woke. Not to mention that Jane didn’t particularly want to draw attention to Val. Odin didn’t like her.
The All-Father walked Frigga’s quarters. He idly touched as he went, lost in thought. There was a small blue stone on a table at the far side of the room. Odin picked it up, while smiling in a way that Jane decided had to be attached to a precious memory. He ignored Jane.
When Val finished, Jane wrapped her in fresh clothing. She set the little girl down on the divan near the corner so she couldn’t roll off, smiling as Val kicked. For all that Val liked the closeness of the blanket, she was equally happy to be free of constriction--especially when her mom tickled her sock-clad feet.
The noise drew Odin to the little girl. He walked slowly, until he stood over the couch to stare down at Val. Jane held her breath, hoping Odin would finally see her. She had reddish gold hair, surely of Frigga, and Thor’s bright blue eyes.
But Odin had only harsh words. “How dare you bring this mongrel creature into my house, Jane Foster.”
Jane swallowed the lump in her throat that rose up. She laid a protective hand over her daughter. “My lord, Val is of your blood.”
“She is a weak creature who will poison the throne of Asgard. Much as you have.”
Quiet but determined, Jane asked, “And how is Val different than Loki? You took an innocent child from Jotunheim. Is Val less innocent?”
“Loki,” he spat out, “is the son of a king. He was born to be a king. You, and your child, are nothing. Thor should have never claimed either of you. It was a mistake. One that I must now undo.”
Shaking her head, Jane tried again, urging, “And Val is the daughter of the future king of Asgard.”
Odin’s lips thinned as fury reddened his cheeks. “The blood of Midgard shall not disgrace my throne, Jane Foster.”
Before she could reach for Val, Odin took Jane by the upper arm. In spite of his illness, his grip was powerful, and he shoved her across the room to the terrace overlooking the water.
Jane opened her mouth. “I don’t think--”
“No, you do not think,” he interrupted as he forced her against the wall. “You are nothing. You have no magic, no power. You are not fit to be Thor’s queen.” He cupped her throat, laying his thumb against her windpipe.
“Thor will never forgive you.” She put her hands on his elbow, trying to leverage what strength she had to get free.
“My son,” Odin smiled, “will never know. I can heal you as easily as I can end your life. “There is going to be an accident, Jane Foster, one that neither you, nor your child, will survive. Thor will grieve. Then he will lead Asgard as he should.” His voice was mild, as if she’d caused him little concern. “He will be free of your weakness.” He pressed with a thumb, restricting her air way. “See how easy it will be?”
Jane discovered just how strong Odin still was. With no more than one hand, he held her to the wall. She began to fight, dredging up every dirty trick Loki and Thor had taught her. But Odin stood unflinching at her actions. She tried to pull at him, to push him away with her feet. But his armor protected him.
“Enough of this.” He closed his fingers and thumb around her throat. “When you are dead, you and the child will be found in the water. I will be distraught that my bringing you here to Frigga’s quarters caused you so much grief that you took your own life.” Odin simply held her in place as he starved her of air. Tears came. “You are weak, Jane Foster. Thor must protect you in every moment, even from yourself. For too long, he has turned his eyes away from his duties--because of you. As King of Asgard, I cannot allow this obsession with you to continue,” Odin said, as he waited for her to lose consciousness from the lack of air.
But she didn’t want to die. She had to protect Val. Two minutes, she remembered. She had two minutes to find a way to live. Fear and blackness encroached on her vision. Jane shoved with her foot once more and pure instinct had her reaching for the dagger strapped to her calf. She let her foot fall, and relaxed her whole body, as if she was giving up.
But she wasn’t. Using both hands in a reverse grip, she shoved the knife upward. With a flash of green, Loki’s magic wrapped around her wrists and into her biceps, giving her the strength to plunge it through Odin’s armor, under his sternum, and into his heart. Flesh parted and Odin jerked once. Shock coursed through his pale blue eyes. She held on, sheer will kept her staring into his face and holding the dagger. Warm blood spilled over her hands, on to her sleeves and soaking into her dress.
Odin smiled, a satisfied smirk that infuriated Jane. He let go of her throat. “Still, I have won. Thor will not forgive you.”
Her throat burned as she tried to inhale. Only a fraction of the air she needed got through.
Another flash of green was echoed by the crack of lightning on the locked door. Loki appeared as Thor broke through. Odin looked around Frigga’s room one last time and fell. Jane could only watch as he collapsed on the stone floor, leaving her covered in his blood and still holding the dagger.
It was Loki who caught her, lowering her to the floor. Val let out a wail of unhappiness. Jane looked up, and found Thor, flanked by Sif and Tyr. The shock on his face was clear.
Loki almost choked on the glass of wine as his magic gathered and flashed out of sight. “Asgard,” he said by way of explanation to Koenig.
The Jotun elder looked up from his map where they had been laying out coordinates of outlying tribes. “Asgard?”
Loki ignored the question and bolted outdoors. Splitting his concentration, he manifested on Asgard to the place where the magic he’d infused into Jane’s dagger had flared to life while sending his physical form into the Bifrost that Heimdall opened on his demand.
When he opened his eyes on Asgard, it was far too late to prevent disaster. He shoved magic into his phantom form, catching Jane as Thor burst into the doorway, followed by Tyr and Sif.
Odin went to the floor, blood staining the stones beneath him. Thor took his father’s head in his lap, ordering Tyr to find Eir.
Sif gathered up a screaming Val as Jane clutched a bloody hand to Loki’s wrist, her eyes dark with horror. He turned to his father, “What did you do to her, Odin.”
“Correcting my mistakes,” Odin’s voice was weak as he twitched a hand in Loki’s direction. “As I did for you.”
Thor growled as he began to understand. “What did you do, Father?” he echoed.
Eir breezed into the room, sweeping the scene with one look. She went to Jane first, laying her hands on the swollen flesh. “She can’t breathe,” she announced. The healer concentrated only long enough for Jane to inhale once. “Loki, take her now. Make sure she doesn’t choke,” she ordered.
It took an incredible amount of magic in this form to keep Jane upright as she began coughing. His physical form was still sprinting down the corridor. His body and mind merged moments later, as his strength faltered.
Eir knelt over Odin. She laid her hand on his chest, sealing the wound against further bleeding, but she shook her head. “My liege, I cannot heal you this day,” she said sadly. “Valhalla and Frigga wait for you.”
Odin nodded. He slanted his eyes to Loki, “Why?”
“I had a promise to keep.” Loki shook his head in fury as he tightened his arms around Jane. “You fool,” he admonished. “Did you think we would leave her helpless? We were taught better than that.”
With tears streaming from his eyes, Thor begged, “Why, Father?”
Odin choked out, “For all that you love Jane today, you will love her more on the morrow. I would deprive you of the agony you would have then. She and her child are not meant for Asgard.”
Jane stopped coughing, taking a real breath now that Eir healed the worst of the damage. She shook off Loki’s touch and crawled over to where Odin lay, still clutching the dagger in her hand. Thor started to reach to her then dropped his hand.
Devastated, Jane forced the words out over damaged vocal cords. “Odin, for all that you hate me, I’ve done nothing more than to love your sons. No one knows as much as I do that I am not Frigga. But I owe her my life. Thor and I have a daughter. We will raise Val to be a queen worthy of your throne. Be it that I have fifty years or five thousand years, she is mine. You don’t get to take that from me.”
Loki could see the light leaving his father’s eyes. This time, there was nothing Loki could do to stop it.
At last, Odin smiled. He touched Jane’s cheek. The caress made her flinch, though she did not pull away. “I thought the blood of Midgard was weak,” he said. “Perhaps I was wrong.” Then he was gone, his arm falling by his side.
A single frustrated tear trailed down Jane’s cheek. Loki relieved her of the dagger, wiping it on his own sleeve before putting it back in the sheath where it belonged. He reached out, brushing away wetness. Then he had to turn away against the desolation and terrible understanding he found in her liquid brown eyes.
Then Sif was there, carrying Val, to help Jane up and away to the terrace. Thor sagged over his father’s head.
Eir laid a hand on her king’s forehead, then his heart. “He was ill. Terribly ill even before you purchased time for him, Loki. Without Frigga, he had no chance to survive.”
Thor and Loki both gave her a sharp look. “Mother was keeping him alive?”
“Of course. Odin expressed great unhappiness with he discovered you had done the same with Jane, Thor, and more than once.”
Loki exchanged a look with Thor, one where Thor gave the faintest negative shake. So Jane still did not know what Thor was willing to sacrifice to keep her with him.
Eir bowed her head. “I have failed the both of you. I was aware of his animosity toward your queen, Thor. I tried to heal his mind, but his love for Frigga was far too great, the illness too advanced. He would see his actions as a gift to free you of your mistakes, not the tragedy it could have been.” She patted Odin’s hand. “He and Frigga were my dearest friends, and now I’ve lost them both. If you will excuse me, my lord.”
Thor nodded. His face unreadable. “Loki, can you disguise--”
Loki turned his hands up. “Do I have to do everything for you?” he mocked. He ran a hand along Odin’s body, taking away all the traces of the blood. He cleaned up the floor too. “It simply won’t do for the All-Father to be brought down by a mere Midgardian.”
Shooting him a dark look, Thor called for a carrier.
Tyr saluted. “My liege,” he said to Thor. Thor’s jaw tightened at the honorific—and the unspoken promise to keep Jane’s role a secret. With solemn grace, the Einherjar guards and Eir escorted Odin’s form to his own quarters to prepare for the funeral to come.
Loki took advantage of the quiet and sprawled out on his mother’s favorite chair. He closed his eyes, exhausted by magic he’d expended. But he listened.
Val cooed, loudly enough to bring Thor back to reality. He’d been staring at the door where they had taken his father. Now he crossed the flagstone to the terrace where Sif cradled Val, keeping her amused. She turned, giving Thor a sad smile as she handing the little one to him. “I’d better get my practice in.”
“I just told Jane. Fandral and I are going to have our own.”
Thor tried to think of the right response. He wanted to be happy for her, knew she’d shared the joyous news with Jane as distraction. He settled for kissing her brow as he took Val from her. “Be happy.”
Sif laid a hand on his cheek. “I will find Eyre. Jane needs healing stones and a bath.”
“Eir did not complete the healing?”
“She did what would save Jane. Her first loyalty is to the All-Father.”
“Aye.” Thor hugged Val as she laid her head on his shoulder. Sif squeezed Jane’s fingertips and left to find Eyre. Val fussed until he lifted her high enough to rest on the velvet of his cloak, then she settled in for a snuggle, oblivious to the momentous events. Or maybe she wasn’t. She was staring at Loki as she curled her tiny digits around Thor’s braid.
Jane wouldn’t meet his eyes. “Healing stones?” he asked. He reached, tipping her chin up. Her throat was marked with his father’s hand. Another set of blackening marks on her left arm told the rest of the story. “Eir tells me he was ill. Not thinking clearly.”
She nodded, pulling away from his touch as she rubbed her stained hands together. When he saw the blood-soaked dress, he swore. He turned, finding Loki in their mother’s favorite chair. His brother was glassy-eyed and pale from his exertions --or perhaps even grief.
“Yes, my liege?”
Thor flinched. “Can you do something about Jane’s dress? I must return her to our chamber.” Thor asked the question, knowing such a simple illusion was easy enough for Loki to do half asleep.
Loki flicked a ball of magic at Jane. It uncoiled and clung to her, then vanished, taking the blood with it. Jane stared at her hands then at Thor with a terrible blank shock.
Thor ruthlessly tamped down his own emotions. He swore and gave Val over to Loki. “Take her home.” His brother nodded and staggered to his feet to take the little one. Thor plucked one of his mother’s cloaks from the alcove. He went back to the terrace and draped it across Jane’s shoulders to keep her from chilling. He laid her arm across his.
The four of them made their way from one end of the palace to the other. Those who saw them knelt or bowed their heads, respecting their grief, for word of Odin’s death had spread with all the speed of a violent wave.
Behind closed doors, Eyre took charge of Jane.
Anundar reached for Val, but Loki declined. “I can get her to sleep faster than you can.”
Thor waved his brother on. Anundar nudged him to a chair. For a handful of minutes, Thor broke. A slow stream of tears worked their way down his cheek. He mourned. Both of his parents were gone now. And the throne of Asgard was his.
A sound beside him caught his attention. Loki was there, holding out a short glass of amber liquid that Thor knew from past experience packed a healthy punch, even for an Asgardian. His brother’s alabaster face was streaked with damp and his lips were pressed in a thin, hard line.
“You will not fault Jane for Odin’s folly, Thor.”
Unwilling to face his wife’s role in this, Thor lashed out, “Can you not even call him ‘Father’ in this moment?”
“No. I cannot.” But Loki still grieved, that much was clear, even to Thor. “And you do not have the luxury of sorrow. Not now. We must honor the All-Father and hear your oaths before the night is over. Duty comes first, you know this. We will speak of this after. For now, you must go to Jane.”
“I cannot,” he echoed. “Not yet.” He took the crystal cup and drank the contents in a single shot, hoping for something to numb his senses.
Loki’s illusion popped as soon as Jane tugged at the dress. Eyre paled at the sight of her, though she helped free her from the sticky gown. Jane unbuckled the dagger and threw it away as hard as she could before clutching her middle.
Eyre led her to the water, where Jane unfolded long enough to scrub her hands and forearms until they were raw from the moss. Eyre had to take that away from her too. Uncharacteristically, Eyre pulled Jane to her shoulder, holding her hard.
“The stones, Eyre, the stones have to be cleaned in Frigga’s rooms,” Jane choked out. “No one can know.”
“I’ll take care of it myself, Lady Jane,” Eyre said softly. She eased Jane from the water to the couch, where she could apply the stones to Jane’s bruises.
Jane had no idea how long Thor had stood in the doorway until Eyre gave him a respectful bow. “My liege,” the attendant acknowledged.
Jane would have gone to him, but Thor shook his head, holding his hand out to stop her. “You’ll need your finery, Jane. But you know that.” The reminder of Frigga’s death—and her role in it too—stung bitterly. He added, “After the funeral, Anundar will instruct you on the coronation ceremony.” He quit the room.
She flinched at the harsh words and scrubbed at her hands some more.
Late in the night, Loki escorted her to the side of the dais where she witnessed Thor’s oaths. There was no crown, though Loki ceremonially handed Odin’s scepter to Thor. Thor held Mjolnir in one hand and the scepter in the other, swearing to Loki to do his duty to Asgard and the Nine Realms.
And just like that, it was done. Thor was the new King of Asgard, the new Protector of the Nine Realms. The Einherjar and Valkyries swore their loyalties en masse and lined the great aisle as Thor strode through the solemn crowd.
Jane followed with Val, then Loki. Celebrations would be held later, after Asgard held an appropriate period of mourning.
But when Jane returned from putting Val to sleep, she discovered she was alone. She crawled into Thor’s bed and wondered if he could ever forgive her.
Loki followed along as Thor saddled a horse and headed for the outskirts of the city. For once, his brother had stripped off every accoutrement of power and wore only a simple shirt and trousers. He climbed one of the green hills surrounding Asgard, until he reached the summit.
“Gazing over your new realm?” Loki asked idly.
“Is that what you do on your frozen peaks?”
“There isn’t any point. They would fall apart at the merest touch.”
Thor raised an eyebrow. “That’s different, anyway.” He patted his horse as the creature shifted out of boredom. He eased out of the saddle and sat on the ground, picking at the weeds.
Loki dismounted as well, though he only crouched so as not to get his silks and leathers damp. Thor had never worried about that sort of thing. “Go home to Jane,” Loki said quietly.
“I cannot.” Thor’s voice reflected only hurt.
“You must,” Loki urged.
“Loki, what is it with you and Jane?” Thor snapped.
The one emotion Loki had never expected from his brother was that of jealousy. Not when it came to Jane Foster. With no little irritation he replied, “Not the line of questioning I was expecting, Brother.”
“Not the answer I wanted either,” Thor retorted.
“I like her.”
“Is that all?”
Annoyed by the line of questioning, Loki said, “Your father is dead by your wife’s hand, you’ve been crowned King of Asgard and you have the temerity to ask me if I have a thing for Jane?”
Thor’s voice came out just above a whisper in the chilled air, “For me, on this night, I need an honest answer, Loki.”
“She is your wife, Thor. You asked me to protect her. I believe I have fulfilled that promise beyond our wildest imaginings.”
Light from one of the moons crossed Thor’s face as he turned to Loki. “What do you mean? You said something as much to Father.”
“Do you really think Jane can force a blade through armor and flesh with such accuracy? She has neither the strength nor the skill, brother.”
Thor tilted his head back, and Loki could see agony and comprehension all at once. “You taught her. You enchanted the blade?”
Loki stood, infuriated with the whole conversation. “Your wife has all the answers you need. Go home, Thor.”
“Where will you be?”
“I have my own Realm to rule. Though feel free to lend me yours from time to time.”
Angry, more heartbroken than he would ever admit, Loki quit Asgard. Not for the first time, he walked the Bifrost alone to his destiny.
Well, almost alone. Val, his ever-present companion, let out a sob as the Rainbow Bridge delivered him to Jotunheim.
Thor lost himself in the branches of Yggdrasil until the Bifrost lit up, carrying Loki away. For the first time in his twelve centuries, neither his parents nor his brother resided with him on Asgard. The loneliness resembled that he felt on Midgard when Odin cast him out.
It was clear now that his actions on that day had set all this into motion. Though Loki had his part, Thor’s arrogance had set him on this path. From Thor to Jane to Loki. From Jane to the Aether to Frigga. And from Loki to Jane to Odin. Surely Heimdall had not seen all this.
As his anger built, magic sizzled under his skin. Thor reached out to let the lighting ripple along the perimeter of Asgard.
Still, his mind whispered, you have a wife and child. That is way of things. We are born, we live, we die.
Tracing Yggdrasil’s long limbs, he reached back yet further to understand that perhaps Odin himself had set this path motion when his life force began to fail. Thor had known then he was not ready for the throne but had no idea why Odin had been herding him to it, nor did he see how to refuse. He’d been far more embarrassed then disappointed by the interruption engineered by Loki.
For a moment, he thought he could see paths winding among Yggrasil’s branches.
He grieved for his parents. Missed his stupid brother already. Wanted Jane. Needed to hold Val.
Val woke when Thor lifted her out of the cradle, but fell back asleep as he walked with her. Her curling hair tickled his neck and she made a fist around his braid. He cleared his mind, taking in the scent and warmth of his little girl. She was his.
The moon arced downward until there was true dark on Asgard. Thor lay Val in her crib, and covered her with a light blanket against the cool air.
He found Jane curled up on their bed, her head on his pillow. He stroked her hair until she woke. Dark eyes made black by the night opened. He slid a hand along her arm, needing her touch. That was all the invitation she required. She was in his arms before his heart could beat again. Her apologies rained down until he put a thumb to her bottom lip and stroked it.
He tilted her head back so he could see her face in the starlight. “No, Jane. I should have known Father would cast his sights on you.” She started to speak, then fell silent. “What is it?”
“It wasn’t just me, Thor.”
Thor closed his eyes and rain began pouring from the night skies. “I know.” He clutched Jane to him, rocking her just a little as he wept for the father he’d lost long before this day.
A/N Please forgive me ... both for chickening out of updating this story yesterday and for this chapter today. Be kind. I must have rewritten this at least five times from every single character's POV and with about three different outcomes. It was hideous to write, but absolutely necessary.
Chapter 7: Alliance
Loki settles into Jotunheim.
Chapter 7: Alliance
A year into Loki’s reign, the opposition had coalesced under a single woman. With three-quarters of Jotunheim safely under his thumb, Loki needed to put an end to her rebellion. The short summer was coming soon and Loki wanted to get crops in the ground. He needed the Jotuns to see a future with him as king. The breeding stock had purchased time, but the wars had to end now.
He accomplished that in a single day. Loki called a truce to meet with the woman named Grida. Of Mountain Giant heritage, clad in leather and fur, with horns on her head to signify her authority, she strode with great confidence to place where he waited, in the middle of a broad frozen expanse of empty ground between the armies.
She crossed her arms in defiance. “Have you come to surrender? To give up this fool idea of wearing a crown, Asgardian?”
Loki smirked. “The Jotuns chose me, remember? I was quite comfortable on Asgard. Wine, feasting. Clothing.” He gave her leathers a disdainful sniff.
Grida countered with a contemptuous look of her own. “Is that all you care about? Your creature comforts?”
“Perhaps.” He studied her. She met his gaze unwaveringly, saying nothing. Loki’s own resolve never wavered. He’d come to terms with this solution weeks ago, merely waiting for the opportune time to execute it. “There is a time-honored tradition for bringing peace between warring parties.” She raised an eyebrow, waiting. “Marriage.”
“Think I’ll take kindly to having you in my bed?” she spat out.
“No,” admitted Loki. “But you want the throne. You want a legitimate heir to the throne. I can get you there with minimal bloodshed.”
Grida shot him a questioning look. “You don’t want the throne?”
“Oh, but I do,” he said with a wicked smile. “But not in this sad shape. I like my comforts, Grida. This sorry land has a long way to go to compare to Asgard.”
She recoiled from the insult. “Then go home to play, Loki.”
“No, I think not.” He reached in his pocket to retrieve bag of Jotun silver and pitched it to her. She was quick and caught it one-handed.
“What is this?”
“You have money?” Grida peered into the bag and came up wary. Her eyes skimmed over his clothing once again, this time noting the quality of his boots, the small intricacies of armor woven into his clothing. Her eyes sharpened as she fingered the softness of the leather bag in her hand.
Knowing he had her, he leaned in, saying in a soft tone, “I have a great deal of money. I cannot spend it until this war is over. There is a place on the Seer River that I would build a new city and a new palace.”
“That is in my territory,” she muttered, looking again into the bag.
He could see her doing swift calculations in her head. Using his most persuasive voice, he added, “It’s good land. It is temperate and crops will grow. There is good grazing land too.” Grida shifted, her stance telling him she was listening. “The Frost Giants have already reclaimed their traditional herd lands. The Ice Giants are fishing. Soon they will be ready to trade for grain and tubers.”
Grida considered. “I had heard you put down the most brutal of the clans.”
“They have no place in my vision for Jotunheim.”
“I’ve little reason to trust an Asgardian vision.”
He raised his eyebrows, waiting.
“If I am to the Queen, we will be united rulers,” she warned. “I will slit your throat if you dare betray me.”
Loki smiled. “As expected of a warrior queen.” He snapped his fingers, producing Trygrr. He pointed it at her feet and shot out a layer of frost between them. Her eyes widened. “Produce an heir and this belongs to him or her when I relinquish the throne. Make it worth my while and I might even do that before I die.”
He leaned in. “But if you try to have me killed, you will fail. All of Asgard will rise up in vengeance, and in five thousand years, Jotunheim will still be nothing more than the same wrecked wasteland of Svartalfheim.”
They were married a week later.
Grida turned out to be the pragmatic sort. Steady and patient, she was good at assessing the strengths and weaknesses of the opposition. She was also much older than he, in Jotun terms, a little past middle age.
“Think you can sire a child on me?” she asked.
“I can even guarantee it will be fully Jotun, and not of Asgard,” Loki told her. After discovering Thor’s micro-kinetic abilities with Jane’s biology, Loki had figured out how to do the same. After all, healing used the same kind of magic and it didn’t take much to sort DNA.
Grida’s pragmatism extended to the bedroom. Loki found the experience agreeable, though his new wife had been more than a little shocked to discover he was only six feet tall to her eight and a half.
Long ago, he’d discovered with his magic that it was one thing to keep a particular feature under wraps during intercourse, it was another to appear as something else altogether.
In spite of the rumors abounding on Asgard, he was not a shape shifter, but a master of illusion. The only physical changes he experienced came from his dual heritage as he adapted to either Jotun or Asgardian temperatures. Height wasn’t one of them. Grida had insisted on seeing him both ways and he’d been inclined to cover his scar with a touch of magic as he paraded in front of her with nary a stitch.
He wondered if Grida was going to be fussy if he occasionally found company elsewhere--though Jotun physiology did not bother him in the slightest. He’d spent a decade or two on Alfheim. Blue skin on a tall woman merely scratched the surface of the indulgences to be had there.
Before three months passed, Grida announced she was expecting. To Loki’s surprise, she did not oust him from her bedroom, though they did not share chambers. Perhaps both of them were caught off guard when he absently kissed her hand as he escorted her to the dais on judgment day for the week’s rulings. Grida’s face darkened--the Jotun equivalent of a blush. Marriage, on the whole, was tolerable, even pleasant at times.
His rather brutal methods of gaining control of the factions who had brought him here had won him a nervous respect. Grida had earned her place with intelligence and a firm understanding of her people. She had a solid understanding of the political connections and cultures of her people. He had a vision of what Jotunheim could become.
There were disagreements. If Grida was the soul of practicality, Loki had a flair for the dramatic that annoyed her and unsettled the Jotuns. He liked keeping them off balance. If they were too busy worrying about his next move, they were too busy to plot against him.
But Grida disagreed. After Laufey’s reign, the people needed rest. Loki saw her point, though it bored him to do so. In any case, it seemed best to leave the day to day governing in Grida’s hands, leaving Loki to intervene when his unique talents suited the occasion.
Loki’s firm determination to feed his new kingdom was paying off. New crops were in the ground, several of the larger caverns had been converted to hydroponic gardening, and a variety of beasts grazed near the old palace.
Now, at the end of the short excuse of a Jotun summer, Loki focused on building a new palace. He’d idly sketched a map of the city one afternoon to Grida’s amusement. Since he’d mentally rearranged Asgard any number of times, this would be a project to keep his interest for some time to come.
He left his maps and notes spread out on his work table, along with a budget he worked up as he went along. In truth, Jotunheim hardly had the resources to feed itself, much less to invest in a new palace. Thor had sent him an accounting of his own finances. He had plenty, though he wasn’t sure if he wished to dump a majority of his ready cash into building a city, even in the interests of jump-starting the Jotun economy.
But neither did he relish living in this tattered residence for the next hundred years. Soon, too, he would have an heir. The crumbling palace was no place to raise a child.
Annoyed with his limited choices, he gave in to spending his own monies to see this happen and jotted a note to Thor. Finished, he retreated to his bathing chamber, shedding the illusions of Jotun and resuming his normal height.
“My lord, I have prepared a restorative bath for you,” Sven told him. Sven had been handpicked by Anundar as Loki’s attendant. Eager for the change of scenery, the young Asgardian had quietly insisted on going to Jotunheim when word went out of Loki’s offer.
Unlike Anundar and Thor’s respectful friendship, Loki preferred a bit more diffidence from his attendants. Sven filled the bill rather well so far, even if the man’s agenda was obvious. Loki suspected he would have a full Asgardian contingent here the moment sufficient space and heating was available for a decent staff.
It wasn’t that Jotunheim didn’t have small luxuries. There were a number of geo-thermal pools around the realm, one of which was situated near where Loki wanted to build. But what was warm to a Jotun was considered a cool bath on Asgard.
There were oddities to Loki’s Jotun physiology, as he’d discovered, that reminded of his blended ancestry. Preferring steaming hot water was one of them. One of Sven’s magics allowed him to heat water and stone with an ease that made Loki more than a little jealous. Sven’s magic also let him tolerate the cold in a way most Asgardians couldn’t.
Sven anchored a pillow in the tub so that Loki could sleep without drowning. Loki changed into his bathing tunic, and then ducked under the water, wetting his hair in anticipation of Sven washing it while he did just that.
“Are you settled, my lord?”
The attendant laid out his tools and went to work. Loki inhaled the steam, and let his mind go.
As always, he went to Asgard. Loki focused, feeling the shiver as he separated his mind from his body. He concentrated, creating a sort of construct that would allow him to see and hear. The connection between him and Val grew stronger. He smiled as he opened his eyes. He flexed his fat, stubby fingers, wiggled little toes. He rolled over to sit in front of Val. She gabbled out nonsense, her face lighting up as she clasped her hands together in excitement.
Her red-blonde hair was just long enough to have a wispy curl to it. The wisps stuck out all over her head, framing her small face with her bright blue eyes. Val had her mother’s face, but when she smiled, it was all Thor.
Though she was only a few inches away from him, Val had learned not to reach for Loki. At this distance from Jotunheim, her touch was sure to disrupt the illusion. Loki was working on that and had some success in nudging a ball or other toy in her direction. He did that now. Val gibbered at him and picked up the ball at her feet. He pushed energy toward it and it lifted, spinning slowly in front of her. She shrieked happily, making him wince. Which made her giggle madly.
Ripples of pure happiness washed through their connection. It was this simple joy that kept bringing Loki back to Val’s company. He concentrated, sending a similar wave of contentment across to the little girl. Her blue eyes widened as, once again, she made the connection between the image in front of her and the feeling in her head. She reached up, clutching a wisp of hair over her ear as she shrieked.
He heard a laugh from the doorway of Val’s room. Jane crossed her arms on the side of the crib to peer at him. “Hello, Val. Hello, Loki.” She held her hand out to Val, who curled her hand around a finger. “I see you are fascinated again with my little girl. It’s good to know you’re interacting with someone on your level.”
Loki stuck his tongue out at her--which Val immediately copied.
Jane wrinkled her nose. “If you start teaching my daughter bad habits, we’re going to have a discussion about your visitations.”
He widened his eyes, blinking innocently. She laughed again. “I don’t believe that for one second.”
Val lost interest in him. He could sense that she was hungry, something she’d forgotten until her mother arrived. She reached for Jane, though she kept a mental hold on Loki.
As always, when he dissolved the illusion, she wailed until he came entirely back to himself. He sent a pulse of warmth to her, calming her. Sadness changed to happiness and then she was satisfied.
Loki drifted into a contented sleep.
Thor overheard Jane teasing his brother. Loki’s visitations had started a few weeks ago, about the time had Val learned to sit up. His daughter’s delight had been unmistakable the first time Loki had appeared.
Both Thor and Jane had rushed to her room only to find an infant Loki amusing Val with a seemingly endless series of illusions that morphed from one into another. His brother’s green eyes and shock of black hair were unmistakable. So was the grin he flashed at them in between shifting illusions.
Thor had been struck by two things. First, for all that Loki had avoided Val on Asgard, it was apparent their connection had not lessened with distance or time. Second, the mischievous smile had been something Thor had not seen in a very long time. Once, long ago, his brother had delighted in amusing Thor with his endless curiosity and fascination with magic.
Jane seemed to take Loki’s appearances in stride, playing along whenever he showed up. But Thor had his reservations. Was this a game to keep Thor off-balance, wondering what mischief his brother would pull next? If so, Thor had long tired of those games and would have expected Loki to have his hands full with his own throne. As did he.
Or was it something else?
Thor sent a messenger to Eir. If anyone could understand what might be happening with his daughter, it would be the senior mind healer.
Anundar announced her arrival just as Jane brought Val down the winding stairs. From the distinct lines of age that had appeared in the past half year, Thor noted that woman had yet to recover from Odin’s passing. He suspected she, too, would not be long for this realm. His parents and Eir had been as close as he to Sif and the Warriors Three. But Eir was here, and Thor gave her a respectful acknowledgement for her wisdom.
“Lady Eir.” Thor lifted Val out of Jane’s arm. Val settled in her customary position with a braid in hand.
“My liege, Lady Jane, Lady Val.” Eir smiled at this little one. “She’ll have your mother’s coloring, for certain, Thor. Frigga would have liked that.”
“Aye, she would.” He waited, letting Eir warm up to his daughter. Eir’s presence was strong, enough that he could sense a warm red glow from her mind. Jane sat down beside him.
“What may I do for you?” Eir asked.
“We have spoken of this connection between Val and Loki,” he said.
The healer nodded. “Yes. We expected it would diminish, if not by time, then certainly by distance.”
But Jane shook her head, a movement echoed by Thor. “If anything, it’s getting stronger,” she said.
Eir raised her eyebrows. “How do you know?”
Thor exchanged a look with Jane. She shrugged, letting him answer. “Loki visits,” Thor admitted. “He sends an illusion to interact with Val. He appears as an infant, of an age to her.”
“He seems to know when she is waking up or when she’s ready to play,” Jane added. “He doesn’t come around when she’s sleeping or eating, but he’ll show up every third or fourth day after nap time or late in the afternoon before dinner.”
“No other times?”
“Not that we know of,” Jane answered.
Eir leaned forward, placing her hands on either side of Val’s head. Val wrinkled her nose, but she didn’t pull away.
“I can see the connection. It’s not a link, but an opening. A portal?” she wondered in a low voice. “No. It’s static, more of a tunnel between them. Interesting. Loki has a light barrier across it. It moves when touched? Yes.”
“How can you tell?” Thor asked.
“It’s green,” Eire smiled, sadly. “Only your mother had a signature in quite that color.”
Jane asked, “Why does Loki have a barrier?”
“I think, perhaps a screen for certain emotions. I suspect he prefers his privacy from time to time.”
Thor let out a sigh of relief. He’d worried for his little girl. “How do we close the connection?”
Eir shook her head. “We cannot. Val is the one keeping the link open. It was initiated by Val, therefore she must be the one to close it.”
Thor brushed his fingers through Val’s locks as she wiggled, wanting into his lap. “Loki said he heard her because he wanted to. But you are saying this is not his doing?”
“No. That much is clear.” Eir considered, “Did you not tell me that you had contact with her rather early?”
He nodded. “I did, I created a link with her to put Jane into Odin-Sleep.”
“That may be our explanation. It is a rare thing, this connection. I’ve only seen it in twins, and not to this extent. This is a similar pathway. Somehow, she opened it and connected with Loki.”
“What do you mean, not to this extent? And why Loki? Why not one of us?”
“In twins, the link is much smaller and lies in a different area of the brain. Sometimes magic can strengthen the link, but generally only a small amount of emotions pass through, enough to give twins a sense of each other. In Val, the connection is fully open. Without the delicate shielding Loki has created, I suspect there would be a free flow of emotions between the pair.”
Jane asked, “If he can shield, why does Loki not block what she is doing?”
Eir played with Val’s fingers, letting her clutch at the tips. “Because he cannot. Val’s mind is much stronger than his in this regard. But Loki is doing what he can. At the moment, I see nothing harmful in Val’s psyche.”
“It’s Loki, that can be harmful enough,” Thor warned.
Eir shook her head. “I cannot not tell you more. We shall look at this further as she grows older.”
When Eir departed, Jane crossed her arms, copying Thor’s favorite pose when he was irritated.
“You do not agree,” he prompted.
Jane said simply, “Loki won’t hurt Val.”
Thor had twelve centuries of experience telling him otherwise. “We will keep watch. Jane, if only one thing we know, Loki is never predictable.”
But she gave him a knowing smile that suddenly brought his mother to mind. “Watch all you want.”
Now that she had a full understanding of how the Bifrost worked, based on her own research, Jane had set out to calculate what kind of energy was needed to open and direct the Rainbow Bridge as the one on Asgard did.
Jane reworked the formulas again, scrubbing her face in frustration. Nope. The eighteenth time of working through the equation still produced the same answer. Earth might not ever have an Einstein-Rosen bridge capable of transporting a human the way the Bifrost did.
She threw her pencil across the room.
Leaving Val with Eyre, Jane bolted out of her workroom, focused on a single destination.
“Whatever is the matter, my Lady?” Sif asked as she took long strides to keep pace with Jane.
“I’m so stupid, sometimes. I guess I just need a little confirmation.”
Sif put a hand on Jane’s wrist. “Is this an Asgard thing or a science thing?”
Stifling a laugh at Jane’s frustration, Sif called two horses for the short ride to the observatory. Jane slid off her mare and stomped over to Heimdall. “Really?”
Heimdall shrugged. “Until you knew, I could not say.”
“The amount of power is ridiculous. Without terraforming and a stupid amount of magic, it’s impossible.”
He nodded. “And that, Lady Jane, is why Asgard remains the only realm to have the Bifrost.”
“Where did the energy come from in the first place?”
Heimdall laughed. “Ask your king, Lady Jane.”
She did. That night, while they were drinking wine in front of the fire in their living area. Thor merely glanced at Mjolnir. Jane considered. Then she pouted. Full on, arms crossed, rug-kicking sulking as she put it all together.
Thor chuckled then began to laugh at her temper tantrum.
“Really?” she demanded, not in the mood for any of this.
He tugged her into his arms. “Jane, you would not have wanted me to spill our secrets so easily. And if I know you, the knowledge will only fuel your designs for your version of the Bifrost.”
“I just want to know one thing, Thor. Without have to calculate it or look it up.”
“What is it, Jane?”
“How many Asgardians did it take to terraform a star?” she asked.
Chapter 8: Need
Loki has a son and he discovers new limits to his bond with Val.
Chapter 8: Need
Loki continued his visitations. The brief respites into Asgard and the simple play with Val kept him centered as he adapted to the alien world of Jotunheim. As she matured, and Grida grew with child, he found the artless contact enlightening.
Val reminded him to ensure the children of Jotunheim were educated. While he began looking for tutors and nurses for his own child, Loki set up schools wherever they were needed in the Realm and made sure the rest had basic supplies. Then he set guards to ensure the resources weren’t raided.
Grida gave birth to a healthy baby boy. Loki named him Isleifur. Thor sent enough Asgardian foodstuffs for the celebration that the palace gorged for a month. Not long after Jotunheim received the last of the gifts from the other Realms, Jane sent a box to Grida.
The queen opened it, and was astonished by the delicate crystal-and-wire mobile inside. “The Asgardian Queen sent this?” she asked as she held it up.
Loki shifted his son to one arm so that he could flick it to set it spinning. Amused, he commented, “This is crafted by my brother.”
Grida’s eyes widened. “I was unaware the All-Father had a … hobby.”
Giving her a sly quirk of his lips, Loki replied, “Asgardians have a great many talents which go unnoticed in the Nine Realms.”
“So I am discovering.” Grida countered with a snort.
“Thor cannot give it to Isleifur himself or he will be accused of showing preference for Jotunheim. But it is an appropriate gift from one queen to another.” Loki stroked Isleifur’s cheek.
Grida grumbled, “I do not understand the politics of the Nine Realms.”
“Perhaps this is less about politics,” Loki said, idly. “I should add that Princess Val has a similar one dangling over her crib.”
Grida moved across the room to lay the mobile on the table, knowing Loki would hang it later. “How long will they be of a like age?” she asked in curiosity.
“Not long, if I recall. Val will reach adolescence at a hundred years of age. What will that make our son?”
“Still a sub-adult, but older than that. Full adulthood comes around two hundred years.”
Loki grinned. “Asgardians reach that at the end of their first millennium.”
Grida beckoned for Loki to pass over the boy. He complied as she asked, “Will he carry Asgardian blood?”
Loki himself had carried his little boy into his own quarters to see if his son would change over from blue skin to pale. He hadn’t, and even fussed at the unusual warmth. “No, I think not, though with Asgardians there is never a guarantee.”
He leaned over and took Grida’s hand, pressing a proper Asgardian kiss on her knuckles. She still flushed, for Jotuns were not a demonstrative people. But Loki liked keeping on her toes. “I give you my regards, my queen. Now, I must take my leave for the masses are calling for their king.”
She rolled her eyes. “Try not to scare them too much, my lord.”
“Ah, but if I frighten them, they will welcome your return to the throne room with open arms.”
“True.” He pivoted, leaving her with their son.
“Loki?” He paused with a hand on the door, stilling at the firm tone in her voice. Grida cradled the little one between her hands. “I have not said this before. Thank you. For our son.”
With a carefully blank expression, he replied. “You are most welcome, my lady.”
Less than a week later, a messenger brought news of a school on the other side of the Seer Mountains. It was ambushed, with every child slaughtered. The teacher had survived only long enough to make sure word got to the palace.
Loki rode one of the shaggy creatures that served as transportation in this realm. Jotunheim would never have horses, but these served well enough. Heavier than horse, not as a bulky as an elephant, and tall enough to carry a Jotun after centuries of breeding. Loki rode his mount hard, through the night to reach the schoolyard by dawn.
He picked his way through the wreckage to meet the grieving parents who had gathered there. Theeg and the other warriors split up, some forming a guard. In a low voice, Loki ordered Theeg, “Find the warriors who were to be guarding the school.”
The warrior nodded, his red eyes brightening in intensity. Before long, three of the guards were found dead in their homes.
The fourth, well, the fourth answered to Loki. So did the merchant who was found selling the goods.
That was the sort of thing where stories were told and legends were born. The combination of green and frost magics could be seen for dozens of miles. The parents of those children were sure that justice had been served that day. Awe, and no little fear, rippled across the Jotun plains.
When Loki returned to the old palace, he shut himself inside his quarters, locking them with Asgardian shields that no one here could break.
The horrors in the schoolhouse were front and center in his mind. And though he’d been well within his rights to discipline the guilty, the blood on his hands sickened him. In truth, he should have followed Thor’s lead—executing the guilty with a clean sword and little emotion. Instead, he reacted with a dark vengeance and a need to hurt the offenders.
Val’s violent reaction to his anger had pulled him back. The monster he’d become frightened her so that she’d shrieked in fear at the dark emotions lancing out of his mind.
He’d dragged himself onto his mount, leaving the shattered remains of the miscreants behind. He tried, and failed, to erect a wall between him and Val. He couldn’t. Not with Val reaching out, clawing out in desperation to have Loki return to that which he was. Loki fought for calm, to contain himself. And failed again.
Theeg and his men escorted him home. The captain regarded Loki with a new wariness. Halfway back to the palace, Theeg finally said what was on his mind. “I had not expected to see your mother’s magics in you, my liege.”
“Frigga taught me well.”
“Not Frigga. Your mother, Freya. I did not see her use them much, but that shade of green is unmistakable.”
Loki turned his head, his expression hard. “Freya. Of Alfheim.”
“Yes, my liege.”
The conversation had shocked Loki and he dropped a stone mask across his face so as not to betray his emotions.
Once in his quarters, Loki collapsed on a chair, closing his eyes as his heart ached. He went within, found Val, and reached.
Two solid days of inconsolable wailing. Jane cuddled Val, rocked her, walked with her. Bathed her. Thor had done all that and begged Eir to look in his daughter’s mind.
Jane sagged against the table, exhausted and frustrated. Thor was no less so, and they’d taken turns escaping to the quiet of Valhalla’s corridors for brief respites from Val’s crying. Thor held her now, as Eir took a seat in front of him.
Eir looked, laying her hands on Val’s head. “I cannot see anything physically wrong. I can only see the passages, the connections. I can see Loki’s magic on the edges, as if he’s trying to build a wall, but Val pulls it down faster than he can work. I—I have no sense of the emotions or thoughts between them.” She bowed her head. “I am sorry, my Liege.”
“Lady Eir, is there one who might be able to know more?”
“Only if it is a wild magic that we have not encountered before. I know of none who can read the emotions and thoughts of others.”
“But I see Jane,” he insisted. “I can get a sense of her well-being if I touch her. Are there none others who do this?” asked Thor.
Eir’s eyes widened. “I – no.”
Jane lifted her head. “I don’t understand. I thought you were a mindhealer?”
“Yes. I see imbalances in the mind and can heal damaged areas of the brain.”
“Biochemical imbalances and lesions?”
“Yes,” Eir agreed. She stroked Val’s head as the little girl hiccupped between cries. She asked Thor, “You cannot read Val?”
“As with Jane, I have an impression of emotion so long as I am holding her, but I cannot see what is causing her fear.” Thor cuddled Val, nestling her head under his chin.
Sadly, Eir could only offer, “I can assure you, my liege, I see no damage to Val’s mind.”
Magdahilda assured them too Val was in good health, and that babies sometimes cried for seemingly no reason. Toward the late evening, Val collapsed into an exhausted sleep against Jane’s shoulder.
In the silence that followed, Jane made her way to Val’s bedroom.
She figured it out the moment she found Loki sitting in the corner of the crib, rubbing his fingers along one of Val’s stuffed toys over and over again.
Jane laid Val down, covering her. Loki sat as no infant ever would, utterly still. Only his fingers moved. At last, he reached out to pat Val on the foot nearest him. Just once, as if he was aware of how difficult the past two days had been.
Though she knew better, there was something in those solemn green eyes that made her reach out. She touched and found flesh.
The chambers were silent. After a swift check of each room on the ground floor, Thor took the spiral staircase around Yggdrasil two at a time. A quiet sound alerted him that Jane was in Val’s room.
But she wasn’t holding Val. She was walking, lightly rocking a black haired infant. Loki stared, blinking occasionally, and idly clutched at her shoulder. Thor halted in the doorway. Val was sprawled out in the crib, sound asleep, mouth open and hiccupping occasionally from her bout of crying.
Jane’s exhaustion was apparent. Neither of them had slept more than an hour or two in the past two days. Thor had grown used to seeing infant Loki pop in to play with Val. His daughter certainly liked the company. But this was different. He couldn’t imagine the amount of magic Loki had to be feeding into the illusion. Loki’s eyes were far too desolate for a mere infant.
Jane rocked him, humming softly. When she turned, she caught Thor’s eye and gave him a worried shrug. Thor didn’t think twice. He slipped a hand under his brother and transferred him to his own shoulder. Jane went no farther than the divan, pulling a blanket over her and was asleep in seconds.
Thor sat in the chair and patted the infant Loki as he rocked. Somewhere in his memory he’d done this before.
The new one was crying. No mama. No papa here. Thor scooted over to the little one, patted his head. Green eyes blinked in surprise. The crying stopped. Then started again. Stopped as Thor patted his head some more. Thor scooted closer, put the new one on his lap like mama does. Rocked it. The new one blinked. Found a thumb. Thor rocked the new one. Mama called him Loki. Said he was brother.
Thor rocked and patted. Wondered what upset his brother. Debated if he should go to Jotunheim. A shuddered hiccup brought his gaze downward. He eased Loki into a more comfortable position. Thick black lashes lifted twice then closed in sleep. Thor drew a blanket over Loki, keeping up the rocking out of habit. He closed his own eyes, taking solace in the simple movement.
When the slight weight of the infant vanished, Thor jerked awake.
He sent a messenger to Jotunheim. What came back was handwritten in Loki’s elegant penmanship with a short explanation of events and an inquiry regarding their mother’s cousin, Freya of Alfheim.
Chapter 9: Research
About Loki's mother ...
Chapter 9: Research
Thor spent the better part of the day in the forests, hunting boars with some of the younger warriors. It was a good place to learn of them and to discover their strengths and weakness. They had been successful, and the warriors would have a fine repast for their families this day.
He tried not to bask in their adoration, though it was tempting. This part of ruling, working with the soldiers of a younger generation, was by far his favorite aspect of holding the Asgardian throne. To have the armies of Asgard at his command was a powerful thrill.
Managing Asgard was more of duty, though rarely an onerous one. In the absence of the Grand Council, Thor’s four remaining advisors had split up the business of running Asgard. Mostly, it was accomplished in a reasonable fashion, though Thor had to intervene from time to time.
Jane, as his queen, bounced between caring for Val, working on her latest theory, and learning about Asgard. He hoped, one day, that she could truly take a place by his side. In the meantime, she was more than happy to lend a hand wherever she could and took a great deal of pleasure investigating all the nooks and crannies of her new home. Her curiosity was infections and most of the citizens found her amusing.
Thor delivered his share of the hunt to the kitchen and ducked into his quarters for a quick wash. Jane was still at the observatory, working on a new theory with Heimdall.
He found Eyre feeding Val bits of fruit and shooed him off. “She’s fine with me. We’ll have a bath later and then Lady Jane can put her to bed in a while.”
Nodding to himself, he sent a messenger to Volstagg.
They met at a tavern close to Volstagg’s home. Thor greeted him with a great hug and clap on the arm.
“My friend. It is good to see you.”
Volstagg nodded, holding his hand up for a pitcher of mead as they took their seats. “And you.” He looked Thor up and down. “The throne seems to agree with you.”
Thor ducked his head. “So far, Asgard has been kind to me.”
But Volstagg waggled a finger. “You are good to Asgard. As is Lady Jane.”
“The people think well of her?”
“They do.” Volstagg shrugged. “For now, until the next crisis come along.”
“This is truth.”
Over a casual dinner, Thor and Volstagg traded stories about the new recruits, discussed promotions and personalities, debated politics and barbs about past exploits. Thor shared his delight in his daughter’s antics with the one person who truly appreciated them, and found a wealth of advice from his friend. There were dire warnings about the crawling stage and the trouble to be found.
Toward the end of the night, the conversation folded back to Loki and Jotunheim. Which reminded Thor of the note he’d received.
“Volstagg? You fought with my father on both Midgard and Jotunheim.”
“Aye.” Volstagg took a healthy gulp from his tankard.
“Do you remember my mother’s cousin, Freya? I believe she fought with Asgard. Mother mentioned once that she was much like Sif, for the sword and battle.”
Volstagg set his mug down carefully, idly turning it in place with his fingertips. “I’d wondered how long it would take Loki to discover the truth.”
Thor tensed. There was little he despised more than discovering long-held secrets. “The truth?”
“About his mother. Freya.”
Thor blanked. “Mother’s cousin?”
“Second cousin, I think.”
Scratching his beard, Thor visualized the lineage. “You might be right. Freya was the second in line for Alfheim, if I recall. Her brother’s son is the current High King.”
“Freya came to Asgard to find a suitable mate. Her father was Asgardian, you know.”
Recalling a long ago lesson, Thor nodded. “Yes, though until you mentioned it, I’d forgotten. A warrior of Sif’s house. He and my grandmother both married into the Alfheim royal family—the first daughter and third son.”
Volstagg snorted. “I do not know how you remember such things.”
“I do not like politics. Especially politics on Alfheim. That does not mean I cannot play the game.”
“One cannot presume to be the Protector of the Nine Realms otherwise. You know, you’re smarter than you look.”
“Loki would beg to differ,” retorted Thor, as he broke off a chunk of crusty bread.
Volstagg laughed into his mug, took a healthy drink and set it down again. “Loki. With Freya the daughter of an Asgardian warrior, she demanded the right to train on Asgard. Odin agreed. She was rather stubborn, charming as any and trained up to be a fair warrior in her own right. When Asgard fought the Frost Giants on Midgard, she went to war with us.”
Thor laced his fingers into a fist and rested his chin on them as he listened. “And?”
“She fell in love with Laufey.” Volstagg threw up his hands. “No one knows how, when or why. But before the fighting was over on Midgard, Freya was well-rounded with child. Odin tried to bring her back to Asgard. She refused. The armies of Asgard returned home, as did those of Jotunheim. Freya went with Laufey.”
“And what of the Jotun king?”
“Laufey seemed to care for her. But word got out when the child was born that Laufey was furious. The child was small and Freya in poor health. She could not bear the cold of the Realm.”
“So what happened?”
“Freya sent a message to Odin, begging him to take the child for Laufey threatened to turn him out.”
Thor closed his eyes, not wanting to hear more, but it was far too late. “Father went to Jotunheim, not for the Casket, but for Freya.”
Volstagg nodded. “When we arrived, Freya was already dead. Odin demanded the child, but Laufey refused. Laufey went to war with Odin then and there. We scoured the Realm, looking for the child. We found him in an abandoned temple. He’d been there for a while, Thor, perhaps even days.”
“So my Father took Loki.”
“Him and the Casket of the Ancient Winters as punishment, to ensure Laufey could not retaliate.”
“Did Laufey know?”
Lifting a shoulder, Volstagg speculated, “I’ve always assumed he knew and that was the real reason for the truce between the Realms. But Laufey and Odin have always hated each other. Truly, I do not know, Thor.”
Volstagg drew a wet ring on the table. “I’ve found it odd through the years that while Odin insisted that the both of you were raised to be kings, he showed a clear preference for you for the Asgardian throne from the time you were small. Looking back, I see now that Loki stood a fair chance of inheriting either Alfheim or Jotunheim. Stranger things have happened.”
Thor choked on his ale. “Can you imagine the level of intrigue in the High King’s court if it belonged to Loki?”
“No. And I don’t want to even think about it. I won’t be able to sleep.”
“My friend? How many people knew of Loki’s true origins?”
“Only those of us who were tasked with finding the child. There were six. Tyr was one. The others have gone to Valhalla. All were loyal to Odin.”
Thor confirmed certain information about Freya’s time on Asgard. Jane helped once Mioll taught her how to access the archives. Jane’s knack for research paired let her hunt up relevant information even with her newly polished reading skills.
Quiet discussion with Tyr and Sif filled in more blanks, mostly about the war on Jotunheim itself. But to his surprise, he gained a better understanding of why Sif’s aunt was so vociferous in her demands for Thor to sire an heir.
Sigrid had known the truth of Loki’s parentage and feared him taking the Asgardian throne. This information had come from Sif’s mother under Thor’s gentle questioning. Still, the knowledge did nothing to excuse Sigrid’s actions.
Thor took his time writing the narrative, knowing Loki would find fault in it no matter how it was explained. And there were many faults to be had. Not for the first time, Thor wished he could speak to his parents. It was times such as these where Thor felt the weight of ruling as a heavy burden.
And with Val so young, Thor could not leave the Throne even as he wished to go to Loki in person.
To his surprise, now that Jane had weaned Val, she offered to take the missive to his brother. She could pay her respects to their new nephew and Loki’s wife at the same time. Thor had zero doubts that at least part of her purpose was to explore the galaxy a little more. He stifled his jealousy over her freedom to go and reminded himself that his brother had purchased him time to court Jane and bring her home.
Thor didn’t bother trying to sleep while she was gone.
Heimdall sent Jane and the Valkyries—the full contingent of one hundred thirty-two, led by Sif and Siglyn—to the outskirts of Loki’s palace. They walked the short distance in the morning sun, and Jane marveled at the shimmering blue ice.
The light was different here, not the bright of Earth or Asgard, where one could get snow blindness on a clear day. Instead, the landscape was lit by a distant sun. More than twilight, clearer than a cloudy day, and the ice glowed rather than sparkled.
She did not expect to find it beautiful. But as Asgard dazzled, Jotunheim shimmered in a thousand colors of blue. Pink and greens flirted, though they slid away from the eye as she tried to focus on them.
Loki’s guards flanked the courtyard entrance. Or what Jane thought was a courtyard. As she stepped through the crumbling spires of ice, she found Loki and Grida sitting on twin thrones of stone at the far end.
Loki in his full Jotun aspect was rather intimidating, truth be told. He stood, crossing the dais and taking the two steps to be on the floor with her. He towered over her.
Grida was no less impressive. Jane thought she saw Loki’s hand in the design of the chocolate robes she wore. A thin line of green trim ran the length of it.
But mischief danced in Loki’s red eyes as he graced her knuckles with a proper kiss. “Queen Jane of Asgard.”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” she muttered. He flashed her a daring smile, then reached out the Grida. The Jotun Queen gave Jane a respectful nod that Jane returned. “Lady Grida.”
“Grida,” warned his wife with a sigh. “My lady, we do not use honorifics on Jotunheim, though I have been unable to dissuade this Asgardian of such.”
“I believe I was told once that Loki was a ‘full-tilt diva’.” Jane waited for Grida to translate her words. When she did, the Jotun queen laughed. Aloud. Where the entire hall, Jotun and Asgardian alike, shifted uncomfortably.
“There you go, Jane, scaring our people. It’s not nice. They are long used to Asgardians and Jotuns crossing blades,” Loki admonished as he reached for her gloved hand. He looked past her. “Sif, it’s good to see you. Sven will show you to the dining hall. We have prepared a table for you there and warmed it to your preference.”
“Yes, my lord.” Sif was on her best behavior. As captain of the Valkyries, she observed every protocol Asgard demanded. Loki responded to them, even if Grida did not quite understand what all the formality was about. Jane did. She’d had a crash course from Thor and Anundar these past few days.
Loki, Grida, the Elders, and a selected number of the guard sat with Jane, Sif and Siglyn. The male guard eyeballed the Valkyries. Icy looks were countered and settled into an all around glaring match.
The Elders were very careful to listen and not speak. Jane suspected Loki had warned them to keep their opinions to themselves on this visit.
“This is something for the history books.” Loki indicated the warriors sharing a meal, confirming her theory.
“Everything about you and Thor is for the history books,” chided Jane. “Comes with the territory.”
“Perhaps that is why we rely on historians for our recorded history, rather than pictures and—what did you call them? Blogs?”
“Depends on your research. Sometimes a localized account can provide far more insight that someone’s professional perception.”
“Excellent point. How do you find the repast?”
“This fish is incredible. Cold-water, of course. Seawater? Or fresh?”
“Our seawater is remarkably clear, imparting a distinct freshness to the fish.”
“How thick is the ice shelf?”
“Up to ten meters in places.”
“Okay, this reminds me of sea bass on Earth, but not this good. Let me know when you are ready to discuss exports.”
“Perhaps never. That fish is a staple of our diet,” Loki remarked.
“Damn. No. Then exports wouldn’t be a good idea. How are you managing the fisheries?”
Grida stopped Jane. “You appear to be well-versed in Jotun geography.”
“Not as much as I would like—“ Jane started.
Loki laughed. A rare enough occurrence that Grida and Jane snapped their heads around. “Wife, you will find that Jane is insatiable in her search for knowledge.”
Jane poked at the crispy tuber accompanying her fish. It was fresh, sliced thin and tasted kind of like watercress. “I like knowing how things work.”
Grida looked back and forth between Loki and Jane. “You two are much alike.”
Even Jane picked up on the curious glance and took care to deflect it. “Thor says that’s why he likes me. He’s had to keep up with Loki’s intellect all these years. It took someone like me to keep Thor occupied. He complains about me being smart and a pain in the ass. Or was that a smart-ass? No. The first is me, the second is you.”
Loki choked on his wine, while Grida translated. A slow smile turned into a broad smirk. “I did not expect to like the Asgardian Queen, but I find that like you very much, Lady Jane.”
“Good. Because I was predisposed to like anyone who managed to snare Loki long enough to marry him and bear his son.”
“He made an enticing offer,” Grida remarked.
“I’ll just bet he did.”
Loki tilted his head. “Before I find myself caught betwixt two ladies who would cause me harm, do you want to meet your nephew, Jane?”
“Grida?” He touched her wrist.
Loki and Grida led her to the nursery, leaving the Valkyries with the Elders, to where Isleifur slept in his bed. Jane looked at Grida for permission. “May I touch?”
“Will he not hurt you, Lady Jane?”
“Let’s find out. I can always keep my gloves on.”
Isleifur’s dark blue skin did burn hers when she brushed his cheek with a fingertip. Jane was ready for it and slipped her glove back on. Still, she caressed his face. “He’s beautiful. I can see both of you. This patterning here on his forehead is from you, Loki. And this,” she indicated the marks on the infant’s neck, “looks like yours, Lady Grida.”
Both parents looked ridiculously pleased. Jane ventured further, at Thor’s request. “Asgard would be honored to foster Isleifur when he comes of age.”
Grida shook her head, though Loki arched an eyebrow at Jane’s offer. “The All-father is determined to create a lasting peace, I think,” Loki’s tone wasn’t quite a sneer, but there were far too many shades of ire for Jane to take his words at face value.
She ignored his jibe and replied quietly, “That too. Thor wants to know his nephew. He is more than a little jealous that I’m here and he’s not. You know how he is about family.” Loki’s eyes flattened a little. Jane added, “In any case, we can provide lodgings for your son that will be suitable, and arrange for him to come home during the warmest summer weeks.”
“You’ve thought on this, then,” Grida commented. “I do not understand.”
Loki’s chin came up and his eyes warmed a little. He gave Jane the faintest quirk to his lips. Long used to his little hints, Jane figured out she had to be the one to negotiate this.
She nodded. “Isleifur and Val will be rulers in their own right one day. Thor would have them be family first. The Nine Realms are much more peaceful when one can trust the ruling parties. Asgard and Alfheim had treated each other thusly for all of their existence. Jotunheim and Asgard have a unique opportunity to do the same.”
As Isleifur woke, Grida took him into her long arms. “I will think on this Lady Jane. And should we agree, then we will expect Val Thorsdottir to foster here.”
Jane flashed Grida a smile. “I’m counting on it.” Loki’s astonished look made the whole trip worthwhile, in Jane’s estimation.
Later, after lunch was served and the Valkyries entertained by a quartet of drummers, Loki drew Jane into his own quarters, where Sven had warmed them to Jane’s liking.
She shed the furs and gloves gladly, accepting the proffered wine. “I thought London got cold. Though I think it is less damp here.”
“True. Now, while I am quite certain a Royal Visit from the Asgardian Queen raises the Jotun’s esteem in the view of the Nine Realms, for which I am appreciative, that is not why you are here.”
“Of course not,” Jane grinned. “I wanted to see your son. Thor’s still agog at the idea you are married with a child. He did not like missing both the wedding and the birth.”
“That is one of the sacrifices of the All-Father. Someone must sit the throne.”
“Yes, but that doesn’t mean Thor can’t resent it from time to time. He misses you,” she chided him. When Loki didn’t reply, Jane continued, “Thor is serious about Isleifur and Val training together, at least enough to have a good understanding of each other before they take their respective thrones.”
“I agree. I will bring Grida around on that one. I have every intention of taking Ice to Alfheim court when he comes of age. Laufey never did, and the Realm suffered under his ignorance.”
“The court will convene in a few months. Will you come to Asgard to hold the throne while Thor attends? He would not have Asgard unattended but he must go.”
Loki stared at her for a moment. “Thor would have me hold the seat of Asgard?”
“Somebody has to do it. Val is too young.”
“Why do you not hold it as regent? As M-Mother did?”
Jane looked at her hands. “Loki, I have no magic and a bare understanding of Asgardian politics. The last thing Asgard—or the Nine Realms—needs is a weak queen so soon after the transition. Thor dares not put me on the throne. Nor would I ask him to do so.”
Loki lifted his glass to his lips. “I will consider this. Now, what is the real reason you are here?”
She reached into the pocket of her cloak and withdrew a neatly bound sheath of papers. “This is from Thor regarding the question you asked. I will tell you what he has learned, and every detail either of us uncovered is on that missive.”
Jane and the Valkyries departed after the two day visit. Though the Asgardians did well enough, Jane was more than ready to return to Asgard’s sun.
Loki retreated to his quarters to think. He’d been surprised by Jane’s easy acceptance of Isleifur and Grida. Jane hadn’t flinched at the sight of him all in blue, nor had she hesitated to take his hand. In truth, she was enchanted by Isleifur and spent a fair amount of each day with him. She’d frost burned her lips because she’d forgotten and kissed his head while she cradled him in her lap.
The rest of the time, Loki escorted Jane and Sif about Jotunheim, introducing them to some of the wonders to be had. Sif’s wry humor reminded him of younger days on Asgard.
Loki turned back to the missive. Thor’s bold writing slashed across the page as he detailed all that he’d learned. The rest of the packet held supporting documentation from the library. Loki set that aside. It was Thor’s last three paragraphs that bothered him. He read them again.
I know not, brother, why Father chose not to give you all the truths. For certain, you should have been told—if not at a young age, then certainly when you discovered the veracities of your origins. But I cannot speak for Father, nor has he ever been forthcoming with his purposes, not even with Mother.
What is clear, Loki, is that Father broke every oath he’d sworn to the protection of the Nine Realms to retrieve you from sure death. Perhaps it was justified with the removal of the Casket of Ancient Winters, perhaps that was merely an excuse and Laufey’s hatred of Odin was warranted. This we will not know, for all of the players in this particular game are gone, along with their secrets. I wish I could tell you more, brother. Know this: you were given the utmost protection of the Nine Realms, to be named the son of the All-Father. None would dare gainsay Father’s deeds or his claim.
Jane says I must not tell you how to feel about these things, that you must draw your own conclusions. It is difficult for me to do so, but I will refrain. My heart is heavy and I wish not to burden you unduly.
Loki read the missive numerous times over the next several days. Discreet questioning on Jotunheim revealed little more than confirmation of what Thor had shared. Loki folded up the papers one last time. He sat at his desk, opening the drawer to the left and reaching all the way to the back. He pressed the plate there and removed the drawer, setting it on top of the desk. He reached in again, teasing the hidden drawer from its place. He pulled that one out too, setting the missive inside and closing all of it up again.
He lifted the bottle of wine Sven had left to breathe on the table. He poured. Only an errant splash betrayed the faint tremble in his hand.
Chapter 10: Temper
Val throws a temper tantrum.
Chapter 10: Temper
These days, Loki inhabited two worlds. Though he’d long ago mastered splitting his concentration well enough to manifest a physical presence elsewhere, having Val as a constant presence was honing those abilities to an entirely new level. The distance from Jotunheim to Asgard stretched his talents to their very limits.
He was finding it easier to create a solid form rather than merely the illusion of one, though it sapped his mental strength rather quickly, and manipulating objects with his specter was still mostly limited to a nudge or other small touch.
As Val grew, Loki evolved his form to match. In time she walked, and Loki delighted in creating mischief for Jane. Val was quick to catch on to his games, and she often nagged Loki into playing. Amusing Val was often a welcome diversion to the odd entertainments Loki still didn’t quite appreciate.
The first time Val was in a temper, Loki ignored her.
After the fifth, Loki began to wonder about his brother's parenting abilities. Val’s mood changed from irritation to frustration to anger with increasing frequency. Sometimes, he could send a pulse of comfort that would pacify her, but not always.
Loki tried again to block the anger, but Val snapped through his walls with little effort. At best, he could deflect them long enough to concentrate on whatever demanded his attention.
The next incident occurred when he had to abandon his play with Val to deal with a Jotun matter. She wailed for an hour and his usual mental caress did nothing to satisfy her. Coming up with the appropriate punishment for a cattle raid between clans wasn’t easy with waves of frustration flooding his head. But he managed. If residual irritation showed through to his subjects, it was for the best.
Loki happened to be alone in his quarters the next time Val flashed into infantile rage. Curious as to how Jane and Thor responded, he manifested a pale apparition in her room. No one would be aware of his presence, but he could listen and see for himself.
Jane sat against the closed door. Val was on the floor, kicking her heels. Frustration-anger-want came in waves across the bond to Loki. He winced. But Jane patiently waited. She said nothing, only watched.
And so Loki did too. He wove a small mental shield and Val threw herself against in a frenzy, batting at it until it came down. He built another one and she did it again.
The occasional toy was launched in Jane’s direction. She put it on a shelf out of Val’s reach. Val let out a shriek that made both adults wince.
At last, Val gave up on both of them and fell asleep in the middle of the floor, cuddling the furred stuffed bear Loki had sent from Jotunheim. He'd had it made after seeing a similar one Jane had brought from Midgard.
Thor opened the door, peering in as Jane lifted the sleeping child and placed her in bed. She kissed her daughter on the forehead, and Loki felt Val slip into a comforted, exhausted sleep. Jane’s shoulders drooped with weariness.
Thor's voiced rumbled. "I would speak with you, Jane."
Loki raised his proverbial eyebrows. That tone never boded well. He sent his specter after Jane, curious, for he'd yet to witness his brother and Jane at odds. They could have a rather sugary relationship at times.
Thor shook his head once they cleared the room. "Why do you let her cry so? She is upset and needs comforting."
Jane did raise her eyebrows. "Are you serious? This is a --no, you wouldn't be concerned if you weren't serious. Thor, I'm not abandoning her. I am not letting her hurt herself. I am simply standing firm so the she understands that she has to follow my rules."
"She is young."
"She is old enough to understand when she can’t have what she wants. And when she is older, she will be far too powerful for me to control. Either we teach her to mind me now or we will have an out of control child capable of hurting me later."
Thor drew back, tugging on his beard. "You've thought much of this."
Jane shrugged. "I am not of Asgard, Thor. In a handful of years, Val will be physically stronger than I am. In a few decades, she'll have magic. I have one weapon in my arsenal--to teach her to respect me regardless of her personal feelings."
"So this is a power move."
"In part. But I also need her to understand that when I say 'No' I mean it. It might be over a toy today, but real danger tomorrow. Do you expect any less in the practice ring?"
Loki mentally laughed. Jane had his brother there. Loki was fascinated by the exchange.
Thor nodded, "I had not compared parenting to training."
Jane nodded. "Thor, you’re going to have to rethink some of the ways you grew up. You have a brother and you are competitive by nature. Odin set up Loki to constantly challenge you so that you fought for everything you had. It worked. By your own admission, it worked to a fault and you became arrogant in your superiority.” She added, “It also was extraordinarily detrimental to Loki.”
“In what manner?” Thor crossed his arms, not wanting to hear Jane. Loki did, though.
“Loki was left thinking he wasn't good enough. But it was always on your terms, your challenges. I'll bet that whenever Frigga tried to set up challenges where Loki would win--a game of logic or chess, or even close in knife fighting, you didn't always win. And I'll bet that you refused to play them after a while--with Odin’s full support. He might even have dismissed those kinds of games. But Loki rarely backed down from your challenges. While you ridiculed him for his."
Thor closed his eyes, pained by her insight. "I had not thought of these things.”
Jane kept quiet. Something cracked in Loki, an acknowledgement of all those things he’d experienced time and again.
“My father was wrong to do so.”
She sighed. “I don’t know, Thor. You are an incredibly decent person. So it worked for you. You had enormous power and you had to harness it. Maybe there wasn’t another way to channel all that energy. But what if you didn’t have Loki? He reined you in just as much as Odin or Frigga did. You wouldn’t be you if not for Loki.”
Thor asked, “Why do you care so much for my brother?”
“For one, because I’m not interested in spending the rest of our lives at odds with him. For two, when Loki and I spent those six months working together, I had a lot of time to see Loki somewhere other than in your shadow, Thor. I liked what I saw. Of course, Loki could have been pandering to me for the hell of it, but I don't think so."
"A shadow. Those were Loki's words to me ... and my mother's”
"It's accurate. In any case, we know Val won’t have siblings.”
Loki raised his eyebrows at that. Thor had always expressed a preference for several offspring.
Jane continued, “If she’s anything like the pair of you, she’s going to have more power that I can comprehend. We will challenge her, Thor. But you can’t be the only one who keeps her in check. I have nothing more than love and respect as my weapons. Those things are not innate. They are taught and earned.”
Thor reached out, gathering Jane to him and resting his chin on her head. “You see these things that I do not.”
“Midgardians live shorter lives, Thor. It’s easier to see where parenting goes wrong. I’m not an expert, but I’ve worked with dozens of college kids. You get to know what makes them tick. I love Val with every fiber of my being, but I’m not interested in having a spoiled brat running around for the next millennium.”
Thor murmured something in Jane’s ear. She blushed and her hands wandered down to his arse.
Though it wouldn’t be the first time he’d spied on his brother’s lovemaking, he decided he was past that. Rather, Jane Foster had given him much to consider. Loki concentrated and brought his consciousness whole again.
The next time Val tried her temper against Loki, he held firm, refusing to engage her. At last, she gave up and tried a whole new way to get what she wanted.
Charm was a great deal harder to resist, though far, far more amusing.
Chapter 11: Minds
Loki and Isleifur go to Asgard. Loki has a little unfinished business with a new resident of Asgard. Val insists.
Chapter 11: Minds
After a decade on Asgard, Jane understood why Thor thought little of their two year separation. Though she lived each day, counted the hours, ate, drank and slept as any other mortal, in truth, time seemed to move differently on Asgard.
If Jane could have bottled one of those perfect summer days on Earth—the one where temperature and wind collaborated to entice even the most hard core of scientist outside to revel in the sunlight—if she could have captured beauty and science as they danced together—if she could have grasped the astonishment of being loved every day—she might approximate the wonder of living on Asgard.
She tried to remember to go home twice a year. Truly though, Jane only missed Erik these days. Darcy had long ago integrated herself with the Avengers in whatever form they were now. Erik had returned to London a while back and taken an illustrious post at Oxford. They exchanged packages now and then, but Darcy was more than happy with her circumstances, as was Jane.
Erik had been crushed when Jane’s research fell out of favor. But he too had reached Jane’s conclusion, that Earth simply did not have the resources to fully power an Einstein-Rosen bridge. A long discussion three or four years ago resulted in Erik putting aside Jane’s discoveries so that he could return to his own research.
Since then Jane had noticed Erik wasn’t quite himself. Of course, he had always been a little off since Loki messed with his head, but he grew increasingly frail. On her last visit, she had, at last, convinced him to move to Asgard. He was eighty, with no family other than Jane.
Jane danced impatiently in the observatory. Val twirled in little circles, head tilted back to the ceiling as she tried to follow the patterns above.
Heimdall opened the Rainbow Bridge and four people stepped off. Erik, escorted by Fandral, Annie—from their days in Colorado, and the current Ambassador to Earth.
Jane wanted a nurse and cook interested in a different view. With the closing of the Colorado lab and John’s passing, Annie needed something to do and was more than happy to take Jane up on her offer.
His face lit up. “You sure about this, Jane?”
“You know, it’s considered the thing to do to retire to another country where the air is soft, the pace is slower and the food is divine.” She shrugged. “You can’t beat this.”
Val stopped spinning and staggered her way to Erik. “Hello, Grandpa.”
“Hello, sweetheart,” he lifted her up for a hug and a kiss before she squirmed away, leading him to a horse.
“Come on, Grandpa. Lot and lots to show you today.”
Erik went along willingly. “Good to know she’s just like her mother.”
Jane laughed then welcomed Annie and the ambassador to Asgard.
She lasted three weeks before moving part of her workshop to the Embassy where Erik had his apartment. It was easier for her to zip back and forth than to make him climb the spiral staircase in her quarters.
Jane didn’t need long to see that Erik was only partially living in this reality. He frowned at Val, wondering when her hair turned blonde, got lost as he tried to navigate his new home, and grew flustered when he found himself somewhere other than London.
Jane begged Eir to look at his head.
The mindhealer did. With Val chasing pretend monsters with a small wooden sword around the living area of Thor and Jane’s quarters, Eir settled Erik onto the sofa. Jane sat to his side, keeping one eye on Val.
Cautiously, Eir laid hands on either side of Erik’s head. “Oh. That’s interesting.” Now in the average being, that is a sign that something is terribly wrong. But for a scientist, Jane’s curiosity was peaked. So was Erik’s.
“Your mind is fine, Dr. Selvig.”
“Then why-“ Jane started.
But Erik reached out, patting Jane on the wrist. “Jane, one doesn’t have a god play in his head and not having some long term side effects.”
Jane swore in frustration. “So this is residual from Loki’s magic?”
“Perhaps, though this appears resonate with one of the infinity stones, in particular, that of the mind.”
“From the Chitauri scepter,” Erik said. “I’d wondered about that.”
Val scampered over, reached out and put her hands over Eir’s. “Loki fix.”
Jane peered at Val. “How?”
The tiny girl shrugged. “He broke it, he fix it.”
“I don’t know that Loki can do that, Val.”
She stamped her little foot. “Loki fix.”
Val’s persistent determination led Jane to send a request to Loki. God knows, she’d seen weirder things on Asgard. Trusting a ten year old toddler was only the beginning. Thor had merely shrugged and agreed with Jane, though he expressed his doubts that Loki would come.
He arrived on Asgard a couple of months later, with Isleifur in tow.
“Lord Loki, Lord Isleifur. Welcome to Asgard.”
Isleifur’s eyes bugged out at Heimdall while Loki turned from deep blue to alabaster in the warmth of Asgard. Val wiggled out of Thor’s arms and dove for Loki.
Jane started at Loki’s rare laughter. Val skidded to a stop at the arch of Loki’s brow and gave him a proper bow for his rank and hers. Then Loki lifted her up, holding her in a tight hug before setting her down again to introduce her to her cousin.
“Princess Val Thorsdottir, meet Isleifur of Jotunheim.” Val stared up at her blue-skinned cousin. He was Jane’s height though still a very young boy. He blinked, his eyes watering in the Asgardian sun.
Isleifur tilted his head. “You can call me Ice, if it’s easier.” He was rather condescending, as if a tiny Asgardian wasn’t capable of speaking his name. Jane snickered under her breath. Val could be shy sometimes, letting her nerves get the best of her—but rarely for long.
Val stiffened, reaching up with a blue-gloved hand to press her fingers to his cheek. “Isleifur,” she said carefully. “I like ‘Ice’ better. Come on. I’ll show you Asgard and then Loki can fix Grandpa.” As she had with Erik that first day, Val took Ice’s hand and tugged him into the sunlight. He winced at the brightness. Val dug around in her pocket and came up with a pair of sunglasses Erik had brought from Earth. “Here.” Val mimed putting them on.
Ice copied her movement then nodded. “Yes. I can see now. Where are we going?”
“Everywhere,” she insisted, pulling again on his hand. The odd pairing walked hand in hand down the Bifrost, Siglyn and Sif in tow. A skiff a few meters down waited to take them to the city.
Heimdall mused, “For all that I see, there are still wondrous moments to behold. Frigga and Odin would be proud of their sons.”
Thor couldn’t wait another moment. He yanked Loki into his arms, his biceps flexing as a statement of how tightly he held on. “I have missed you, brother.” Loki’s hands came around him, clutching for a single moment and Jane was certain she saw him tear up before he regained his composure.
Loki pulled away, swallowing hard to resume the habitual mask he wore. He turned to Jane, lifting her hand for a kiss. “Lady Jane.”
“Lord Loki.” She eyed him. “Don’t think for one minute you are getting out of a firmly worded discussion about you, Val and small furry creatures in the house.”
A real smile crossed his face. “Of course not.” Widening his green eyes with pure innocence, he added, “We did clean up.”
The word she said under her breath as she stomped away to the skiff made Thor snort with laughter.
“I guess she’s still mad about that,” Loki said.
Thor crossed his arms. “Brother, you have no idea. She had the Valkyries lined up to march down the Rainbow Bridge.”
“Perhaps I owe you a bottle of wine?”
“Oh, no. I do not think even your precious fish will appease her now.” Thor slung an arm around Loki’s shoulders as they followed Jane Do you remember asking me to appoint a new trade ambassador to Jotunheim? One who wasn’t afraid of you, had enough wit to calculate a fair trade and could speak intelligently for Asgard?”
Loki stopped in his tracks. “You didn’t.”
With great sincerity that fooled no one, Thor added, “It was the only thing I could do.”
Jane covered her mouth to keep from laughing.
In the months since Erik’s arrival, his mind and body had deteriorated rapidly. He slept a great deal now, and Annie gave her hollow looks. Jane spent as much time as she could with Erik, hating every second he spent lost in his own mind.
She had obtained Erik’s permission during one of his lucid moments. He had been fascinated with Val’s insistence that Loki could repair the damage that had been done. Still, Jane had hoped he would be sleeping and wouldn’t have to face the god who still frightened him in his dreams.
Val dragged Loki into the embassy before the great feast that evening. Isleifur and Jane followed, as did Thor and Eir.
Erik was napping in his new favorite chair, where the sun streamed through the window to lay on his lap. His pale face was shadowed and lined with age.
“Loki, fix,” demanded Val.
Loki eyed Erik cautiously. “I don’t know if I can do this. The scepter did all the work. I merely focused the magic into it.”
“Did you know you were using an infinity stone?” Thor asked softly, so as not to wake their friend.
“I’d wondered, but I did not think Thanos would let one of those out of his grasp, so no—I did not.”
Val reached for Loki’s hands and laid them on either side of Erik’s head. “Fix. I show you.” The little girl closed her eyes and concentrated.
Loki did too, though the pain in his face was a direct contrast to the fearlessness in hers. “All right, Val. I see it. You can let go.”
Val lifted her hands from Erik’s head, leaving Loki to do his work. She crawled into Thor’s arms, craning her head around to see.
With agony written across his face, Loki sent a shimmer of green down his hands. He bit his lip so hard, a trail of blood began to seep from his mouth. Then he yanked them back and stormed out of the embassy, fury in every line of his being. Thor followed.
Val wiggled down again to put her hands on Erik’s head.
“What happened?” Jane asked her daughter.
“Loki fixed. Can’t fix without making it all better.”
“Without making what better?”
Val shrugged. “Gotta fix what you break, and be really sorry for it, or it won’t be fixed. Not for real.”
“And Loki did that?”
“Can’t feel Loki in Grandpa’s head anymore. Loki’s not supposed to be there.”
“So you’re saying you could sense Loki’s magic in Erik’s head.”
Val nodded, making her curls bounce. “Is’not supposed to be there.”
“How is this different than Loki being your head,” Jane asked.
“He stays on his side.”
“Do you stay on your side?”
Val looked down at her toes. “Mostly. ‘Cept when I want to play. Or I get really scared.”
“What does Loki do then?”
She humphed under her breath. “Same thing you do. Makes me stay on my side and play with him when he visits. But if I’m scared, he … hugs me. In my head.”
“Val, sometimes I really don’t understand,” Jane told her. “But if it ever bothers you, tell me, okay?”
“Kay.” The little girl shrugged. “Just the way it is.”
Loki stormed away from the embassy, across a pair of stone bridges, to a place where he could oversee the training grounds. From here, he could see his son cautiously crossing wooden swords with Volstagg. They were of the same height nearly, but from Isleifur’s awkward movements, it was clear to all that he was very, very young. Volstagg worked with him with the same patience he’d shown Loki at the same age.
Heavy footsteps warned him of Thor’s approach. At the edge of his vision, he could see Thor studying the scene below.
“He’s dying,” Loki spat out.
“Why did you bring me here? Is this supposed to be a lesson for me?”
“Do not seek to put blame on me, Loki. Jane sent you the request. You answered and came of your own accord.”
“Val wouldn’t leave me alone about it.”
Thor gave him a look of disgust. “If a small child has to tell you to clean up after you’ve made a mess, then I have little sympathy for you.”
Loki sneered, “Do you know what it is to have a conscience who talks to you? If I get too angry, I’ll frighten her. If I encourage her too much, she'll take up residence. If I feel guilty, she’s tapping her damned foot waiting for me to fix it.”
“Because if she’s behaving and I’m in a good place, she knows I’ll play with her.”
“Sounds rather normal for a small child. Why are you angry with her?” Loki closed his eyes and tried to walk away, but Thor caught him by the elbow. “Loki,” he warned. “This is my daughter.”
He could hear the edge in Thor’s reminder. Flatly, he answered, “Erik loves Jane.”
“Yes. A great deal.”
“I owed her.”
“Perhaps. Perhaps you owed Erik. But you would not have done it for him.”
Loki considered. “No. I wouldn’t.”
“He is a mortal.”
“Is Jane not a mortal?”
“Jane is … Jane.”
Thor clapped his hand on Loki’s shoulder. “That, my brother, is the lesson I learned when Father banished me to Midgard.” Without waiting for Loki to reply, the young King of Asgard glanced upward at the sun arcing overhead. “We will have a feast this evening. Anundar has made over your guest room for Isleifur and had cooled it to his comfort. You will stay?”
Loki nodded once, uneasy with his brother’s insight. “We will stay.”
Ice bounced on the bed. “It feels like a marshmallow,” the little boy sounded out his new word.
“When have you had a marshmallow, son?”
“Val took me around the palace. We were in the kitchens and one of the people gave us one. She was nice. I forgot her name.”
“Did she have black hair, was round like Volstagg and wore a lot of red?”
“Beatrig has been sneaking sweets to children since Thor and I were smaller than you.”
“I’m almost as tall as you, Father.”
“Yes. And you’ll be taller still when you get older.”
“Wow.” Ice peered at Loki. “Sometimes you look taller.”
Loki concentrated, turning blue. He rippled through various iterations of height while Ice laughed.
“How do you do that?” he asked.
“Magic. It’s not frost magic though, son. It’s from my mother, your grandmother.”
“Will I have it?”
“I don’t think so, little one, but you’ll have plenty of frost magics to call your own.”
Ice tilted his head. “Why are you so pale here? You look funny.”
Loki drew in a breath for patience. Isleifur rarely ran out of questions. He and Grida merely traded off who had to answer the constant barrage. “I was born pale, Isleifur. I only turn blue when I am on Jotunheim or when I think about it.”
“Is this your home?”
“These are my old chambers, yes.”
“Are they still yours?”
“Will you always have them or will the All-Father give them away?”
Loki stared at his son. “Thor will always keep these chambers for our use.”
“Good. ‘Cause I think I want to come back someday.”
“I think I can arrange that.”
Chapter 12: Princess
One hundred years have passed. Thor rules Asgard, Jane does science, Loki rules Jotunheim, and Val still doesn't have her magic.
Chapter 12: Princess
Thor gathered his patience as he and Val rode across Asgard to the eastern hills with a blended company of Einherjar and Valkyries. A line of homes, two stories each, faced those same hills. Oddly enough, they reminded him of Jane’s flat in London.
He missed that precious time on Midgard with Jane. He missed traversing the Nine Realms on a whim or a hunting mission, or even for duty. The varying manners of all people fascinated him. His only current respite from Asgard came when he attended the High King’s court on Alfheim every fifth year.
Even though Val still had not come into her magic, Thor had decided it was time to take Jane to court this past year. Loki, with Val, ruled Asgard in his absence. The Nine Realms had goggled and gossiped at Asgard’s tiny Midgardian queen. Asgard had survived, Jane had been fascinated, and Thor—well, it had felt ridiculously good to be off the island at the center of Yggdrasil’s branches.
They had stayed for two seasons and by the end of it, Jane held the court in the palm of her hand. She’d introduced to the people a variation on the Bifrost that allowed for data bursts to travel between realms—even to those outside the Nine. Tony Stark’s arc reactor had had farther reaching implications that even he’d been able to envision in those first years.
It was this kind of innovation that had propelled Asgard to the zenith of power in the universe so long ago. Thor clenched his hand in pride for his wife and for his people. Jane’s cleverness had pushed Asgard’s influence further—even as she’d advanced Midgard’s standing from non-existent to an interesting trading partner.
To the dismay of more than one government, Asgard’s queen continued to hold the keys to that technology. It was her magic to wield and Jane was rather possessive. Tentative negotiations had begun with most of the Nine Realms and several beyond them.
As a side benefit, Jane had successfully distracted the other Realms from the truth that Val had yet to come into her magic.
Whereas most Asgardians came into their magic in their eighth or ninth decade, Val had reached a full century with no sign of the magics Eir had promised so long ago. Thor heard rumors of discontent again, musings that perhaps the Council had been right all those years ago.
Jane ignored the gossip, none dared utter a word in Thor’s presence, but Val—Val was old enough to understand. She had a tight-knit group of friends--Sif’s and Fandral’s twins and another boy near her age. All had come into their magic, leaving Val envious of them.
For himself, he had little concern, trusting in Eir’s judgment. Val would have her magics when the time was right. But she was growing impatient as her temper came to the fore more often now.
Val let none of that show as she expertly reined her mount. She wore a miniature version of the armor Sif favored. She sported a red and gold cloak with a pattern woven into the edges. Val was still working on her personal sigil. This one included Yggdrasil and she’d had the image woven in a stylized row of branches along the edges of her cloak. Thor detected Loki’s hand in the design and suspected this version might be the one as Val was already trying to work it into other garments. She was a bit young to wear a helmet, opting for a circlet of gold worn across her brow. But she’d been eyeing his helmet and he expected she would abscond with it as soon as she figured out how to make it fit.
She followed his lead to the houses, reining in a few steps short of their destination. They dismounted in unison, though Val had to leap down from her stirrup. He covered a grin. She was so damned small, only waist high to him. But she held herself with perfect confidence and waited to follow him inside. Though she was young, Thor took her everywhere he could to teach her the ways of ruling.
Today was a lesson in the one of the most serious duties he had as king. This was one every captain and lieutenant, in truth, every citizen, was cognizant of this concern. When a warrior became soul-sick and failed to treat his illness, it fell to the warrior’s leaders to help.
Word had come early this morning that Lieutenant Tyndall had become violent with his shield-mate, Cors. Tyndall’s captain had come at the behest of their sons. The captain had sent Cors to the healers and arranged for one of the sons to manage his parents' affairs, but he’d been unable to convince Tyndall to see the healers himself.
Thus the duty fell to Thor. In exchange for swearing allegiance to their king, the king took care of his citizens. Sometimes by force.
Tyndall cradled his head where he sat at the kitchen’s table, a tankard of mead at his side. Thor laid a hand on Val’s shoulder, indicating she should observe from a safe distance. She took a post to the right of the doorway. Her hand twitched, dropping a knife from her sleeve sheath to the palm of her hand. She kept her hands loose and her stance easy. He would compliment her later.
A pair of Valkyries stayed just outside the door.
Thor took a seat to Tyndall’s side. He reached for the tankard and sniffed it. Then sipped. “Not a bad beer. Does it help?”
“Hmm. Is it worth driving your family away?”
Tyndall sagged. “I keep trying, my liege.”
“And this trying is good, Lieutenant. But the lessons which keep us alive on the battlefield are not the ones which allow us the greatest happiness at home. You are not alone, Tyndall. The scars from the battle of Jotunheim are long indeed. You are a warrior of Asgard. Healing can be granted, if you wish it.”
Tyndall stared at his hands. “And if I don’t?”
“I am sworn to protect my people. Your family is safe now. I would grant you the same solace. But you must be willing. I desire this. Your shieldmate and sons do as well.”
The warrior reached for his beer, holding it in his hands and staring into the tankard as if answers might appear. Thor was patient. He waited for a full hour before Tyndall nodded at last. Thor flicked a glance at Val, for she’d endured as well. She gave Tyndall a real smile as he rose to gather a pack at Thor’s behest. Thor followed him out, guarding his back.
Tyndall stopped to kneel to the small princess. Laying a fist on his armor, he bowed. “Your father is a good man. And he should be proud of his daughter.”
Thor agreed. “I am. For this is why we do battle, is it not? So that all people may come home to their families?”
“It is, my liege.” Tyndall rose and went to repeat the gesture.
But Thor reached for the man’s forearm and clasped it firmly. “Then we shall see you healed so that you may return to yours.”
Thor left Tyndall at the healers for an extended stay and escorted Val home. Here, in the long corridor leading to their chambers, she reached for his hand.
He scooped her up into a hug. “I am proud of you today. Tyndall wanted to refuse me, but your presence reminded him of our duties to our family. You’ve done well, daughter.”
She lit up at his praise, but bit her lip too. He brushed a curl out of her face. “Are you distressed?”
Val shrugged and wiggled so that he set her down again, peering up at him. “Can I ask you something before we get home?”
“I was studying Midgard yesterday, with my tutor. We were going over some of the basics again.”
Thor found a bench and took a seat. Val tucked her feet up, wrapping her arms around her knees. “Midgardians only have a life span of 60 to 100 years,” she blurted.
“But Mom is way over a hundred years.”
Thor agreed. “138, I think.”
“Is she going to die?”
“Someday. We all do, Val.”
“But she’s already older than a Midgardian could possibly be.”
He nodded. “As far as we know, no other Midgardian has lived on Asgard either.”
“So … how?”
Thor scooted over to Val so that she could rest against his chest. She was scared, that was clear. “Val, do you remember what happened before you were born? I know we’ve told you.”
“You are correct. Jane should not be alive today. But she carries a good amount of Asgardian biology now and no one knows what that means for her lifespan.”
“Look at her, Val. I assure you, Jane looks no older now than when she stepped foot on Asgard the day we wed. However long she lives, I doubt her life will end anytime soon. So … magic?” he speculated. “That’s the best answer I have for you.”
It was not enough, of course. Val was far too much like her mother to be satisfied with that explanation. Mioll informed Thor several weeks later that Val was spending her spare time in the archives. He made sure certain documents would be made available to her if she asked for them.
Days later, Jane and Thor walked the Rainbow Bridge hand in hand. They passed Heimdall as he returned to his quarters to rest, leaving them to their privacy. He’d left the window to the Realms open, knowing Thor would close it on his way out.
For now, Thor crossed his arms over Jane’s shoulders and rested his head against hers. The stars called to her, and she relaxed as she leaned into Thor’s warmth. Notch by notch, the tension left Thor.
“Thank you, svassaii.”
Jane reached up and patted one of the arms crossing her collarbone. “It’s what we do.”
“Yes,” he rumbled.
They stayed like that until they were breathing in sync and Thor began toying with the ends of her hair.
Jane sighed. “Thor? I have to ask. Val upset with us?”
“Me, I think. She’s been asking questions about why you’ve lived so long. She wasn’t particularly happy with my answer. When one has a scientist for a mother, I’m certain she had never heard us give anything other than a detailed and entirely logical answer to any questions she has ever had. ‘Magic’ isn’t what she wanted to hear.”
Jane bit her lip. This was one area she had always danced around with Thor. In truth, she really didn’t want to know how much he was involved with her life expectancy. But perhaps it was time to know. “What should I tell her, Thor, if she asks?”
He turned her around in his arms, giving her that lazy grin that never failed to make her senses dance. “Our love has survived by magic and faith. I think that is enough. It has worked so far, has it not?” He brushed his lips against hers.
Jane hummed under her breath, fully aware that Thor was dodging the answer. But if he knew, and she knew, then perhaps it was okay.
Being a crown princess had its advantages when it came to the library. Val had unrestricted access to the material stored there. It took her nearly a year of picking through data on her free days where her parents didn’t have her occupied with Asgardian duties to find answers in the archives. The old mindhealer, Eir, had posted some. Magdahilda had others.
After reading, and rereading, she thought she understood. Eir had written that she’d witnessed Thor sharing his life force twice with Jane Foster. Without Odinsleep. Once was shortly before Val’s birth, the other was during her birth.
Val nibbled on a thumbnail. She couldn’t remember her mother ever needing Odinsleep. Of course, her mother didn’t have magic either.
Magdahilda had kept careful records of Val’s growth. As she was of Asgardian and Midgardian heritage, no one knew how the Midgardian blood would affect her maturation or lifespan. Jane’s pregnancy had been less than half that of an Asgardian, yet Val herself seemed to be on par with other Asgardians. It seemed the Asgardian genes were more than dominant. Still, Val had yet to manifest magic.
Magdahilda herself had assured Val that she would develop magic at some point. They simply did not know when. . Which wasn’t really unusual—yet. Almost three-quarters of those her age had come into their magic so far.
Val went back to her reading. In one of Magdahilda’s journals, the healer had noted a pattern in Jane’s health. Early in Thor’s reign, Jane would show signs of exhaustion or occasionally an illness--unheard of on Asgard. But without any intervention on the healer’s part, she would recover, usually after a longer stay with Thor at their water house.
Magdahilda speculated that Thor had found a way to rejuvenate Jane’s small life force via the Asgardian cells she had. She’d gone on to note that neither Eir nor her successor, Adis, had been able to detect any detrimental effects in Thor’s health. After a period of time, the Queen no longer showed any signs of a flagging life-force. Again, Magdahilda speculated that Thor had found the appropriate period of time for rejuvenation for Jane.
Magdahilda also noted that Thor might not be conscious of what he was doing, as had been the case with Val’s conception. (That little item resulted in another month of research and reading in her free time. Sheesh. Politics.) Val was surprised to learn that Jane had implied something along those lines when she first came to Asgard.
There was a note that if Thor was doing such a thing unconsciously then the ready knowledge of it might disrupt the mechanism by which it worked. So Magdahilda and Adis only kept watch on the All-Father’s general health.
Val considered all this, and wondered if her mother knew the truth of what her father was doing.
She had no idea how to ask.
Chapter 13: Manifestation
If only she had her magic to make the final connection.
Chapter 13: Manifestation
Val lifted the sword again at Lord Fandral’s command. “Again.” His blade flicked out and she blocked the movement with the base of her own weapon. He countered with a twist of his wrist, dropping his blade down and around to bind up her sword. She sighed, stepped back and acknowledged the error. And raised her sword again.
This time she blocked the movement, slid under his blade, rolled to her feet and touched him on the lower back with the short dagger she held in her other hand.
Lord Fandral grinned and saluted her with his sword. “Very good. That sort of thing will keep you alive.”
She returned his grin. Val had only recently improved enough that her father had assigned her a private tutor in the arts of war. She’d been schooled with the other children of Asgard in basic sword play and self-defense. Loki had been teaching her knife fighting since she was old enough to hold a wooden version. Those skills had not won her any acclaim when it came to sparring with a sword or staff, nor with the bow and arrow. But now that she’d moved on to tutors, the older warriors tended to make the most of her skill while improving her abilities with the other weapons.
No one had been more surprised than she when her favorite weapon turned out not to be the dagger, but the bow. Father speculated she had her mom’s head for physics coupled with his talents for war. Whatever. But fighting usually called for the sword, so that’s what she practiced the most.
If only she had her magic to make the final connection.
Val looked on with envy at her friends whose magics had already manifested. The twins, Arte and Finna, practiced their blue magics with an Einherjar lieutenant. Rinker with his red magics was off studying far more detailed anatomical structures that Val would need to know.
She missed having all of them in classes together. Val was the mathematician, Rinker the healer, Finna had a head for science and Arte hadn’t found a language yet he couldn’t master. As a team, they had plowed through their classes at the Academy. What most Asgardians accomplished in a more than a century, the Four had done in a dozen years less than that.
Arte had been the first to stumble on Val’s secret weapon one afternoon when she was studying for an exam on the history of Vanaheim. Loki had been sprawled out on the rug, tossing a cup into the air as he spouted off questions to Val. Arte had begged to join in. Within a couple of weeks, Finna and Rinker became a part of the exclusive study group.
She hadn’t thought much of it, for Loki was her best friend. When Val had started at the Academy, her mom had cautioned her about sharing too much information about Loki. Val quickly discovered that no else had even heard of a mental connection like theirs.
Val still giggled when she remembered her dad’s expression the first time he saw the five of them sprawled out on the living room floor in front of the fireplace. Although she knew Loki was her dad’s younger brother, he’d been her constant companion and, as always, he chose to appear the same age as Val.
Having Loki as an informal fifth member of their team had given them an unprecedented edge. More than once, when the Four struggled in a subject, Loki appeared during their evening study sessions to prod them in the right direction. Val had learned ages ago that Loki never gave her (or anyone else) direct answers to anything. But he often had a turn of phrase that would open up her mind to a solution.
Loki always strolled into wherever the Four were studying or hanging out, as if he’d chanced upon them or at Val’s invitation. It had taken years for the Four to figure out that Loki didn’t live on Asgard and that was only when Ice had enlightened them during one of his stays. Eventually, her closest friends developed a pretty good idea of just how she and Loki were linked.
At the moment, Loki reclined on one of the benches surrounding the practice ring. Since no one else acknowledged him, Val assumed he hadn’t fully manifested. He’d been doing that a lot lately. His long dark hair flopped over his forehead and his long legs were crossed as he leaned on an elbow.
Fandral swatted her on the back of a calf, bringing her attention back to the training. Loki smirked. She turned her back and raised her sword again.
Jane pulled at a lock of hair as she studied the trade requests from around the Nine Realms. Somehow, her duties as ambassador had evolved—under the aegis of “queen” duties--to that of trade speaker for Asgard. Fell did most of the actual talking and traveling, but Jane calculated out what Asgard had to spare and what prices could be commanded. Economics hadn’t been her forte in college, but math was math and Jane enjoyed that aspect of it anyway.
These days, Asgard had more cash influx than it had seen in generations. Jane’s micro-Rainbow Bridge, powered by Stark Industries technology was now available to any realm—even those beyond the Nine Realms—who could afford the price Jane and Tony had set, along with the care and feeding of two specialists: a magically-inclined Asgardian with the ability to direct the flow of magic to the appropriate realm and a Stark Industries engineering specialist from Midgard.
The Data Bridge was limited to short bursts, but that alone had advanced economic trade within Yggdrasil’s branches and Asgard’s influence farther than ever. Several new realms once outside Asgard’s reach were begging for protection. Though Asgard could not travel via Bifrost to them, Thor was considering the merits of a highly mobile fleet far beyond what he kept stationed on Alfheim. Communications would have made a great difference in the battle for Jotunheim.
Tony and Pepper’s youngest granddaughter was running Stark Industries now. She took full advantage of her connections to drop into Asgard every few years to see what sort of technology she could skim and convert to her own purposes.
She heard the front door slam. A glance at her watch told her it had to be Val. Jane set her tablet aside and rose from her desk. She rubbed her arms where they itched and her head where it ached.
Val was the source of all of her current frustration. Every last adolescent child Val’s age, and even those a full decade younger, had manifested magic. All of Asgard had a nervous eye on Thor’s daughter and the stress of it was keeping the royal family in knots.
The girl stormed into their quarters, slinging a pack of books across the stone floors so that it made a solid thunk against the fireplace. Jane descended the stairs to where Val was sulking on the couch.
She joined her daughter there, but Val shot her a dirty look and scooted a foot away.
“Val, don’t do this. You will get your magic,” Jane said, with a little too much exasperation.
“I won’t. It’s never going to happen.”
“Stop, Mother.” Val got up, stomped across to the terrace. “Stupid Midgardian blood. If I had two Asgardian parents, I’d already HAVE my magic.”
“But you don’t. Eir herself showed me that you will have magic.” Jane grasped for every last smidgen of patience she had. They’d had this conversation a hundred times already.
“I’m tired of waiting. I’m tired of everybody watching me every single second, waiting for me to DO something. Even Father tiptoes around me now.”
“That’s because he never knows if you’re going to snap at him,” Jane retorted. “For that matter, I know Loki’s annoyed too. He said as much the last time he was here.”
“But you, the perfect one, never lose your temper at anything.”
“You’re my daughter, Val. I’m supposed to be the adult.”
But Val sneered, “Everything is about you. Asgardians are strong, magical and protect the universe. What do you do? You don’t have magic, you can’t hold the throne, at this rate, I won’t even hold the throne. Ever.”
“Not with that attitude,” Jane muttered under her breath as Val stomped off to the terrace.
Jane got up, following her. “Look. I know you are frustrated. I wish I could change this for you. But we have to find a way to deal with this until you do get your magic.”
“Deal? There is no dealing with this, Mother. It’s horrible. Everyone treats me like I have some kind of Midgardian plague.”
“I don’t want to talk about it anymore.”
“Val—“ she tried again as her daughter walked away.
Val spun around, throwing out her arms in frustration. “NO!” she screamed. Blue lighting lanced out of her fingertips—toward her mother.
A boom shook the palace. Thor motioned the advisors to quiet. Seconds later, a pair of Valkyries dashed into the hall. “My liege, your chambers.”
Thor found Val shocked and trembling on the edge of the terrace. The other half of it was a pile of rubble from where the roof had collapsed.
“Magic?” he asked, with a soft smile.
She burst into tears. “Mom.” She grabbed the nearest rock and pulled it off the pile. “Mom!”
Thor dove into the pile, shoving debris here and there until he found Jane.
She was huddled in a ball, with her hands over her head. Though she was surrounded by rubble, not a single fleck of dust marked her dark blue dress. She looked up at Thor then brought her hands down to stare.
She held out a hand.
A soft white light shimmered in her palm.
Chapter 14: Epilogue
Val has magic. So does her mother.
Chapter 14: Epilogue
Loki felt the power flow through Val and breathed a sigh of relief. She’d been terribly close for months now, with her magic just out of reach. The sparkling edges of it were certainly equal parts of blue and green magics. She would be a formidable wielder.
But the power surge was followed by a lance of fear. She reached hard for Loki, grasping for his mental touch.
He breathed in, then out. And he was there. Val was unmoving on one end of the terrace. A glance at the rubble and Thor gently helping Jane pick through the debris told him the story.
“Well, it’s better than your version of manifesting magic, Thor,” he retorted. He appeared in his natural form this time, for Val needed an adult, not a friend.
Val looked up at him curiously. “What happened?”
“Oh, nothing much. You do realize the Palace library is only seventy years or so younger than your father. I believe it involved a particular course of instruction my brother was not inclined to complete.”
Thor wrapped his arms around Jane, more protective than usual. “I’m still not fond of writing treatises on the use of the flower language in courting rituals on Nilfheim.” He stroked Jane’s cheek. “Are you well?” he asked her.
“For now.” She stepped through the mess to pull Val into her embrace. Val promptly burst into tears, and Loki was glad, for one, not to be responsible for cleaning up that emotional outburst.
“What happened to Jane?” Loki wondered.
“Val was angry with her. The burst of energy brought down the ceiling.”
Loki crossed his arms. “Show me.”
Thor turned up his hand and waved to the perfectly round space where Jane had crouched. With dawning understanding, Loki asked, “Jane, too?
“Jane, too.” Thor was ridiculously smug.
“Then Val will come to me on Jotunheim.”
“What?” Jane snapped.
But Thor considered—for once. He nodded in agreement. “She will foster with you. We cannot have two uncontrolled practitioners in the same space. Do you know the colors of her magic?”
“She’ll have the green and the blue in a full measure of each. I can teach her now and lay the groundwork for you later. She’s been sensitive for weeks and I’ve shielded her as I could. Perhaps that is why you had not noticed.”
Thor settled into one of the chairs and motioned for Val. The little girl crawled in his lap. Jane settled in next to him, staring at the white glow on her fingertips.
Loki gave her a thoughtful look. He would have to study.
Chapter 15: Fan Art by Lexicona/watchhowidinosaur
Thank you, Lexicona (watchhowIdinosaur) for the beautiful fanart!