Spring in Alfheim was something of a theoretical concept. Obviously, there came a time when winter snows thawed and green started to show in the fields. But, while other realms had languid months of rain and warming temperatures and brave flowers poking through, Alfheim seemed to just wake up one morning and decide it was tired of being cold. For the next few days, temperatures soared and the roads became muddy paths from the rapidly melting snow. By the end of the week, fields blazed with flowers and no one was entirely certain what to wear or if they should bring their coat with them because it didn’t seem possible for the cold to be over so quickly.
Syn hiked through knee-deep mud and wondered if it was even worth cleaning her leggings. There came a point where turning them into rags just seemed the easier option. She did find herself grateful she hadn’t been wearing a dress when the runner had come from her nearest neighbor, a vintner, whose young son had developed an infection in what had seemed like a minor wound. As the only healer for who knew how many miles, she’d grown used to messengers coming at all hours. Loki had been out with some of the village children so she’d left him a note and was now taking the long way home in order to pick some flowers for drying.
She had never expected Loki to adapt to life here. Even when he offered to stay, she thought it would last a few months, perhaps a year. Then they would be off again, bouncing around the universe, coming back to visit when things got too much. But almost twenty years later, it was quite the opposite. Lakefire was quite proud of its resident witch and wizard. The Lord and Lady of the Lake. They came to her for medicines and lotions and all the other things she made with her herbs and plants. The adults came to Loki for advice and help. And the children came to him for magic tricks and games.
He grew restless, as did she. But boredom came rarely and was easily defeated with a trip to the other realms. The ladies of the village were happy to keep the house tidy and the garden tended when they were gone. It was a far calmer life than she’d ever thought to have with him and she made a point to appreciate every day of it.
Today, however, she was only looking to appreciate a warm bath and clean clothes as she reached their ever expanding stone cottage. He was muttering about adding another room again and she was starting to think he intended to expand it into an entire castle someday.
She pushed the heavy wood door open and stopped in her tracks. Thor and the Lady Sif stood in her living room, while Loki lounged indolently on the sofa. Whatever conversation they’d been having stopped as she entered and the two Asgardians turned to look at her. Syn took in the little tableau a moment, then leaned a bit to catch Loki’s eye. “What did you do?”
He put a hand to his chest. “Your assumptions wound me, dear heart.”
Thor stepped forward to give her a hug, lifting her off her feet. “It’s good to see you, little sister.”
“Hello, Thor.” She tilted her cheek up to accept his kiss as he put her down. “I do wish you’d warned me that you were coming.” She inclined her head to Sif and gave a polite, “My Lady.”
The warrior returned the nod, expression neutral. Syn put her basket down just inside the kitchen and went to the couch to her husband. “Are you sure you’re not in trouble?”
“They come in peace,” he assured her, curling his fingers around her throat as she bent kiss him hello. “Thor is playing at politics.”
She looked over at her brother-in-law in mock horror. “No.”
He sighed and made a face. “Playing politics is putting it mildly. There’s rumors-”
“Did you find every mud puddle between here and Adair’s?” Loki interrupted, plucking at the fabric of her leggings.
She twitched her leg away from him, stepping around the couch. “You say that as if I had to look hard to find them. I’ll change while you continue your discussion. Politics bores me.” She headed for the stairs, hearing Thor rumble something quietly at her departure.
Taking time for a full bath would be rude and frankly a little weird with Thor and Sif in the house. Syn settled for changing into a gown and taking her hair out of the tight braid she kept it in while working. As she did, she tried to decide if she should be suspicious of the way Loki had cut off his brother when Thor had tried to explain the reason for his trip. True, not everything Loki did was worthy of suspicion. But almost everything he did had very deliberate reasons behind it. And she was at a loss to think of an innocent reason he wouldn’t want Thor telling her what was going on.
When she went back downstairs, the three of them were exactly how they’d been when she left and, once again, they stopped talking as she entered. Her suspicion went up a notch. She shot Loki a warning look. “What?”
He hesitated an instant. “Thor and Sif are here as diplomatic liaisons to the Alfan steward.”
Syn went very still, looking at him. “Ah. Not just politics but Alfan politics.”
“The steward has heard rumors of a rebellion,” Thor said and she could tell he was choosing his words very carefully. “We’ve agreed to come investigate.”
Loki cleared his throat. “Apparently, there’s a festival in the Capital-”
“It’s Unification Day,” she interrupted. “The day Asgard conquered us.”
“You celebrate the day?” That was Sif, voice quiet, speaking for the first time since Syn had come in.
“Not every town,” she said, glancing at the dark haired woman. “Lakefire doesn’t bother with anything but agricultural festivals. But the Capital and the richer towns commemorate it under the theory that honoring your conquerors encourages leniency.”
There was a moment of silence, then Loki barreled on. “Thor knows I keep an ear to the rumor mill here and came to see if I knew anything.”
“I figured if anyone would hear of a revolution in the works, it’s Loki.”
She rolled her eyes. “The two of you. Your mother must have hurt herself trying not to laugh when you joined forces.” She looked at Sif. “What are they oh-so-carefully not telling me?”
The men both gave the warrior a warning look but she rolled her eyes just as Syn had and finally gave a straight answer. “They want you and Loki to come with us to investigate the rumors.”
She looked at Loki a moment, daring him to deny it. When he started to open his mouth, she cut him off with a firm, “No,” and turned to the kitchen to make lunch.
Loki jumped up to follow her, Thor on his heels. “Syn-”
“Not only no, but Hel no.”
“It’s only a few days. We’ll attend some parties, talk to some nobles-”
She turned on him. “Attend parties celebrating the day my family was slaughtered.”
He held up his hands. “It’s not like they have effigies of them-”
“Oh, that’s fine then!” Screw lunch. She was just going to pour herself a large mug of mead and decide how many days he was going to sleep on the couch.
“Loki, I don’t know that you’re helping,” Thor said. “Sister, I wouldn’t ask if it wasn’t important.”
“You are more than welcome to take Loki for your little intrigue,” she told him, pulling out mugs.
“Loki can’t tell me when people are lying.”
She paused and glanced at him. “I’m sure you’ve suffered through plenty of politics without me.”
“Not like this.”
“Generally when my brother gets involved, we’ve moved past political intrigue and into hitting things very hard,” Loki drawled.
“I still don’t think you’re helping.”
Loki came towards her. “Dear heart, Alfan politics are intricate and very different from Asgard. Having someone with experience will help this from getting to the hitting things with hammers part.”
She glared at him. “It was five hundred years ago and I was a child. Why do you think I would be any use in navigating current politics?”
“You said your mother trained you for taking over for her someday. The players are the same now as they were then. You’ll know the nobles, their allegiances, old enemies and frequent allies. It’s vital insight for this kind of work.” He was using his placating voice. The one that was so calm and smooth and made her want to kick him in the shin whenever he aimed it at her.
“Those nobles hate me. They rushed me out of the Capital as soon as I arrived. That’s how I ended up here -” She gestured grandly at the stone walls. “As far away as they could possibly put me. The last thing they’re going to want to see at a Unification celebration when there is a revolution brewing is the last living royal. I’ll be like a match to a powder keg.”
Loki and Thor were very carefully not looking at each other. Sif was standing just outside the doorway, neutral expression back, but when Syn met her eyes, she rolled them again.
And that’s when it clicked into place. Syn felt a very dangerous calm overtake her. She crossed her arms. “Oh. That’s what this is. I’m not an advisor or a lie detector. I’m bait. You think if I show up, it will incite the rebels to action.” She paused and watched them very deliberately not react. “Or maybe even reach out to me so they can use me as a figure head.”
“Don’t even try,” she cut them both off. She pointed at Loki. “You I expect this from.” The finger swung towards Thor. “But you are supposed to be sensible.”
“He once broke Loki out of jail to steal the largest, most obvious ship I have ever seen, destroy half of the palace, and go confront a Dark Elf,” Sif said, completely deadpan.
“Good point. Apparently, you’re the only sensible one here and you don’t even like me.”
Sif shrugged. “I prefer the hitting things part, personally.”
Loki glanced at her. “Now who’s not helping?”
“No one is helping,” Syn told him. “There is no helping. I’m not doing this.”
“The Steward thinks an attack is imminent.” Thor didn’t use a placating voice. Thor used pretty much the same deep rumble for everything, just at different volumes. Currently, it was just above the level of normal conversation which probably meant he wanted to be yelling but was trying to behave. “If Sif and I walk in alone, they’ll go to ground and we’ll lose any chance of finding the conspirators. But if we arrive with the princess-”
“I am NOT a princess,” she snapped at him. “I stopped being a princess when your father killed my parents and took me away from my home and made me a servant. You don’t get to come undo that because it’s suddenly politically expedient.”
There was a long, tense moment of silence. Syn found she couldn’t look at him anymore and turned back to the cupboards to look for mead.
“Give me a moment,” Loki murmured and she heard the quiet clank and rustle of Thor’s armor as he left the kitchen. Loki came to lean on the counter next to her.
She gripped the edge of the cabinets, knuckles whitening. “Don’t,” she said roughly.
“He shouldn’t have said that.” He was very carefully not touching her but she could feel his eyes on her. “But he does need our help.”
“Forget about your history. Imagine Thor going into a politically charged situation and having to use his wits. You know I’m quite fond of my brother but espionage isn’t his strong suit.”
She glanced at him. “You’re trying to manipulate me.”
“Only with the truth.” At least the placating voice was gone. Now he was sounding eminently reasonable. “You may not like it but we’re both far more suited to this sort of thing than either of them. He needs us at his back. And barring anything else, your ability to spot a lie might be the difference between success and a bloody fight.” He paused to let the implication of that set in, then added, “If it were anywhere other than Alfheim, would you even hesitate?”
Oh, she hated when he was reasonable. And right. She blew out a breath and looked at him. “You really want to do this, don’t you?”
“Yes,” he said immediately, with all the intensity of a child asked if they wanted to ride a dragon and then eat their body weight in sweets.
She chuckled a little, shaking her head. “You owe me.”
“You can exact whatever punishment you see fit,” he assured her. “I look forward to it.”
“Fine.” She gave a little helpless gesture. “When do we leave?”
He grinned and wrapped his arms around her, tugging her against his chest. “Thank you,” he said softly. He held her a moment, then dropped a kiss on her temple. “She said yes,” he called out.
Thor poked his head in the door and she managed an weak smile, which he seemed to take as forgiveness, stepping in. “We need to be at the Capital in two days.”
She took a deep breath and straightened, stepping out of Loki’s arms. “I should go to town. Niall should be able to make me a brooch but I don’t know if Riane has any gowns we can alter in time.”
Thor tilted his head. “Brooch?”
“Alfans use jewelry with their house sigil to identify themselves.” She pushed her hair over her shoulder and gave him her version of Loki’s knife blade smile. “You want to bring the princess to court. That’s exactly what I mean to give you.”