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Kingdom Come

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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.”

“Dear heart-”

“Sister-”

“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.”

“Loki-”

“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.”

Chapter Text

It was convenient that she needed to spend most of the next two days dashing between the tailor, the blacksmith, and the handful of patients who needed checking on before she went away. Thor and Sif had gone back to Asgard to pack their things and would meet them in the Capital. Syn couldn’t recall if she’d ever seen Sif in anything but her armor, though she supposed she must have at some point. It would be an adjustment seeing the warrior in the dresses and finery the festival called for.

Loki was wisely avoiding her on the rare hours she was home. She may have agreed to go to the Capital, but she still wasn’t happy about it. It was better for both of them if she had time to cool off before he tried to talk to her about it.

She had to admit the new gowns did soothe her temper a little.

She did a little spin on the box Riane had put her on so she could pin the hem. The tailor had had two gowns suitable for formal events that were close enough to Syn’s size they could be tailored in time to go. Add in the gold gown Loki had given her when they were first courting (that was probably the wrong word for whatever it was they’d been doing back then, but it was long enough ago she could pretty it up a bit.) and she had enough to get through the first few days. If she found time to get to a dressmaker while in town, she would be set.

Hilde entered the shop while Riane was still pinning. The blacksmith’s wife held a little pouch and she stopped in her tracks when she saw Syn in the cream gown. “Well. Don’t you just look like a princess? Finally.”

Syn met the other woman’s eyes in the mirror. All these years she had assumed no one in town knew who she was. They called her my Lady or occasionally witch. Hilde must have read the surprise in her face and laughed. “We’re not all country bumpkins here. We know the lost princess when we meet her.”

“You never said anything.”

Hilde shrugged. “Wasn’t my place. You want to come live the quiet life out here, who am I to judge?” She came to stand next to her, dodging around Riane and her cup of pins. “Finally going back to the palace?”

Syn sighed, running a hand over the brocade bodice of her gown. “It’s complicated. There’s politics. My brother-in-law is involved.” She glanced at the two women. “I assume you know who Loki really is, too?”

“The handsome ones are always crazy,” Riane muttered around her mouthful of pins.

Syn had to laugh. “He’s not that mad. Anymore. Most of the time. And you trust him with your sons,” she added, peering down at the tailor.

“Eh, not much can make those boys more destructive. He keeps them occupied and they don’t destroy my kitchen near as often as they used to. They try and take over the realm someday it’ll hardly be his fault.”

Syn chuckled and shook her head. “I do love it here.”

Hilde’s eyes were sad. “You think you’ll be gone more than a week, then.”

“I don’t know,” she said, heart sinking at the truth. “Alfan politics are never easy. The nobles sent me out here for a reason. Going back to the Capital is going to put things in motion that I don’t think Loki and Thor have anticipated.” Or, if they had, they didn’t realize she had as well.

“You’ll be all right,” Hilde told her. “You’re stronger than you think.” She held up the pouch she’d brought in. “These will help.”

Syn opened the bag and turned it over into her palm. Out spilled the brooch that she’d asked for, but also a pendant and a cuff bracelet. Syn’s jaw dropped at the intricate work on the pendant and pin. Her family’s sigil, a starburst with the points swirling out from a center spiral, was worked in delicate silver and gold while the cuff was of a darker, stronger metal beaten thin with the same symbol etched in. “This is too much. I only wanted a simple pin.”

“You think we’d send our witch out into the wild without a little armor?” Syn felt tears clog her throat as Hilde touched her hand. “Dark times are easier when you have a bit of home with you.”

Syn bent and hugged the redheaded woman, swallowing the tears down. “Thank you. And thank Niall. Anything you want from the Capita,l tell me and I’ll bring it back. You, too,” she added to Riane, still diligently pinning.

“Bring me a nanny and I’ll make you a thousand gowns,” she muttered. “That’s the last pin. Go try the other one on.”

*

The Capital was over a day’s ride by horseback, if you kept a quick clip. The benefit of being part of the Asgard delegation was that they didn’t have to concern themselves with such prosaic forms of travel. The Bifrost was a smoother, less nauseating means of teleport than Loki’s ways. But it was very sudden and just as disorienting. Loki at least tried to warn her they were leaving. With the Bifrost, one moment she was standing outside her cottage, trying to remember if there was anything she was forgetting, and the next she was standing at the gates of the Alfheim palace next to Thor, Sif, and their trunks. Syn blinked and pinched the bridge of her nose. Already she regretted agreeing to this.

Loki’s hand settled on the small of her back, as if he could hear her thoughts. He inclined his head to the others in greeting then bent close to speak in her ear. “Are you ready?”

She leaned into him instinctively, taking a breath of his crisp winter scent. “No,” she said quietly. “But I’m unlikely to be so anytime soon, so let’s just get on with this.” He pressed a gentle kiss to her hair and shifted his arm so she could lay hers on it. Without a word, Thor and Sif stepped through the gates and she and Loki followed.

She stared straight ahead as they crossed the courtyard towards the entrance to the palace itself. The courtyard was swarming with servants, carriages, and visitors. Despite the crowd, they walked without pausing. People seemed to jump out of Thor’s way as if concerned he would trample them. She was aware of a few stares from some of the nobility that were loitering around. She knew she looked like her mother, though several centuries younger than she’d been when she died. They had all recognized her immediately when she’d come here almost three decades ago, so there was no reason to think they wouldn’t see it now. Only Loki’s cool, solid presence at her side kept her from bolting.

There was a small line at the palace doors, other dignitaries waiting to be greeted by the Steward. They waited for their turn and Syn thought of her mother and the lessons she’d given her on being a queen.

”Honestly, Syn, there’s more mud on you than left in the yard.” Her mother wipes her cheeks with a pristine white handkerchief. “A queen avoids mud puddles; she does not seek them out.”

Syn wrinkles her nose in dismay. “But I don’t know how to walk like a queen.”

“Oh, it’s simple. Stand tall. Shoulders back, neck long. Look forward and remember that you are the most powerful person in any room you walk in.”

“Even if Papa is there?”

The queen smiles. “Who convinced the king to put jewel fish in the garden pool?”

“Me,” Syn says, ducking her head a little.

Her mother tips her chin up. “There are all kinds of power in the realms, my darling. When you’re grown, you will have to find yours. Once you find it, don’t ever let anyone take it from you.”

The doors opened and she took a deep breath. Head up, shoulders back. She gave Loki’s wrist a little squeeze as they stepped forward into the throne room.

She kept her eyes straight ahead but could see enough of the room to bring back memories. The slick marble floor she used to run across and slide in her stockings, racing Boe to the other side. The paintings on the walls depicting her ancestors. And the large gold throne on a platform that took thirteen steps to reach. She’d learn to count climbing up and down those stairs, first on hands and knees, then unsteady feet, then hopping on one foot to the next as she had gotten older and braver.


The throne sat empty now, which surprised her. The Steward, a noble named Tiver, sat on a smaller, less elaborate chair at the foot of those thirteen stairs greeting his guests. She watched his eyes widen when he saw her.

Loki leaned close to her again. “Relax. This will be fun.”

She glanced at him out of the corner of her eye. “Our definitions of fun are obviously vastly different.”

They reached the Steward and he stood to greet Thor and Sif. “My Lord. Lady. It’s an honor to have you as our guests.”

“The honor is ours,” Thor rumbled in what Syn recognized as his political voice. “I don’t believe you’ve met my brother Loki and his wife.”

Tiver’s gaze met hers as they stepped forward, then dropped to the sigil pendant she wore. It fell just above the neckline of her green and gold gown, next to the flat white scar that marred her chest. “I know the pri-” He stopped and she arched a brow, waiting. “The Lady Syn,” he finished weakly.

“Hello, Lord Tiver,” she said quietly.

He seemed to remember himself and stepped forward to take and kiss her hand. “You honor me with your presence,” he said. Shadows of lies swirled over his face as he spoke.

She smiled. “I’ve never been to a Unification festival.” She saw panic light his eyes and couldn’t help but add, “Though I had a front seat to the first one so I suppose that counts for something.” At her side, she saw Loki glance at the ceiling, fighting a smile.

Tiver had gone a sickly pale but ever the politician he soldiered on. “I look forward to seeing you a dinner this evening.” She dipped a little curtsey as they were escorted away from the Steward.

She glanced up to find Loki grinning at her. “All right,” she murmured. “Maybe it will be a little fun.”

They were shown to their rooms in the guest wing, four in a row at the end of a long hallway, hers the last. Her trunk was already waiting for her and she’d barely had time to open it when Loki burst through the door connecting her room to his. “Why in all the realms do we have separate rooms? Were they unaware we’re married?”

She gave him a wry smile. “Welcome to Alfheim, where one is contained and controlled at all times and propriety is the word to live by.”

He gestured to the wall they shared. “But they made them adjoining. So they acknowledge that man and wife may want to visit each other, but certainly not spend more time together then necessary.”

She pulled out the cream and gold gown she’d planned to wear to dinner and laid it on the bed. “Sharing a room might lead to undignified bouts of passion and we can’t have that.” She wrinkled her nose at him. “Besides, you saw the other nobles, do you want to picture any of them being intimate?”

He came around the bed to her. “Fair point.” He wrapped his arms around her, tugging her to look at him. “You were magnificent. As I knew you would be.”

Head tilted, she wound her arms around his neck. “I was, wasn’t I?” He grinned and lowered his mouth to kiss her. Her fingers twined into the hair at the back of his neck and she pressed close, body molding to the hard lines of his. He backed her up a step, pressing her against the hard wooden bed post. She felt his hand hunt for the slit in her skirt, then cool fingers curled around her thigh.

The hallway door crashed open. She heard Thor start to say something, then stop short as Sif made a little horrified groan, then the door slammed shut, all within a few seconds. Loki lifted his head very slowly.

“So I’ll be locking that door, then,” she murmured.

“Do you think they forgot we were married?” he asked mildly.

“I think sometimes Thor forgets you’re an adult.” She pressed a finger to his lips when he tried to kiss her again. “No. Not with them out there waiting.”

“Oh, I’m sure they’ll find something else to do.”

“Loki.” She swatted at his hand until he released her thigh and he stepped away with an irritated sigh. She straightened her skirt and went back to her trunk as he yanked the door open and leaned into the hallway.

“I know Mother taught you the importance of knocking,” he called.

She could hear Thor stomping as he came back. “We’ve been here five minutes,” he said, hiding embarrassment with gruff.

“Imagine what you might have seen if we’d been here ten.”

Sif pointedly ignored the lecherous grin Loki gave as she walked past him. Syn gave her an apologetic smile and got a very expressive eye-roll-head-shake-shrug in return that somehow managed to convey “Don’t worry I’ve been dealing with them for centuries and am now completely immune to the both of them” all with a few head motions.

Thor leaned on the wall next to the windows and looked at anything that wasn’t her, Loki, or the bed, which mostly left the ceiling. Sif leaned against the bed post Syn had recently vacated and gave Loki a pointed look. Oh, this was just going to be the most enjoyable week ever.

“Who’s ready for a state dinner?” Syn asked brightly, laying her jewelry out on the vanity.

“What exactly does an Alfan state dinner entail?” Sif asked in the most neutral voice imaginable.

“Oh, the usual. Boring seat mates, questionable entertainment. Thirteen courses and twenty odd pieces of cutlery.”

“Thirteen courses?!” That was all three of them, in unison. And Thor had apparently decided she was safe to look at again.

“Everything here is thirteens,” she said. “If it’s not feasible to be thirteen, it’s one, three, or seven.” She held up the pendant she still wore. “Thirteen points on the royal star. Thirteen members of the council. Thirteen steps to the throne. Out in the gardens, there’s thirteen of every plant. It’s the number.”

“How does one eat thirteen courses in a sitting?” Loki asked in horror.

“Oh for - it’s probably less food than there is at an Asgardian feast it’s just doled out in courses.” She glanced at the ceiling, trying to remember. “First, the guests mingle with alcohol and hot appetizers. The host announces the meal. There’s usually assigned seating. Loki and I are married so we’ll be seated across from each other or alternating with another couple of similar rank. You two may be next to each other or across from each other. First course is a palate cleanser. Then cold appetizers, soup, shellfish, sorbet, fowl, beef, salad, cheese, mousse - usually savory, nuts and fruit, pudding, and you finish with a proper dessert, usually cake.”

Sif looked at Thor. “Volstagg is going to weep when he hears this.”

“He’ll volunteer to be the new ambassador,” he agreed.

“If we’re all stuck at a table, it will be difficult to begin our reconnaissance.” Loki had folded his hands behind his back and started to pace in that strolling way he had.

“There’ll be mingling at the beginning,” Syn said. “And it depends on who we’re seated with. Thor and Sif will likely be up near Tiver. You and I will be among the higher ranked nobles. I’ll almost certainly be next to a woman which will mean gossip.”

“Why won’t we be next to each other?” he asked on his pass closest to her.


She glanced pointedly at the connecting door. “Containment and propriety.”

He arched a brow at her. “At the dinner table?”

“Darling, you haven’t seen the dress I’ll be wearing.”

He stepped closer to loom over her. “Are we going to be late for supper?”

Despite their audience, she felt a frisson of cold down her spine. She was probably the only woman in the realm who associated cold with arousal. She gave her hair a toss. “Well, we might not last until dessert.”

Sif leaned towards Thor and said in a stage whisper. “Are they flirting? Am I watching Loki flirt?”

Thor had the bridge of his nose pinched between thumb and forefinger. “Get accustomed to it, they do it often.”

Loki gave Syn a knife’s blade smile before pacing away again. “Anyone in particular we should try to find information on?”

“I haven’t been here in five hundred years,” she reminded him. He gave her a look and she sighed. “Fine. Tiver lied when he said he was honored to have me but was happy to see the rest of you. He’s not setting any traps. The most powerful lord under him is either Kerr or Eoin. Kerr owns half the farmland around here and Eoin runs the ships. His son was a few decades older than me; he may have taken over for him. Gair owns the other half of the farmland but he hates politics and wouldn’t touch a revolt with someone else’s pole.” She rubbed her head. “Beneath them are the ones in industry. When I was a child, that would have been Phealan and Brae in textiles and Orran in jewels but that could have changed. Those are the names I recall, everyone else would have been too low to have my father’s ear.”

“It’s somewhere to start,” Thor said, pushing away from the wall. “We should determine some sort of signal you can send us if you need help.”

It took her a moment to realize he was talking to her. She supposed she was the only one who wasn’t a warrior. She made a little swirling motion and a series of sparks fired in the air, making a line between Thor and her. “Most of the nobility here has magic of one kind or another. It isn’t uncommon to use it as a way to get someone else attention.”

Loki looked positively delighted. “I don’t think I’ve ever been anywhere magic was common.”

“Only in the upper class. If the rebellion is coming from the lower classes, you’ll still be dealing in swords and shields.”

Chapter Text

Riane had outdone herself. Honestly, the woman could have been a designer for the Capital. Syn had never worn traditional Alfan formal wear. It was a far cry from the gowns of Asgard or Earth. Cream and gold brocade hugged her chest and waist before spilling out into a full skirt. The pattern was floral, but Syn had spotted several embroidered starbursts in the style of her family sigil. She would have bet there were exactly thirteen of them hidden amongst the roses.

If she were a proper princess, she would have a servant to lace her into the corseted top. She could have requested a maid, but didn’t relish the idea of a stranger helping her dress so Riane had devised lacing in the front she could do herself and hide with a panel of fabric fastened on the side. It wasn’t as tight as it could have been, but she could breathe and would be able to sit through dinner in comfort. It still tucked her waist in and lifted her breasts to the point they looked ready to spill out of the top at any moment. Nothing like a proper gown to enhance nature’s gifts.

She had no idea what the current trends in hair were and hadn’t had the time or equipment to tame her curls into anything resembling style anyway. She’d settled for pinning it back from her face and letting it cascade down her back. The pendant had cluttered up her neckline, so she’d chosen to wear her bracelet and pin her brooch at her hip to help hide the corset ties.

She was still examining herself in the vanity mirror when the connecting door opened and Loki stepped inside, fully decked out in his leathers. He stopped a few steps into the room, staring at her and she turned to face him so he could get the full effect. He was looking at her like he wanted to devour her but she was too distracted to notice.

It had been a long time since she’d seen him in the leathers. It had taken time for him to stop wearing them, to be comfortable in the new quiet pace they had. But for the last decade or more, it had been breeches and shirts or suits in Midgard. She’d forgotten how deliciously dangerous he looked in them.

He prowled towards her. “I know why I’m imagining skipping dinner for more carnal pursuits.” He stopped in front of her, almost touching but not quite. “But why are you looking at me like that?”

“I haven’t seen you in armor in a long time,” she said, voice thick. “Apparently, I’ve missed it.”

He grinned wickedly. “I shall have to wear it more often. Though not so often you get used to it.” He trailed a cool finger along the edge of her neckline. “We have to have separate rooms and I can’t sit next to you at a meal, but you can wear this for all to see? Alfan customs make no sense at all.”

Goosebumps broke out on her arms and she suppressed a shiver at the light touch. “It’s a game. A tease,” she explained. She took a half step back so his hand fell away. “Look but don’t touch.” She stepped close again and curled her hands around his hips. “Touch,” she said softly, mouth a breath from his. “But don’t taste. Taste.” She kissed him, feather light. “But don’t bite.” She caught his lower lip and tugged.

He groaned and his hands came up to cup her face as he kissed her. She held his waist lightly, letting him control the kiss. He bent her back in his intensity and she went with him, trusting him to hold her up. She was just thinking that they might actually end up missing dinner when he lifted his head and slid a hand down to trace her scar. It was very much on display due to the cut of the dress, shiny and pale against her skin.

“People will ask questions,” he murmured, voice raspy with repressed need.

“No, they won’t,” she said quietly. He glanced at her and she continued. “They’ll look, they’ll try to steer the conversation towards topics that might make me tell the story. They’ll gossip and murmur and speculate but no one will ask. That would be rude.” His lip curled in distaste and she lifted a shoulder. “It’s all a game here. You learned to fight with swords and staffs, and I learned to fight with words and glances and silence. I didn’t even realize that’s what my mother was doing until I was grown.”

“Do you think she’d be proud of you?”

Syn tilted her head. “Well, I’m not sure what she’d think of you.” He smirked. “But otherwise, yes. I think so. We’ll see how tonight goes.”

There was a knock at the door and Loki smoothed her hair before releasing her. “He can be taught,” she said, crossing to open it.

Thor was in his usual armor, like Loki. She supposed that’s what passed for Asgardian formal wear. She’d expected Sif to be in hers as well but she was wrong. The dark haired warrior wore a rust red gown that swirled around her legs. It was higher cut at the neck than Syn’s and had an elaborately engraved metal girdle at the waist. Her hair was down as well. She managed to look beautiful and dangerous at the same time. Syn was fairly certain Sif was going to spend the evening fending off awkward flirtations and dearly hoped she got to witness some of it.

They made their way to the ballroom and joined the crowd. Syn estimated perhaps eighty to a hundred people milling about which meant some of the minor lords were in attendance but not all of them. Servants in bright blues and greens wove through the crowd with trays of drinks and food. She could feel the weight of Loki’s hand on her back as their little quartet moved through the throng, hunting for a place to linger and get the lay of the land. She scanned for familiar faces and was almost immediately accosted by an older woman in an extremely elaborate purple gown and ridiculous hairdo. “Syn! Little Syn the Truthful. I heard you were attending but I didn’t believe it. I simply did not believe it.”

Syn caught the woman’s hands before she could grab her. “Lady Tulia.” Oh, how she dearly wished she could lie enough for social niceties. “As you can see, the rumors are true.”

“Oh, just look at you, darling.” She held Syn’s arms out and gave her a once over, as if inspecting her for purchase. “Why, you are the picture of your mother. Just the same. For a moment, I thought she was back from the grave.”

For an old woman her grip was remarkably strong. Syn gave up trying to extricate her hands and simply gestured with her head. “May I present my husband, Loki the Trickster, his brother, Thor of Asgard, and the Lady Sif of Asgard.”

Lady Tulia’s jaw dropped. “You’re married!?” She gave Loki that same unsettling inspection and tugged Syn closer to whisper loudly in her ear. “Well done, dear.” Loki made a pained noise.

“Thank you, my lady,” Syn said sincerely. “I believe one of your companions is trying to get your attention.”

The older woman glanced over her shoulder at the pack of similarly aged ladies who were staring. “Oh, of course. Excuse me, dear. I hope to speak to you later.”

“I’ve no doubt of it,” Syn murmured, enduring a kiss on her cheek before being freed as the woman pranced back to her company.

“That was. . . awkward,” Thor said, sounding a little shell shocked.

“I was waiting for her to pat you on the head and offer you a sweet,” Loki said, inspecting Syn’s hand for bruises.

Syn caught a passing waiter’s eye and tugged her hand from Loki’s to grab a drink. “I’m going to have my cheeks pinched by the end of this, mark my words.” She slugged down half the cocktail in one gulp. “On the bright side, word will spread like wildfire and half the party will come track me down before dinner.”

True to her prediction, a good dozen lords and ladies made their way over to speak with them and gawk at her. Of the twelve, ten told her she was the image of her mother. Eight expressed various levels of shock at her marriage. Five stared at her scar. Three flirted with Sif, which was as funny as Syn had hoped it would be. And one inquired as to when she and her husband would be producing heirs, which caused Loki to grab a fresh drink from a passing waiter and down it in one swallow. None of them pinched her cheeks, however.

She was well past done by the time dinner was announced and she took Loki’s arm to file into the dining room. “I will do anything you ask if you sneak out with me right now,” she murmured.

“Absolutely not. I was promised thirteen courses and I mean to see them through.” She sighed and he patted her hand where it rested on his arm. “Did you know you look a great deal like your mother?” he asked innocently.

“I will hurt you, husband.”

As she’d expected, Thor and Sif were seated near the head of the table with the Steward and she and Loki were a bit farther down. He was across from her, with Lord Orran on one side, and a lord she didn’t know on the other. Lord Orran’s wife, Lady Edana, was on her left and their daughter was on her right. Syn only vaguely recalled the couple. Her mother had disliked Edana and her father felt Orran’s priority was to himself and not the kingdom. Their daughter, Mistress Bevin, was a thin, pale thing several centuries Syn’s junior. She was only just old enough to be at the table and Syn wondered if she even remembered a time before Unification.

Lady Edana had sharp, dark eyes and a false smile. Her ears and fingers dripped with jewels and Syn estimated she could have fed the entirety of Lakefire on the price her necklace would fetch at fair market. She gave Syn a calculating look as they all sat. This was a woman who played society’s games often and well. A chess master of a small but important board. Jewels were a luxury and her husband would never be as powerful as those who controlled essentials. But she played the cards she had and they kept themselves as high on the ladder as they could. Syn knew instinctively they would have nothing to do with a rebellion. People didn’t buy bracelets in times of war. But a woman with her fingers on society’s pulse may know something of use, so she would have to play this game with all her skill and try to get what she could.

“Lady Syn,” the older woman said as their first course was served. “I did not have a chance to confirm the rumors before dinner.”

“Yes, I’m told I was the talk of the ballroom,” Syn said easily, with a humble smile.

“It’s not everyday a lost princess arrives.”

Syn clucked her tongue. “Ah, I’m no princess.” She chose the smallest spoon at her place setting without looking and dipped into her caviar parfait.

“Are you not?” Lady Edana said with practiced innocence. Syn winced inwardly, knowing she’d missed a gambit before the woman continued, “I heard it said you married a prince of Asgard.”

The salty food turned ashy in her mouth but she remained composed. “Regrettably, my husband and his father are not on the best of terms.” Her head throbbed at the words. Apparently her truth sense felt that particular understatement bordered on lying.

“Oh, how unfortunate.” Edana’s mouth pursed into a concerned moue as she took up her own spoon. “Men can be so unreasonable, can’t they?”

“I find my husband quite reasonable.” Syn took another bite of parfait. “Once I’ve made him see reason.” She thought she heard Edana’s daughter give a little bark of laughter at that.

“I heard a fascinating story about your husband,” Edana was saying. “That he amassed an army and tried to conquer Midgard.” Her eyes glittered as she looked at Syn. “Is it true?”

Decades ago, before Loki and their journey through the tenth realm, this woman would have gotten under her skin. Now, she was little more than a fly buzzing about, trying to ruin her meal. She may yet lose the chess game, out of practice as she was, but the difference between them was she didn’t care about the outcome. “I’ve found, gentle lady, that as a general rule all the stories about my husband are true.”

She reached for her wine glass as Edana asked, “Even the horrible ones?”

The wine was thick and rich, coating Syn tongue with stinging sweetness. She gave the older woman a knife’s blade smile over the rim of her cup. “Especially the horrible ones.”

Loki caught her eye as she set her glass down, eyes sharp and silver in the lamplight. He gave her a wide trickster grin and she wondered if he’d heard what she said. She winked and the grin turned wicked. Her spine straightened and with him across from her and the ghost of her mother’s lessons in her ear, she plunged forward with her game.

The game with Lady Edana lasted the next four courses. Syn learned nothing regarding the brewing rebellion and at last, they found themselves at stalemate. Edana decided to toy with her neighbor on the other side, leaving Syn to converse with the daughter.

Mistress Bevin was painfully shy, opening up only when Syn inquired on her studies. Then, she found the girl difficult to silence. Bevin was studying economics, art, literature, mythology, and inter-realm politics but her favorite subject was languages. She was proficient in four and was searching for her next challenge.

“Have you learned Old Alfan?” Syn asked, digging into her salad of wild greens.

Bevin sighed. “I wanted to, but Mother wouldn’t let me.”


Syn resisted glancing at the other woman. “Whyever not? When I was a girl, it was all but required for noble children to learn it.”

“Oh, it’s considered quite common now. The lower classes have begun using it and it’s fallen out of favor with the upper. It’s a beautiful tongue but I couldn’t find a respectable tutor even if I was allowed.” Her face lit up. “Do you know it?”

Five hundred years hadn’t erased those lessons either. Or the memory of notes and whispered secrets between her and Boe. She glanced away from the girl, wary of the sudden sting in her eyes. But all she said was, “Yes. Though I’m better at writing than speaking it.”

“I wish you were staying in town,” Bevin said wistfully. “Mother might let me take lessons from you.”

Syn doubted that very much but she smiled. “If I ever visit again, perhaps we can find some time.”

“You aren’t at all like I expected a princess to be.”

She chuckled and reached for her wine. “Princesses, you’ll find, come in all shapes and sizes.”

Chapter Text

It was past midnight by the time the four of them found themselves back at the end of the hall in the guest wing. “We should meet and discuss what we’ve learned,” Thor said when they reached their doors.

Sif looked at the back of his head like he was mad, but it was Loki who spoke, “Brother, unless you overheard the date and time the revolution is going to begin and think you will forget it overnight, I am going to take my wife to bed. We’ll see you in the morning.” Syn gave the befuddled Asgardian a little wave as Loki opened the door to her chamber and yanked her inside.

He made a show of locking the door as she went to her vanity to peel of her bracelet and unfasten her brooch. She could feel Loki’s eyes on her as he paced to the bed. “I watched you at dinner tonight,” he said.

She sat and began taking the pins out of her hair, meeting his gaze in the mirror. “Weren’t you supposed to be tricking your seat mates into giving something away?”

“I’m quite capable of doing both.” He sat on the end of the bed. “It’s difficult for you to be here.”

She looked skyward a moment and half turned to look at him. “What was your first clue?”

“It’s difficult for me, too,” he continued quietly. She arched a brow in silent question and he glanced around the room briefly before answering. “It’s a part of your life I know next to nothing about. I suppose it hadn’t occurred to me how little I knew of your past until I saw you here.”

She rested her chin on the back of the vanity chair. “I’ve told you of my childhood. My brother.”

“Some,” he admitted. “But not much. This morning, when we walked into the throne room, you . . . changed suddenly. You walked differently, moved differently. You stared the Steward down as if he was something you’d scrape off your boot. I’ve seen you play with people before. I’ve never seen you like you were tonight.”

The shiny veneer of the chair was starting to flake and she picked at it with her thumbnail, not looking at him. “When I think about being here, I inevitably end up thinking about the last day.”

“You’ve never told me about that day,” he said quietly. “Sometimes, I feel as if you know all my secrets and I know none of yours.”

She refrained from pointing out that he’d been witness to most of her secrets. Panic fluttered in her chest at the idea of talking about that day. But he was her husband and he had a point. Maybe letting it out would be better than letting it fester all week. She took a deep breath through her nose.

“It was daytime. I remember I was in my playroom with my dollhouse and the sunlight was pouring in the windows. I heard yelling. Running footsteps. Before I could go to the door, it opened and my mother came in. She had blood on her.” She stopped. Loki sat still and silent on the bed, waiting for her to continue. She realized she was holding the back of the chair so tightly the wood was starting to creak and she forced herself to let go, standing.

“She told me that people had come. Bad people. And I needed to run. Get out of the palace and run and not look back. But I got stuck in the throne room; I couldn’t get out before the soldiers came. So I hid. Boe and I used to play hide and seek in that room so I knew all the best spots. I hid until I didn’t hear yelling anymore and then I snuck out, thinking it was over. And that’s when a monster grabbed me.”

She remembered screaming and crying and Odin trying to comfort her. She tried, for the first time, to put herself in his shoes. A warrior, but a father too, holding a little girl barely younger than his sons. The daughter of his enemy, but still only a little girl. “He smelled like iron and smoke and he tucked me against his shoulder and told me not to look. But I looked anyway.”

Loki reached out without a word and she went to him, taking his hand and letting him draw her close, standing between his legs. She realized her hands were shaking and gripped his shoulders to stop them. “I don’t remember leaving the palace or traveling the Bifrost. I don’t really remember being given to the cook. I know I cried a lot. For days. The cook and the maids and even some of the soldiers tried to comfort me. I wanted to stop crying but I just couldn’t. And then one of the soldiers tucked me on his knee. He was older; I think he told me he had daughters. He told me that crying didn’t make the bad things go away. It just made it so you couldn’t see the next bad thing coming. That calmed me and I promised myself I wouldn’t ever cry again. That I’d do everything they told me and be good so bad things wouldn’t happen to me anymore.”

She stopped again and looked at his face for the first time since she’d begun speaking. The anger and hurt in his eyes touched her, brought he back to the present. She loosened her grip on his shoulders so she could play with the ends of his hair. “I know there was a day when your whole world crashed in on you. Where everything you thought to be true about yourself became a lie. I think it drove you a little mad.” He nodded slightly, holding her waist in a fierce grip.

“When I had that day, I was a little girl,” she said quietly. “The only way I knew how to handle it was to forget. Princess Syn had had her world destroyed so I wasn’t going to be her anymore. I was a servant. Just a servant. No magic, no royal lines. Syn the servant had never been hurt like that. It was easy.” She smiled and gave his hair a little tug. “Until a particular mad prince in a king’s glamour drew me out.”

“And aren’t we both lucky I did?” he asked, voice rough despite the light words.

She swallowed hard. “I consider us quite lucky, my darling.” She bent and kissed him, sinking against him. His arms came around her, crushed her to his chest.

The kiss was sweet and gentle. Loki was not particularly good with words of comfort, but he could say a great deal with a kiss. This one soothed her, reassured her of where she was. Her past was dark, her story horrid. But right now she was here, with her husband, and he would protect her.

“I have been imagining unwrapping you all evening,” he said against her mouth. She felt his fingers unhook the panel that hid her corset ties. It gaped and then he cupped her hips, setting her back from him so he could examine the puzzle. He found the first knot and slowly started unraveling it. “I recalled something tonight,” he said conversationally. “A memory I didn’t know I had.”

“Are you going to share it?” she asked, watching pale fingers tangle in paler cord.

“I am, if you can find it in you to be patient.” He glanced at her and she made an expression of pure innocent interest. He smirked and dropped a kiss on the top of her breast where it spilled from the dress. “One day, I was going to visit my mother for a lesson. I wasn’t quite of age yet, but I wasn’t a boy anymore.” He finished the first knot and tugged at the second, that one loosening quicker. “I was old enough to notice girls. And more than old enough to notice the way they tended to look at my brother.” She gave unladylike snort and he smirked again. “Indeed.”

The knots were gone and he began to tug the cords out of their holes, unlacing her completely. It wasn’t necessary to get the dress off, simply loosening it would do. But he seemed to be enjoying himself and reweaving it would be trivial.

“As I was saying,” he continued, tugging on the next level of cord. “I was visiting my mother for a lesson and I suppose I must have been early because when I entered her chamber, she was with one of her maids. I don’t think I’d ever seen her before. She was tall and too skinny. All elbows. But her eyes were the most striking green.”

“I have never been all elbows,” she said with as much dignity as she could muster.

“This is my story, not yours.” The dress was starting to droop without enough lacing to hold it to her. “I tried to excuse myself but Mother said she was almost done. So I lingered while she finished discussing whatever it is women discuss with their maids. And then the girl left. But before she did, she looked at me. Right at me, with those remarkable green eyes. And do you know what I thought?”

“I am breathless with anticipation.”

“I thought, ‘Ah. She looks at me the way the other girls look at Thor.’”

She could feel herself blushing a little. She didn’t recall the scene he described but there was no doubt in her mind it could have happened as he said. “I remember when you two were at that particular age,” she told him. “All the girls could talk about was Thor. Thor training in the yard, Thor off hunting. Thor this and Thor that. I used to sit to the side and not say a word. And I always wondered why none of them ever noticed Loki. Loki read. Loki did magic. And kept Thor out of trouble in one breath while getting him back into it with the next.” She braced her hands on his shoulders and he tugged the dress down, sliding it down until she could step out of it, leaving her naked. She stepped close, straddling his lap. “Loki was the interesting one,” she added before he cupped her throat and pulled her down for a rough kiss.

He lay back, pulling her down on top of him, bare skin against cool leather. She gestured and his chest piece and tunic disappeared with a shimmer of gold. The smile he gave her was oddly proud. “A few more years and you’ll be able to conjure as well as I.”

She pressed a kiss to his chest, right over his heartbeat. “I doubt that.” She braced herself on her hands so she could move down his body, dropping another kiss on the hard planes of his stomach. His hands tangled in her hair, spreading it across her back.

She ran her tongue above the waist of his breeches and he tugged before she could go further. “Come here,” he rasped. “I want to spoil my wife.”

After she had been thoroughly spoiled, she lay on her stomach, face buried in the pillow. One of Loki’s big hands lay possessively on her back, occasionally tapping a rhythm on her skin. She was drowsy but not yet ready to succumb to sleep. “I’ve given your story some thought,” she murmured.

His fingers stilled. “Oh? Have you concluded something?”

She stirred a little, opening an eye to look at him. “I think our lives might have been quite different if you’d thought to crook your princely finger at that skinny, green eyed maid.”

He chuckled softly and tugged her closer, stroking her hair as she fell asleep.

Chapter Text

There’s blood on the throne. It runs in a red river down the thirteen steps. She’s been hiding so long she can’t feel her legs any longer and crawling out of her hidey-hole hurts. Her hands and dress are stained with her mother’s blood.

A monster snatches her up and she screams. His claws are gentle and he tries to calm her. He smells of iron and woodsmoke and carries her down the steps, telling her not to look.

She looks.

Her father is dead. His blood stains the throne. His head is apart from his body. She tastes ash and copper in her mouth. The monster covers her eyes with a hand made of leather and metal.

Syn was already out of bed before she was fully awake, half sprinting, half stumbling to the water closet. She made it to the pot before throwing up, kneeling on the cold marble floor. She could still taste the copper and smell the blood but she fought off the next round of nausea. She absolutely did not have time to lose her entire dinner.

When the urge faded, she pulled herself up to the sink and rinsed her mouth and splashed her face, chasing away the memory of her dream. Loki appeared in the doorway as she slid down to sit against the sink. “Should I be concerned about the quality of your meal?” he asked.

It took her a moment to figure out why he sounded angry. “No. I think if I were poisoned, I’d be dead, not ill.” She gave him a weak smile. “Bad dream.” She held a hand out and he stepped forward and lifted her up, carrying her back to bed.

Breakfast after a full course state dinner was generally a casual affair. Syn and Loki emerged from their room mid morning and found a buffet of fruit and baked goods in the main hall. She indulged her sweet tooth with a sticky bun and fruit pastry while he munched an apple and hid an orange away for later. Thor had left a message to meet in the gardens so they strolled out there, Loki still eating his apple.

Syn had dressed in a tunic and leggings despite the fact anyone seeing her would be horrified at the sight. Loki seemed to know where his brother was waiting so she let him lead as they made their way through the garden paths.

“Thirteen of every plant?” he asked, pausing to smell a rose bush.

“Yes.” She looked around. “Except for the birth trees.” He arched a brow as they started walking again. “They plant a tree when a royal child is born. Somewhere in here is a blade fruit tree for me and an iron wood for Boe.”

“Blade fruit? Not the most feminine of trees.”

Blade fruits grew slowly and blossomed for only a few weeks in the early summer. Their fruit was wine red and oblong, with a sweet, musky flavor; something like a peach or plum. It made poor pastry but good juice and better wine. The name came from its leaves, which grew in the shape of knife blades and were soft on the broad side but razor sharp on the edge. Harvesters wore metal gauntlets when picking the fruit. “My mother enjoyed things that were beautiful but dangerous. Like the roses. Pleasant smell but beware the thorns.” She shrugged. “Besides, she liked the fruit. Old as it is now it’s probably producing a good crop. Pity it’s too early in the year for it.”

They found Thor and Sif waiting for them in a small courtyard surrounded by thirteen jasmine bushes. They’d begun to grow together into a hedge but Syn could still count thirteen trunks leading to roots. She took a seat on one of the stone benches, leaving Loki to pace as they compared information.

Regrettably they hadn’t managed to cobble together much at all. Tiver had been quite open about his concerns but no one in his guard had been able to get anything concrete. Rumors of secret meetings had come to naught and no one was willing to admit to anything. No one knew anything. No one knew anyone who knew anything.

“We’re talking to the wrong people,” Loki said finally. “Rebellions don’t start at the top; they start in the slums.”

“The gentry here does seem content,” Thor agreed. “I haven’t met anyone I can picture throwing away the luxury they have.”

“Asgard treats the nobles well, but who knows how they treat the peasants?” Loki gestured idly and the orange he’d taken from breakfast appeared. He started to peel it as he paced. “If there are meetings being held, there must be someone who knows something. Some way they’re communicating. We need to go to the lower districts.”

“Yes, the fishwives and dock workers will be ever so eager to speak to two princes of Asgard,” Syn drawled.

Loki cast her an annoyed look. “I can glamour us.”

“Have you ever interacted with peasants? Not including me. Do you have any idea how to act around them that won’t make them immediately suspicious? I love you, darling, but you look down on other royalty, you’re not going to get a poor man to tell you the time of day.” She pointed at Thor. “And you can dress him in whatever glamour you like but he walks, talks, and thinks like a warrior. He’ll stick out like a sore thumb.”

He flicked a piece of orange peel at her in irritation. “Well, what do you suggest?”

She smiled and looked over at Sif. “How do you feel about shopping?”

After an hour in the lower districts, Syn and Sif had gotten more information than all four of them had gotten at the dinner the night before. Syn had never been to this neighborhood but had visited the equivalent in Asgard on her nights off from the palace. It was mostly shops with apartments above them, bleeding into factories and warehouses as you approached the docks. Between her and Sif, they could feign interest in just about any sort of goods, so they slipped in and out of stores striking up conversation after conversation, gleaning facets of information until the whole jewel became apparent.

The bladesmith was especially talkative and Syn ended up buying a small stiletto that could fit in a boot just to keep the man talking. From him, they learned that taxes had been raised for the third time in five years but none of the promised improvements had been made. Conditions on the docks were dangerous and there was no way to have concerns addressed by the Steward. People were angry, and while some had chosen to leave, most couldn’t afford to. And so the dissatisfaction grew.

Back out on the street, Syn paused to tuck her new knife in her boot. Sif stood at her side, scanning the street. “If what he says is true, I don’t blame them for thinking to rebel,” the warrior said, squinting in the sun.

“Indeed. Whatever Odin’s other faults, he does tend to listen when his subjects are unhappy.” She straightened and rolled her foot to settle the stiletto properly. “I think the Steward hasn’t been entirely truthful about his dealings here.”

“Corruption is hardly uncommon in politics.” Sif waiting until Syn looked back to her before asking, “Why did you want me to come with you?”

“Two women out together is far more common than one alone. And I didn’t think Loki would take well to the idea of me going off by myself. He frets.”

“It’s just. . . I held a sword to your throat once.”

Syn grinned. “And rock steady your hand was.” Sif looked unconvinced. Syn spotted a tavern across the street and pointed. “Drink?”

Sif ordered mead and Syn decided to try the bladefruit wine after talking of it with Loki. They eyed each other over their drinks a moment before Syn decided to break the silence. “You probably don’t believe me, but I like you.” Sif’s brow arched in question. “You are, I think, the only person who knew him before me that hasn’t questioned why I’m with Loki. Since that’s a conversation I tire of, it earns you a bit of good will.”

Sif sipped her mead thoughtfully, then said, “I don’t have to like a man to understand why someone else would find him appealing. If you ignore his more ill conceived actions, he has a great deal of to recommend him. He’s clever, resourceful, a good fighter.” She took another drink.

“The sex is amazing, as well,” Syn said innocently. Sif choked on her mead and Syn giggled. When Sif caught her breath, she stared a minute before laughing herself.

“I grew up with him; he’s practically my brother. I don’t want to know.”

Syn clucked her tongue. “I thought we were having a moment.”

Sif scooped up their cups. “I will buy you another wine, that will be moment enough.”

Syn knew better than to try to match drinks with an Asgardian warrior. So while Sif looked as if she could go the rest of the day, Syn cut them off after the third round and dragged the other woman out of the pub. “We’ve a ball to attend tonight.”

The warrior groaned, falling into place beside her as they headed back towards the upper districts and the palace. “I really wish we could find something to hit.”

“If any more youths flirt with you awkwardly, I give you full permission to bloody their noses.”

“By the realms. You’d think they’d never seen a woman here before.”

“I think it’s safe to say they’ve never seen a woman like you here before.” She spread her arms. “Loki calls me fragile for a reason and I’m an average specimen of Alfan womanhood.”

Sif brushed the words away with a dismissive hand. “You may not be able to wield a sword and shield but you’re far from fragile. You stand up to Loki on a regular basis. And you didn’t let any of those graceless fops get the best of you last night. There’s all kinds of power to be wielded in the realms.”

Syn studied her a moment, before looking away again. “Odd. My mother used to say something similar.” A flash of white on the wall of a nearby building caught her eye and she frowned, stepping away from Sif’s side to investigate.

It was a scrap of paper, nailed to the wall of a money lender’s shop. It was barely bigger than her palm and had runes scribbled on it in a rough hand. Sif peered around her shoulder. “What is it?”

“It’s written in Old Alfan. The girl I sat with last night said it was being used by the lower classes more and more.”

“What does it say?”

“It says ‘I do not serve a false king.’” She glanced at the dark haired warrior, who was now frowning as well. “There’s an address. Down by the docks.” She pointed back the way they had came. Sif nodded sharply and they turned, heading towards the water.

“‘False king.’ What do you suppose that means? The Steward is no king.”

“It’s a story,” Syn explained. “A fairy tale. My mother used to tell it to me and I had a book of old Alfan legends that included it, too.” They darted down a side street, then through an alley before reaching the warehouse that bore the address on the note.

Sif waved her off and paced the length of the building before indicating she could follow. They slipped in through an unlocked back door, finding it empty. There were signs of a meeting or gathering held recently, though. Scraps of paper, some with the same runes as the one she held. She could smell stale ale and a lingering hint of smoked meat and fresh bread.

She and Sif separated, looking around for any hint as to the topic of the meeting. Whoever had been here had cleaned well. There was nothing she could find that would help them.

Then, “Over here,” Sif called. Syn crossed the room to find the warrior holding a featureless black mask. There were slits for eyes but no nose or mouth carved or painted on. Sif held it to her face briefly and Syn shuddered a bit at the eerie effect.

“Ominous masks and secret meetings,” she murmured, rustling the trash at her feet. “This rebellion is sounding more real by the moment.”

“Indeed,” Sif agreed, studying the mask. “We should return to the palace and tell Thor and Loki.”

Syn studied the shadows lining the building walls and slanted a glance at Sif. “Would you like to get there quickly?”

A dark brow arched. “Of course.”

Syn held out her hand. “Trust me?” Sif shifted a little, obviously not wanting to show her doubt. Then with a sigh, she closed her eyes and took Syn’s hand. Syn took two rapid steps back, pictured the hall outside their guest rooms and pulled them both into the shadows.

They appeared in the hallway, staggering but in one piece. Sif glanced around incredulously, then turned to give Syn a slow grin. “I don’t know why you two walk anywhere at all.”

Syn chuckled. “It takes effort and concentration. Much more than walking.” She could feel Loki in his chamber, a blaze of green at the edge of her awareness. “Get Thor and meet us,” she said, reaching for the door. Sif turned to obey and Syn stepped inside.


Her husband lay sprawled on his bed, barefoot, in black breeches and matching shirt. For a moment, the warmth of the wine came back to her and she considered locking the door and joining him, Sif and Thor be damned. Then he lowered the book he was reading and grinned. “How was your day with the Lady Sif?”

She crossed to the bed. “Better than expected. We’ve some new information.”

He sat up as she reached him and his smile faltered. He leaned forward and sniffed. “Have you been drinking?” he asked incredulously.

“There may have been a detour in a tavern, yes.”


“Your lady drinks like a woman, Trickster,” Sif announced brightly from the door.

Syn glanced back at her. “Alfan wine is quite potent for those with a refined palette.”

“Hardly makes up for them watering their mead.”

Syn grinned. “Any time you wish to have a fair contest-”

Loki peered over the top of her head to look at Thor, who was watching the exchange with unhidden bafflement. “Brother, is Sif flirting with my wife?”

Sif bared her teeth in something that approached a smile. “In your dreams, Loki.”

“Oh I assure you-” Syn drove an elbow into his stomach with all her might, which was evidently enough to shut him up.

“We’ll tease you later,” she said. “For now, listen.” She handed him the scrap of paper she still held and told him what the bladesmith had said and what they had found in the warehouse.

Thor examined the mask Sif had brought with them. “And there was no clue as to when or where they might strike?”

“Not at the warehouse,” Sif said. “We covered every inch and this was the only thing we found.”

Loki looked at Syn, handing the paper back to her. “What is The False King?”

She ran a thumb over the runes. “It’s a children’s story about a prince who goes off adventuring to prove himself worthy of his father’s throne. He’s gone a hundred years and a thousand days. But when he returns to his kingdom, he finds his father dead and a double of himself reigning in his place. No one will believe he’s the true king so he goes out in the wild and makes bargains with the monsters there.” She found herself tracing the line of her scar and forced herself to stop. “He trades his heart for a sword that will never break, his soul for armor that can’t be pierced and his memories for an army that won’t fail. Then he returns and takes back his throne but with no heart, soul or memories, he’s a broken empty shell.”

“That’s horrible,” Sif said. “The things we tell children.”

Syn shrugged. “My mother said it was supposed to be a lesson about wanting something so badly that once you have it, it still doesn’t make you happy. Newer versions gave it a happy ending. A woman, sometimes his sister, sometimes a neighboring princess, comes and gives him half her heart and a breath of her soul and her happiest memory and they rule together. Rather negates the moral.” She folded the paper into quarters. “The book I had kept the original ending.”

Loki was pacing. “So many pieces to this puzzle and none of them seem to fit together.”

Thor glanced at the clock on the wall. “We need to prepare for the ball. I’d hope to have something to tell the Steward.”

“Tell him there’s an organized and well planned revolution happening,” Loki said. “I’m sure it will bring him great comfort.” Thor shook his head and held the door for Sif as they left. Loki turned to her when they were alone. “Bonding with Sif?” he asked.

“She was pleasant company,” Syn said, walking to the door that lead to her room so she could begin her own preparations.

He shook his head. “You make friends as easily as I make enemies.”

She tossed him a wicked grin. “One of many reasons we are such a clever match, husband mine.” She pulled the door open and slipped out before he could respond.

Chapter Text

Beautiful as the cream dinner dress had been, Syn preferred the one she had saved for the ball. It was far more Asgardian than Alfan in style, with no corseting and a simple drape. The neckline was cut high in the front but left her back bare, with a thin strip of fabric attached to both shoulders, looping low on her back. It was rich emerald green, a shade darker than her eyes, and made of slippery silk, sliding over her skin. She was fastening her sigil necklace around her neck when Loki came through the connecting door.

He was in different armor than he had worn the night before. It had taken her a long while to notice he had different versions of it. Last night had been ornamental, the light, supple leather he wore when he didn’t expect an attack. Tonight’s was sturdier, with more metal and less green. She arched a brow at his reflection when he stepped behind her and fastened the necklace clasp for her. “You’re expecting trouble.”

He bent and pressed a kiss to her nape, then the curve of her shoulder, eliciting a little shiver. “I want to be prepared.” His hands curved around her ribs, sliding over the slick material until he cupped a breast in his palm. “No one will doubt your allegiances in this,” he murmured into her ear.

“Are you not fortunate that I look so fetching in green?” she asked, voice husky despite the light words. “A paler complexion would leave me looking sickly.”

Another kiss on her throat, then the light pressure of his teeth. She shuddered again and his arms tightened. “I confess I’m looking forward to the end of this intrigue. When I can have you all to myself again.”

She leaned into his chest, letting him take her weight. He kissed along her shoulder, nudging the strap of her dress down her arm. His hand massaged her breast, drawing the nipple taut and peaked beneath the fabric. The other hand wandered down, spreading wide across her abdomen, where heat was beginning to build.

“Will you dance with me this evening?” she whispered. He refused to join in the country dances found around the bonfire in Lakefire. But she remembered watching him dance in Asgard, at the balls he’d so hated attending, and had always envied his partners.

He turned her in his arms, giving her a hot, opened mouthed kiss. “Would that please you?” he asked, lips brushing hers.

“Immensely.”

“Then I suppose I must. Never let it be said the Trickster doesn’t indulge his wife.”

She wound her arms around his neck and accepted another kiss. Her fingers speared into his hair, mussing it despite the oil he’d used to slick it back. “If you really indulged me, you’d let the curl come out,” she teased him.


“My wife demands too much.” He fixed the strap he had slid down, then gave her an affectionate pat on the rear. “Come. Before Thor and Sif come knocking. I want to make the other lords jealous.”

The ball was being held in the throne room. Banners had been hung from the ceiling and chains of lanterns crisscrossed above their heads. It was a far larger crowd than the night before. Waiters drifted through with wine and mead and a thirteen piece band was set up in front of the steps to the throne, playing a lively reel.

Thor and Sif met them in the hall. Sif was in another gown, this one a dark blue, with the same metal girdle. When she shifted, Syn noticed her skirt caught at her right thigh. She arched a brow. “Are we all expecting trouble this evening?”

Sif shrugged. “I feel naked without a blade.”

Loki’s mouth opened and Syn covered it without looking. “Why do you encourage him?”

“I’m hoping he gives me an excuse to stab him.”

Syn rolled her eyes. “My lady, I could give you a list.”

Loki moved her hand from his mouth. “I find the two of you conspiring far more frightening than any revolution.”

She slanted him a grin as the band slipped into a slow ballad. “You promised me a dance.”

“Never mind, go back to jesting with Sif.”

She took his hand and tugged him out to the floor. He put up a token protest before following along. She turned to him and put her hand lightly on his shoulder as he wrapped his firmly around her waist. She could feel the chill of his skin through the thin fabric. He listened to the music a moment and began to lead her in the dance, twirling through the crowd.

“You’ve that look in your eye,” he told her after a moment.


“What look is that?”

“The one other women give Thor.”

She smiled softly. “I used to catch glimpses of you at balls in Asgard. You never looked happy to be dancing.”

He rolled his eyes. “It was usually the daughter of some noble or another. Pushed upon me by Mother or Odin. They didn’t want to be dancing with me any more than I wanted to be dancing with them.”

“I recall you were always there at the beginning of a ball but never the end.”

He released her waist to twirl her and when she spun back to him, he held her closer, hand splayed on her back. “Did you know that during a ball the palace library is usually entirely empty?”

It took all the self control she had not to nuzzle at his throat and inhale his winter sharp scent. “Is that where I should have looked? Oh, for the ability to travel back in time and whisper in my former self’s ear.”

He lowered his head to whisper, “I’m sure we could find a quiet library here, dear heart.”

“Ah, husband, you are such a temptation.” She craned her neck back to kiss him lightly. The song ended and he led her back to the wall where Thor and SIf waited. “Have you changed your mind about dancing?” she asked him as they neared the others.

“I’ll admit it had some merits. You may be able to coerce me into another later.”

Before she could respond, there came a voice from behind them. “Princess?”

The voice was unfamiliar, but young. She couldn’t imagine who would actually call her that. Loki stiffened as they both turned to find the speaker.

A tall, fair haired man was making his way through the crowd towards them. His face split into a grin when he saw her. “Hello, Cinders.”

Syn covered her mouth in shock. “Lir?!” She stumbled a few steps towards him and he caught her in a completely improper hug, twirling her around. “I can’t believe it’s you,” she said when he set her back on her feet.

“My father told me when you came back but I was on the water. And, well, I wasn’t sure if you wanted to see me.”

“Of course I would have wanted to see you. How could you have thought otherwise?” Behind her someone cleared their throat very pointedly and she winced, reminded that she’d married a man who was occasionally prone to bouts of homicide. “Let me introduce you to my husband,” she said a shade too brightly.

Lir’s eyes widened and he glanced past her. “Husband?”

Loki stepped forward and sketched the most sardonic bow in the history of society manners. “Loki the Trickster. At your service.”

Lir bowed in return. “Lord Lir.” He looked back at Syn. “You’re married.” He looked. . . hurt.

This was absolutely the most awkward moment of her adult life. Thor would need to walk in on them mid-coitus to beat this. “It’s been five hundred years,” she said quietly. “We were children.”

He shook himself a little. “Of course.” He addressed Loki again. “Congratulations on your match, sir.”

“Thank you. I must say I’m intensely curious as to your relationship with my wife as I fear I’ve never heard her speak your name.”

Lir glanced at her before responding. “We were friends. Good friends. Childhood sweethearts in a fashion.”

Sif leaned over to whisper in her ear. “Is it just me, or do they look alike?”

Syn had been trying very hard not to notice that. Lir’s features were a bit broader and he was fair haired and tanner. But in height and posture they were nearly identical. She kicked the other woman in the shin. “Do not make this worse.”

“Define worse,” Thor muttered.

“Cinders?” Sif asked her, almost conspiratorially.

She groaned. “The first spell I learned was to make sparks. They didn’t actually burn but he and the others teased me I’d set myself on fire someday. Syn-Cinders. It stuck.” Sif gave her the sympathetic look of a girl raised with boys who thought they were clever.

“I wondered, sir,” Lir was saying. “If I might borrow your wife for a dance.”

“Oh, I don’t think that’s a good-”

“Of course,” Loki said, eyes glittering. “I’m sure she’d enjoy that.”

She glared at her husband as Lir bowed and offered her his arm. She slid her hand into the crook of his elbow and turned to Sif to hiss, “Please don’t let him kill anyone.” The warrior gave her a fist-to-chest salute as she was taken off to the dance floor.

“Your husband doesn’t like me,” Lir said conversationally as they stepped into formation.

“I think you came as a bit of a shock to him.”

“Where did you find him?”

“We met in Asgard.”

Lir stumbled a little. “Wait. He’s Prince Loki? Of Asgard?”

She didn’t think Loki was that common a name, but would give him the benefit of the doubt of being off his game. “He no longer lays claim to Asgard as home and the Allfather has disowned him. So while you’re technically right, I wouldn’t recommend calling him either of those to his face.”

“But- how would you end up with someone like him?”

Syn felt her hackles raise. Her husband might be acting like a petulant child but he was still her husband. “I’m told the corners of a woman’s heart are quite unfathomable. My husband has many qualities that I find worthy of loving. He is more than the stories they tell about him.”

Lir sighed and looked down. “I apologize. I spoke out of turn. It’s just. . . a shock, seeing you again. On the arm of an Asgardian, no less.”

“Loki was as much a child as we were when Asgard invaded. I can’t hold him responsible for Odin’s actions.” She tilted her head. “Do you have a particular quarrel with Asgard?”

“Not a quarrel, per se. But I spend a great deal of time on the docks with my father’s ships. I hear rumors. Discontent among the lower classes.”

“Discontent? Do you think something will come of it?” If years with Loki had taught her anything, it was how to feign innocence.

“I hope not. I’ve brought my concerns to my father and the Steward and they assure me it is nothing to be concerned of. All but patted me on the head as if I was still a child.” He looked at her a little sadly. “I’m not used to being dismissed.”

As double meanings went, it wasn’t subtle. She did feel a pang for him, though. “Things change as we grow up,” she said gently. “Sometimes it’s hard to let go of the memory of youth.”

“My lady is wise beyond her years.”

The music trailed off and they parted. She dipped a curtsy. “They have been interesting years.”

“I will see you back to your husband.”

He offered her his arm and she only laid a hand on it to lower it. “I don’t think that’s a good idea. Loki is more than his stories but it doesn’t mean the stories aren’t worth heeding. You will not be welcome.”

Lir studied her carefully. “Are you in danger, Cinders?” he asked gently.

She covered her mouth with a hand so she wouldn’t laugh in his face. “Not at all,” she assured him. “I am an exception to his more murderous tendencies.” She gave another curtsy and turned away. “It’s those who seek to harm me that need to beware.”

Chapter Text

After leaving Lir on the dance floor Syn scanned the crowd for her husband. There was a flash of black and green armor at the other end of the room and she started winding through the crowd to him. Best to get the inevitable jealous tantrum over with. Perhaps Sif and Thor could watch, with popcorn.

She was still deep in the throng when the ground began to shake. The music and dancing stopped as people froze and looked around. Syn looked down at the floor and felt a thrum of magic. There came another tremor, harder, and she stumbled. Not a normal earthquake, then. She had lost sight of Loki’s black and green and the crowd was beginning to move towards the front doors, away from where she’d last seen him. She had taken two steps to push against the current when explosions rocked the room.

People panicked, screaming and stampeding to the doors. Among the fancy dresses, Syn spotted figures dressed in black, wearing faceless masks like the one she and Sif had found. They were also carrying swords and other weapons; clearly out for blood. The screaming in the room increased. Syn cursed and pushed her way through the crowd towards a group of masked men trying to corner a trio of young women, including Mistress Bevin. The ground rocked again and she had to take a knee to keep from falling on her face.

A hand wrapped around her arm to haul her up. Warm, not Loki. She looked up to find Sif holding her steady, blade in her other hand. “Loki told me to find you and take you to safety.”

Syn arched a brow, lifted a hand, and aimed a blast of magic over the other woman’s shoulder, sending an attacker flying. “Do you intend to do so?”

Sif glanced back at the sprawled man. “I don’t think you’d let me if I tried. Though I imagine you wish you had your weapon with you.”

One of the girls screamed and she and Sif turned in unison towards the sound. “My lady,” Syn said, stretching her hand out for her staff to appear in it. “My weapon is never far away.” Sif gave her a nod and together they leapt to aid the girls.

Syn had never fought alongside anyone but Loki. (Well, once she and Romanov had found themselves in a bad neighborhood in Rome, hunting for gelato, and had caught the attention of a gang of street thugs. The battle had been brief and Romanov had taken four to her two, so it had hardly counted.) Loki had taught her almost everything she knew about fighting and their styles matched perfectly. Sif’s style was far different; still fast and agile, but stronger, rougher. A proper brawler. She wondered what Loki would think of her taking lessons from the dark haired warrior.

After rescuing the mistresses, Syn conjured Sif’s shield for her and they plowed forward towards the front of the room where the worst of the fighting was. The palace doors were shut and the noble guests were crowding them, trying to escape, making easy prey.

“They’re lining up for slaughter,” Sif called. “We need to get the doors opened.”

There were half a hundred people between them and the doors. There had to be something blocking them on the other side for them to be unable to open it. The doors were wood; a few blasts should create a hole. She sent her staff away and planted her feet. “Watch my back,” she said and lifted her hands, calling up her magic.

The first blast rocked the doors forward. The sight of it seemed to remind the other nobles that they held their own power and she saw several other hands raise. A series of blows, magical and physical, battered the doors and they creaked and cracked, finally blowing outward. The crowd poured out like water from a ruptured dam.

A blow knocked her to the side and she found herself sprawled on the floor with Sif. Syn gave the other woman a questioning look and the warrior pointed to where she’d been standing. Syn turned to see a masked man with a sword standing there. She couldn’t see his eyes, but she got the distinct impression he was staring at her. He was tall, broad shouldered, and his sword was longer and finer than the ones the other men had wielded. She had the sudden sense she was looking at the leader.


He stepped forward, blade flashing in the lamp light. Syn felt slim fingers at her ankle and glanced down to see Sif reaching in the little black half boot she wore. There, the other woman found the little stiletto Syn had bought that day. Sif slid it out, pulled her arm back, and threw it at their attacker. It took him low in the belly and he let out a rough curse in Old Alfan. He pulled the blade out and dropped it before sheathing his sword and turning. He shouted out a retreat to his men and they escaped out the doors with the fleeing nobles.

Syn got to her feet and went to retrieve her knife, plucking a cloth from the air to wipe it on. The room was all but empty now, save for a few injured nobles. The floor was damaged in a few spots, deep cracks in the stone. Nothing seemed structurally unsound, at least not to her untrained eye. Incongruously, the merrily colored lanterns still hung from the ceiling.

She was about to ask Sif if they were going to pursue the attackers who had fled, because if they were, she was happy to clothe them both in proper armor, when a thin green ribbon wound itself around her wrist. She sighed as Sif came to her side and glanced at the binding. “Loki,” she said in explanation.

She pointed to the rope. “He does this often?”

“It’s one of our ways of getting the other’s attention. He’s trying to find me.” She wrapped the ribbon around her hand twice and yanked. In an instant, Loki and Thor appeared at their side.

Her husband gave Sif a sour look. “You were supposed to keep her safe.”

“Your first mistake was thinking either of us obeys your orders,” Sif told him.

“I feel the need to point out I’m quite safe.” She slipped her stiletto back in her boot. “I didn’t even dirty my dress.”

“The guards are pursuing the rebels,” Thor said. “I told them to take prisoners if possible; we already have too many dead or wounded to worry about.”

Syn scanned the bodies scattered about the throne room. “I’ll go muster the healers,” she said before glancing at Loki. “If that’s all right with you.”

“Be sure to bring your former sweetheart with you. For comfort.”

She shook her head. “Oh, good. I was concerned that with the attack we’d have to skip the petulant jealousy.” She turned from him without another word and stormed through the shadows.

She spent the evening helping the healers triage the wounded. It was hard, bloody work and kept her and her magic so busy she never bothered to change out of her gown. It was well and truly bedraggled by the time she met the others in their rooms. The throne room had been cleaned and locked up by then, the nobles back in their homes or rooms. They had caught a handful of the rebels, but most had escaped. Those captured were refusing to speak to anyone.

When she got to Loki’s room, he and Thor were discussing possible methods of getting information. Loki’s all seemed to involve pointy things and Thor was using a calming tone usually reserved for small children. Sif was nowhere to be seen. Syn thought she remembered seeing her liaising with the head of the royal guard. She ignored the men on her way to the washroom to clean the blood off her hands.

When she came out again, they had moved on to the attack itself. “It was well organized,” Thor was saying. “The explosions created enough chaos that no one even noticed the doors being barricaded and the attackers enter.”

Loki was pacing, as usual, and stopped, turning to look at his brother. “How did they enter?” Thor tilted his head in confusion. “The doors were barricaded from the outside,” Loki continued. “Did they leave people outside to do so?”

“They could have come in through the secret tunnel,” Syn said, running a cloth under her nails. She froze and they both turned to look at her as she realized what she’d said.

“Tunnel?” Thor asked.

She had the odd feeling of the world being pulled out from under her feet. “How could I have forgotten that?” she said softly, to herself.

Loki changed his pacing route, coming to stand in front of her. “What did you forget?”

“There’s tunnels - passages - all through the palace. Boe and I used to use them for hide and seek. I don’t even know why they were there, some paranoid ancestor of mine, I suppose.”

“And there’s one in the throne room?”

She glanced at him and tossed the cloth she was using back to the washroom. She beckoned him with a hand as she headed into the shadows that took her to the now deserted throne room. She didn’t have to look behind her to know Loki was at her heels. She knew there was a passage that lead to the garden but she had something she needed to do, first.


She climbed up the steps to the throne and slipped behind it, crouching down. She ran her fingers around the edges of the marble base. Loki came and hunkered down next to her. “What are you doing?”

“There’s a catch,” she said. “It was easier to find when my fingers were smaller- ah!” She found it and the back of the base tilted forward. She slid it aside to reveal a small cubby hole. She bent down and reached deep into the hole.

Loki was staring at something that made his jaw tighten. When she followed his gaze, she saw a very old blood stain in the shape of four small fingers. “This is where you hid?” he asked, voice rasping. She nodded, watching his face. He seemed to gather his composure around himself like a cloak. “Dear heart, has it occurred to you that you should be far more emotionally damaged than you are?”

She gave him a brittle smile. “I just assume a day is coming when I snap and kill you all in your sleep.” She found what she’d been looking for and pulled her arm out, sitting up.

It was a slender gold crown, made for a child’s head. She turned it over in her hands, running a thumb along the smooth metal. “I’d been playing with it. Having a tea party with my dolls. It was still on my head when I ran but fell off as I hid.” Loki touched her arm without a word and she tried to smile again. She braced her hand on the back of the throne and stood. “There’s a passage that leads out to the gardens,” she told him, heading back down the stairs.

“How many people knew about these secret ways?”

She counted the squares on the floor to find the right place on the wall. “The royal family. Some of the servants. A few of the noble families. We used to play with the other children in them on snowy days.”

“So your dear friend Lir would know?”

She glared at him as she shoved on the wall engraving and the secret panel slid open. “Are we going to have this out, then?”

He held her gaze as he stepped through the opening. “You never mentioned him.”

“There was nothing to mention.” She followed him into the dark tunnel, conjuring a light in her hand to illuminate the way. “He was a boy I knew when we were both children. I suppose he had a bit of a crush on me but there was nothing to it. By the realms, I had only just decided boys weren’t icky when I was taken to Asgard.”

He clasped his arms behind his back, studying the walls and floor of the tunnel. “You obviously meant something to him.”

She groaned and rubbed her eyes. “You are being ridiculous. Do you want a list of my lovers? Will that make you happy? You can track them all down and slaughter them for having touched me before you even met me.”

He whirled on her. “I want to know who you are. Who you were. I’m tired of being surprised by my own wife.”

A step took her close enough to hiss at him. “I don’t want to talk about it. I don’t want to think about it. I don’t want to be here doing this. I did it for you because I love you. Can you please just let me be?”

“No.” He used to roar when he got angry. She wondered exactly when Loki started going quiet and clipped when they fought. He loomed over her. “You know me. You know my failures, my weakness. You know the worst days of my life. Why am I not allowed to know yours? What makes your memories so sacred?”

“Because they’re dead!” He flinched back as she spun away. “They’re dead,” she repeated, voice broken. She paced, running her hands through her hair. “Yes, Lir is alive but have I introduced you to any others? They were boys, mostly, my brother’s friends, older than me. You remember how old you were when Alfheim was claimed? How old Thor was? What would he have done if Asgard had been attacked then?” She saw understanding flicker through his eyes. “They picked up swords, Loki. Children. They picked up swords from their fathers’ walls or the slaughtered guards and they fought. Against trained, grown men. And they were cut down. My brother had a sword, newly smithed for his birthday. And the last anyone saw him, he had strapped it on to fight-” She stopped, frozen.

“What?” he asked, stepping close again, the anger drained from him.

“His sword,” she said softly. “It can’t be.”

“Syn, what- ah!” There was a wet thunk as he cut off and in the dim light, she saw the glint of a blade in his side.

“Loki!” She reached for him as an arm came out of the darkness and wrapped around her throat. She choked and kicked at her attacker, clawing at the arm. It only tightened, cutting off her air. She watched Loki stagger and take a knee, then she was being dragged down the passage, away from him. She fought harder but her vision dimmed, greyed, and went black.

When she woke, it was to a throbbing in her head and the faint smell of salt. She tried to lift her hand to touch her head but couldn’t move it. She opened her eyes to find her wrists bound to the arms of a wooden chair. Her gown was now stained beyond hope of recovery. She lifted her gaze to take in the rough hewn wooden table in front of her and finally to the man who sat across from her.

He was broad shouldered; the chair he sat in looked spindly in comparison. His hair was too light to be brown but too dark to be blonde. A scar ran the length of his jaw and his nose was broad and had been broken at least once. His eyes were narrowed but she could make out their hazel-green shade quite well. The tilt of his mouth was familiar. She saw it in the mirror every day.

She licked her lips and tried to swallow. “Hello, Boe,” she said hoarsely.

His mouth tilted up all the way into a smile. “Hello, baby sister.”

Chapter Text

Syn watched as Boe stood and walked to a table along the wall. He filled a flagon from a pitcher and brought it to her, holding it to her lips for her to drink. The water was room temperature and had an odd taste, but it wet her throat enough for her to talk. She just wished her head would stop hurting. “Loki?”

“The Asgardian you were with?” he asked as he sat again. She nodded slowly and he continued, “We left him bleeding in the passage. I doubt anyone will find him before morning.”

Oh, good. A sword to the side would only annoy him. She tried not to let her relief show on her face. She rolled her neck a little trying to ease the pain. “You’re leading the rebellion?”

He nodded. “It’s time for the true king to take his throne.”

Oddly enough, she would have been completely behind that had he not said it with such ominous calm. “Where have you been?”

He leaned back in his chair. “I was injured in the invasion.” He gestured to the scar on his face. “A soldier took me to his family. They didn’t recognize me at first. Then, once it was discovered that the rest of the royals were dead, it seemed wise to keep me hidden. He sent me to cousins, miners in the south. I grew up there. You?”

She cleared her throat. “Odin took me back to Asgard and put me to work in his palace.”

“And now you’re married to his youngest son.”

“Loki and I are. . . complicated. He’s hardly his father’s son.” She twisted her wrists idly against her bonds. “Is my marriage the reason I’m tied?”

He shrugged. “I didn’t know how far the brainwashing had gone.”

Arching her brows hurt but she just couldn’t stop. “Brainwashing?”

“You’re the princess of Alfheim and you married an Asgardian. I have to assume some sort of conditioning was involved.” He waved a dismissive hand. “No matter. Now that you’re away from them, it will fade.”

It was fortunate she was used to dealing with mad, egotistical men. Stay calm. “What is your plan? Now that we’re together again?”

He smiled. “The same as it was before. Retake the palace. Rule the realm. Slaughter as many Asgardians as possible.”

Inhale through the nose. Out again, slowly. Remain calm. “You would go to war on Asgard?” she asked, surprising herself with how casual she sounded.

“To pay them back for our years of suffering? Of course. Odin is old now. His hold grows weaker all the time. And now, with both of us for the people to rally behind. . .” He grinned. “It will be glorious.”

Somewhere out there, there was a book that all men with illusions of greatness must read. It probably had sample speeches in it, with vocabulary lists. Syn wondered if Loki would show her his copy if she asked nicely. “Arrogance like that caused Alfheim to be conquered in the first place.”

“Odin’s arrogance,” Boe said, voice low.

“And our father’s.” Her voice was soft, but firm. She had had a very long time to think about the days leading up to the invasion. If life with Loki had taught her anything, it was that no quarrel was one sided.

It enraged her brother, nonetheless. “Our father was protecting his people from an imperialistic, invasive -”

“There were ways to say no that didn’t involve violence,” she snapped. “Vanaheim and the Dwarves both made treaties with Odin and their rulers stayed in their castles, hale and hearty. Papa decided he bowed to no man and sealed his fate.”

Her brother slammed a fist on the table, rattling it. “A king should never kneel!”

By the realms, that sounded familiar. “A king should think of his people before his own pride.”

Boe shot to his feet and for an instant she feared he meant to harm her. But he just stalked away from the table. “We’re a peaceful realm. Odin had no reason to attack the way he did.”

She arched a brow. “We had an army, did we not?” Boe glared at her and she made an attempt to rein in her irritation. “You don’t tell a war hungry imperialist ‘no.’ Not without the means to back it up. So either our father did intend to go to war over his place on the throne or he grossly underestimated a man who had defeated every enemy he ever came across. Which option do you prefer?”

“Your time in Asgard has poisoned you,” Boe spat.

“And your pride and anger has blinded you.” She took a deep, calming breath through the nose. “You’ve the same truth sense I do, brother. Use it, for once. Your rebellion has merit. Having seen the conditions of the lower districts, I have sympathy for the people there. But your plan is foolish. Your people will not thank you for starting a war you can’t win.”

Boe went very still. “It won’t be unwinnable.”

“Yes,” she said gently. “It will.”

He was silent a moment, then scoffed. “We killed the Steward well enough.”

“You attacked a ballroom full of unarmed nobles. Do you remember the Asgardian army, brother? Have you seen it lately? I have. Your angry peasants in masks aren’t going to defeat them. They won’t even slow them down.”

He leaned forward, hands flat on the table. “Careful, Syn. Or I will begin to question your allegiances.”

She sat as tall and straight as her bonds would allow. “My allegiance is to the people of Alfheim. And I don’t think you have their best interests in mind.”

He laughed and it was a mean, mocking laugh that brought her immediately back to childhood, tightening her shoulders. “Who’s going to stop me?” he asked, sinking back into his seat. “You? I remember how you used to ‘fight’ when we were children, Syn. You’ve spent your years washing floors and keeping house. I’ve spent them training for this. What could you possibly do to beat me?”

She leaned back in her chair, lifted her feet, and kicked the table, slamming it into his chest. He choked, all the air expelled from his lungs. She planted her feet on the floor, stood, and threw herself backwards, shattering the chair beneath her. She rolled, grabbing two chunks of wood to use as batons. “I learned that from a human named Natasha,” she told him, climbing to her feet.

He roared and came at her. She used one of her sticks to slam his arm out of the way and whirled, using her momentum to strike him with the other. “That move my husband taught me,” she taunted, dancing away.

Her brother paused, studying her a moment. His next rush was smoother and this time when she went to hit him, he caught her arm with both hands. He turned her, yanking her off balance, and used the edge of the table to break her arm. She screamed and he shoved her to the ground and hunkered over her. “Anyone teach you that?”

Pain radiated up her arm. She was fairly certain he’d dislocated her shoulder as well; she couldn’t move the limb at all. She sucked in a breath and glared at him. She no longer saw her big brother, just a bully. And a small part of her admitted that, in truth, that’s what he’d always been.

“Any other lessons?” he asked nastily.

“Just one.” She lifted her uninjured arm, made a fist, and punched him as hard as she could. The blow knocked him off balance and sent him sprawling. She conjured a barrier and pressed it to his chest, pinning him to the ground. He struggled against it like a fish left on the dock as she carefully climbed to her feet, cradling her broken arm to her chest. “I got that one from my brother-in-law,” she told him through gritted teeth.

He stared at her in shock as she stood over him. “Sister. Please-”

“Shut up,” she snapped. “In our mother’s name and by the blood we share, I will give you one warning. Leave. The Capital, the province, the realm if you can. Stop this rebellion before it goes any farther. Before more people are killed. If you don’t do this, then we are enemies.” She spat at his feet. “I am not your baby sister.”

She turned from him and strode through the shadows and out into the street, finding herself on the docks. This afternoon she’d been able to take herself and Sif to the palace from here, but right now the pain in her arm prevented that kind of concentration. She’d have to settle for a series of small jumps.

And so she made her way towards the palace in a long string of teleports, each only a few streets apart. Her arm was starting to make her dizzy and she was exhausted. Every time she stood still and tried to travel farther, the only thing she could focus on was pain. Her brother was alive. He’d stabbed Loki. Snapped her arm like a twig. Wanted to rule the realm and plunge them into war.

This night was truly never going to end.

Finally, she reached the palace gardens, right next to her bladefruit tree. She leaned on the smooth trunk and dug down deep for more power. She could sense Loki in the palace, glowing green and spiky in his chamber. Her next leap took her to the corner of the room.

Loki was sprawled on the small sofa, shirtless, with a bright white bandage wrapped around his ribs, stained red along his left side. Thor was physically holding him down while Sif looked on sourly.

“Loki, you’re wounded; you can’t go out. The guards are searching everywhere for her. You must be patient,” Thor was saying with what sounded like very strained patience.

“She is my wife, brother. I can’t just sit here.”

“Would it please you if I went to look?” Sif asked in exasperation.

“Aw,” Syn gasped, stumbling forward a step. “You were worried.”

Syn.” Loki shoved Thor’s hand off, leaping from the couch to reach her.


“Your side-” she managed, staggering into his arms. She flattened her good hand on his chest above the line of the bandage.

“Damn my side. What happened to your arm?” He caught her with one arm around her waist and cupped her injured arm with the other hand. She gasped at even that light touch.

She felt the chill of his magic as he tried to heal her and what was left of her power bubbled up to meet it. He lowered his head and kissed her to solidify the bond as green and gold light swirled around them.

Her mother had never taught her about sharing magic. Syn had asked Loki about it once and he’d admitted he knew little more than her. According to books, it only worked for complementary or similar skills. Logic dictated their powers should clash, not blend. He was illusion and ice and sharp edges. She was truth and sparks and healing. Their magics should repel the other. Instead they supported the other, strengthened it, changed what was possible. It was a remarkable facet of their relationship and she dearly wished one of their mothers was around to explain it.

The snap when her bones realigned was agony and she would have fallen had he not held her up. She focused on knitting the wound in his side and in a few moments, the glow faded and they were completely healed. He lifted his head and cupped her throat. “I thought I lost you,” he said quietly.

She smiled, exhausted, but oh, so happy to see him. “Never. I’m yours. You’re mine. We find each other.”

“Sister, what happened?” Thor asked quietly.

“I met the head of the rebellion,” she said, letting Loki guide her to the couch and sit. “It’s my brother.”

“I thought he was dead.” Sif sounded more irritated than surprised.


“Apparently my family is harder to kill than initially expected.” She told them what had been said between her and Boe. Loki sat next to her on the sofa, one arm wrapped around her, holding her against him. His muscles grew taut beneath her as she spoke of the brief fight and how casually her brother had broken her arm.

“We need to get you out of here,” he said when she was done. “Back to Lakefire immediately.”

“Like Hel,” she said, talking over Thor and Sif’s mixed reactions. Sif, at least, seemed on her side. “I’m not going anywhere.”

“Dear heart, it’s dangerous.”

With great effort, she hauled herself upright, away from him. “It’s been dangerous from the moment we came here. It’s a revolution. You intended to use me as a catalyst for it. Congratulations, it worked.”

“This is not up for discussion.” Loki was using his imperious voice. It had been a very long time since she’d heard that. Unfortunately for him, it had never really worked on her.

“You’re right. It isn’t. I’m not leaving. What has changed now that makes it too dangerous for me to be here?”

“Shall I start with the raid on the throne room, your kidnapping, or the sword I took to the ribs?” he asked, voice dripping with sarcasm. “This is beyond a common revolution now. This is a prince trying to reclaim a throne. I believe I speak with some authority when I say that can get out of hand.”

Well, at least he was acknowledging the parallels. “He’s my brother, he won’t-”

“Exactly! He’s your brother.” Loki stood, obviously too agitated to sit still any longer. “You’re going to be his Achilles heel, his weak spot. He didn’t account for you being here. Now, his first priority is going to be to deal with you, most likely with violence.”


“Something else you’re an authority on,” Thor muttered, earning him a glare from both of them.

“If I’m his weak spot, then all the more reason for me to stay. Maybe I can still reason with him.” Loki and Thor made twin snorts of disbelief. Syn grit her teeth. “Fine. Maybe I can make an excellent distraction while one of you pummels him. I am still. Not. Leaving.”

Loki stepped forward, looming over her as if she would actually be swayed by physical threat from him. “I am not using you as bait.”

“You’ve never had a problem with that before,” she snapped.

“It has been years since I deployed that particular gambit. And it was almost never with someone with a personal vendetta against you. Of the people in this room, you are the one he kidnapped. You are the one he has the most reason to want out of the way.”

“He doesn’t seem overly fond of you.”

Loki spread his arms and yelled, “Because I’m married to you.”

“You are making this personal,” she said, low and dangerous. “You are making it about you and your past and your regrets. My brother is not you. He doesn’t have your motivations or your plans. You cannot structure our defense as if he does.” She pulled herself to her full height. “I am tired. It’s nearly dawn and I have had a very long day. I’m going to bed. If you want to continue this argument without an audience, you know where to find me.”

With that, she turned and stormed through the door connecting her room to his, slamming it shut behind her.

Chapter Text

Syn expected Loki to come finish their argument once Thor and Sif had retired. When the door between their rooms remained shut, she decided to get ready for bed and try to sleep through what little remained of the night.

Her sleep was light and fitful. Just before dawn, she woke to find the dark shadow of her husband sitting at the end of the bed, shoulders slumped. She propped herself up on an elbow, pushing her hair out of her eyes.

“Do you think,” he said quietly. “That had I crooked my finger at that skinny maid, she would have joined me in my bed?”

Syn tilted her head, heart pounding a little as the ghost of the girl she’d been reacted to the thought. “She would have,” she answered.

“Do you think it would have changed anything? When I found out what I was? When my world came down?”

“I do.” He turned his head slightly and she shifted, crawling to the end of the bed to sit behind him. He was bare chested and she leaned on the cool expanse of his back, resting her cheek on his shoulder. “Do you know what I would have told you had I been in your bed back then?” He shook his head. “I would have told you that we are not defined by our birth. And I would have reminded you that I see only the truth, not glamour.” She ran her hands down his arms. “I have only ever seen you as Aesir. Pale skin and blue eyes. That’s who you are, in truth. No matter what your father might have been.”

He didn’t reply. She stayed still, resting against his back, listening to the steady thump of his heartbeat. “Natasha told me once that they have evidence of alternate universes. Mirrors of our own where a single decision or event changed the course of history.” She kissed the back of his shoulder. “I like to think there’s a world out there where you are Thor’s trusted advisor and your skinny maid warms your bed every night.” She turned her head and kissed his cheek. “Our arguments rattle the great hall and the courtiers shake their head at the prince’s hot-tempered bride.”

He lifted a hand and covered hers, pressed it to his chest. “Perhaps there’s a universe where Odin never conquered Alfan. And when the princess came of age ,she came to study with Frigga, to learn her magic.”

Syn smiled at the idea. “Do you think when that princess met the young prince they clashed terribly?”

“Of course they did. He was far too full of himself for her liking.”

“Mmm. And I imagine she was too haughty by half.”

“One day, they discovered their magics blended in the most extraordinary ways.”

“And from that point, they were inseparable. And unstoppable.”

He turned his head slightly, a slash of pale cheek. “Perhaps she helped him conquer the world?”

“Perhaps,” she allowed, tightening her arms around him.

Silence stretched between them before he spoke again, softly. “I try so hard to walk in the light. To be what you believe I can be. But, oh, the darkness calls to me. I stare into the abyss and think ‘Just a little mischief. A touch of chaos.’ Not a day goes by that I don’t think of it. But then you smile or tease me and I remember the cost. I pull myself back.” His hand tightened on hers. “If something happened to you. If I lost you. . . I would fall into that darkness and never come out. I would burn the world that took you from me. Not even Thor could stop me. What I did before would be nothing compared to what losing you would do to me.”

An ache settled in her chest at the confession. She pressed her face into his hair a moment. “Loki, my love. I walked through the tenth realm for you. Fought a demon queen and lived to tell the tale. Do you really think Death would keep me from you?” She felt him chuckle. “I would claw my way out of Hel, trick the reaper himself. I’d earn the wings of a Valkyrie to get back to you. I’m yours. You’re mine. We will find each other.” She kissed his cheek. “After all we’ve been through, I believe we’ve earned a life together. I have faith in that, if nothing else.”

He shifted, turning a bit so he could see her face. He studied her a moment. “Do you think there’s a world out there where you obey me as a meek and dutiful wife?”

She tilted her head, as if she was carefully considering the question. Then she shook it. “No.”

He laughed and lifted a hand to cup her throat, kissing her. She stroked his hair, then kissed his brow. “Come to bed, husband. I sleep poorly when we’re apart.”

*

In the morning, the three Asgardians dragged her into the council meeting they had called to update the nobles on the events of the night before. Syn hadn’t wanted to attend, but Loki was disinclined to let her out of his sight and after their pre-dawn talk, she was willing to indulge him. When she entered the council chamber, she wasn’t sure who was more uncomfortable, her, or the room full of old men who saw her and were reminded of her father and his days at the head of the table.

The head of the table was empty now, with Steward Tiver dead and no one willing to take his spot. She hadn’t thought much of the man, but he hadn’t deserved assassination at the hands of angry rebels.

Thor and Sif took places near the head of the table while she and Loki lounged at the other end. She listened with half an ear as they discussed casualties and the state of the prisoners. When Thor told them the identity of the rebellion leader, heads turned to look at her.

At her side, Loki straightened and glared at the other men. “Does anyone have something to say to my wife?” he asked, deceptively pleasant.

“Of course not,” said Lord Orran, just as pleasant. “None of us would think to question her loyalties.”

Everyone was always so interested in her loyalties. “They’re where they’ve always been,” she said before Loki could jump to her defense again. “Where yours should be. With the people of Alfheim.”

“Are you insinuating we are not loyal to our subjects?”

Your subjects?” Loki said. “Has something happened to Odin that he no longer rules you?”

Orran’s face reddened and Syn saw several of the other lords’ expressions darken. “I think you’re loyal to yourselves and your coffers,” she said before they could defend themselves. “I’m not entirely sure where the people who help you fill those coffers place on your lists of priorities, but I’m willing to bet it’s not in the top five.”

Lord Eoin, Lir’s father, spoke then, gentle and quiet, “Lady Syn, with due respect, you have been in the country for many years. I don’t know that you are in a position to lecture us on our priorities.”

“I spent hours in the lower districts yesterday. What, exactly, are you doing with their taxes? Because you’re not using them to help the people. Sewers are broken, the docks are dangerous, and there’s no way for the people to address their issues with the council.”

“I hardly think a few hours in the districts-”

“When was the last time you spent time there?” Loki asked, silencing them.

She would thank him for that later. “My brother is running on pride. It will make him stupid. I imagine he’ll make a mistake soon and this will all be over. But until you address the problems at the root of the rebellion, you will not have peace in the Capital. The people are unhappy. You aren’t doing anything about it. Boe is promising them that he will. That’s how revolutions start.”

“Are you insinuating you will be taking your brother’s place?” a lord she didn’t know asked.

“Don’t be stupid,” Loki snapped. “If she wanted that throne, I’d have gotten it for her already.”

Syn tried not to grin too widely at the looks that got from around the table. Thor and Sif seemed merely exasperated, though. It was reassuring to know they could take such comments as a joke now.

“I’m not going to raise up an army against you,” she said quietly. “I’m only offering a warning. The people of this realm have worked your fields and your ships and your mines. They bloody their hands and break their backs for you. The least you can do is take care of them. Fix their streets, keep them safe, listen to their woes. Find a way to support them as they support you. Or face the inevitable consequences.” She paused, then added. “When you kick a dog, you shouldn’t be surprised when it bites.”

There was a long moment of silence. She stood in one smooth motion, pushing her chair back with a scrape. “I don’t think I’m needed here anymore. Enjoy planning your war.” She glanced down at Loki. “I’ll be in the gardens when you’re done.” He gave a short nod and she headed for the door, leaving them all behind.

Breakfast had been cleared by the time she reached the dining hall. She’d eaten before the meeting, but apparently telling off a room of old men worked up an appetite. The cook was kind enough to put together a plate of cheese, fruit, and bread for her and she ate most of it before making her way out to the gardens. Her magic had been severely depleted the night before, with the battle, her escape from her brother, and the many, many healings she’d done. She could still feel it, a warm golden glow deep inside her, but there was a lethargy to it. If she called it, it would come, but less like an eager puppy and more like a disgruntled cat rousted from its sun spot. Best to leave it be until she needed it.

The gardens were sun soaked and peaceful, a good counterpoint to her mood. She had almost come to terms with the fact her brother was alive and trying to reclaim the throne. Her talk with Loki in the dark weighed on her a little. She didn’t like to think that she was the only thing holding him back from darkness. She didn’t doubt it was true; she had once called herself the closest thing to a conscience he had. And Romanov had once warned her it was obvious to anyone who looked where Loki kept his heart. Being the weak spot for a man like Loki was not a comfortable place to be, but it had been long years since they had faced true danger.

Her fingers found the edge of her scar without conscious thought. After their time in the Realm Below, she didn’t think there was anything that could truly threaten them again. They would always survive, somehow.

Her wandering thoughts had lead her to the heart of the garden, where her blade fruit tree stood beside Boe’s iron wood. Syn stood and tipped her head back to see the tops of the trees, stark silhouettes against the bright sky.

Her brother was a revolutionary. A traitor to Asgard and Alfheim. The truth of it settled on her heart, creating a new shadow, heavy and dark. She let out a slow breath and breathed deep again as a new truth came to her.

It was likely her brother would not survive this week.

A faint rustle of leaves was her only warning. She whirled, hand up to ward off a blow, and saw her brother standing there at the edge of the courtyard, sword in his hand. It wasn’t raised, but she considered an unsheathed sword threat enough, given the events of last night. Her magic was still sluggish, so instead of conjuring her staff, she sent out a spark to Loki. It zipped down the garden path like a wisp. She didn’t think Boe even noticed.


She tilted her head. “Have you come to surrender?” she asked him brightly.

“I come for parley,” he replied, eyes scanning the area. “You’re alone.”

“Not at all. My dear brother is with me.” She gestured to his weapon. “I don’t recall swords being a part of parley.”

“A precaution. In case your Asgardian dogs were with you. Or you got it in your head to attack me again.”

She clasped her hands behind her back and rocked on her heels. “I think I can restrain myself as long as you refrain from kidnapping me again.” She strolled to her right and her brother watched her warily. “What did you want to parley about?”

“My men attack soon. I’m giving you one last chance to leave. Take your precious princes with you, if you chose. No one will stop you.”

Head tilt, deliberately casual, as if she was considering the terms. “And if I refuse?”

Boe shifted and twirled his sword. “I will not be responsible for what happens to you.”

Her back was now to the blade fruit tree, the main path of the garden was at her right hand. Boe stood between that and one of the smaller tributary paths. If he wanted to attack her, he would need to move closer, at least a half dozen steps, his sword was not meant for throwing. It was as tactical a spot to be as possible. “I have a counter proposal, almost identical to yours. Leave. Before you and your rebels are crushed.”

“So confident in your oppressors, little sister.” Another sword twirl. “That throne is my birthright. Do you really think any of you can keep me from it?”

Syn sighed, suddenly feeling utterly exhausted. “Your birthright. How you all build this up in your minds. The golden throne, the jeweled crown. Do you have any idea what it actually is to be a king? To have the lives of millions of people on your shoulders? What will you do when there is a famine? Or a war not of your making? How will you ensure your people eat, that your women are not brutalized, their children not stolen or killed?” She took an unwise step forward. “What of all the things they don’t tell you about in the storybooks, Boe? You speak to me of birthright? The only birthright anyone has is to die. Which is what will happen to you if you continue this.”

He pushed away from the hedge, pose no longer casual. “You know nothing of me. Of our people. You lived in the Asgard palace and married a prince!”

“I lived as a servant. I carried trays and cleaned spills and dodged lecherous hands. My prince and I live in a village at the edge of the realm. We’ve seen birth and death and good crops and poor. Three summers ago, we had a drought that would have decimated the town without our interference. Don’t talk to me of the plight of the people. While you created fantasies of conquest, I was living with them. Suffering with them.”

He took a threatening step forward. “Under a false king!”

“You and your fairy tales again. Do you know what happens to people with birthrights and glorious purposes in the stories, Boe? They suffer. They give up everything to grasp at whatever precious thing they think they want and they end up bloodied for it.” She shook her head. “No one will write your tale of glorious war, brother. They’ll tell of a spoilt boy-prince who refused to accept that things change. If they think to speak of you at all.”

“And what will they say of you, sister mine?” he asked through his teeth. “The princess turned servant who fell in love with the mad prince of Asgard?” He lowered his head in mock pity. “Or should I say prince of Jotunheim?” he added quietly.

“Do you think to shock me with my husband’s heritage?” she asked with an arched brow. “I know it quite well.”

“I should think nothing would shock a whore of your caliber.”

In a blink, before she could even formulate a response, three slender knives flew past her and into Boe’s sword arm. He gave a shout that was as much anger as pain and they both turned to see Loki standing at the edge of the courtyard, arm still raised and his knife’s blade smile on. “Do not call my wife a whore again. Or do, and see how many of those blades I can produce.”

She had rarely been so excited to see him. It took a great deal of willpower not to run to his side. Instead, she waited for him to wander to hers. She teased him about his theatrics, but it was true that appearance and pageantry were vital weapons. So she kept her face calm and her voice light. “My brother claims to want parley, but thus far, his words have been less than peaceful.” She covered her mouth. “Oh, where are my manners? Loki, my brother Boe the Just, former prince of Alfheim. Brother dear, may I present my husband, Loki the Trickster.”

Loki stood at her side, slightly in front of her, body tense and ready. “Poor form to bring a weapon to parley, little prince.”

Boe looked from one of them to the other, eyes narrowed, obviously reevaluating his plans. He took a moment to pull Loki’s blades out of his arm and heal the wounds with a flare of amber light before responding, “I’ll give you the same offer I gave her. Get out of my kingdom.”

Loki tilted his head thoughtfully, almost exactly as she had done. “No.”

Her brother’s face darkened. “You underestimate my forces. Dismissing me would be a mistake.”

“On the contrary,” Loki said in his dangerously charming tone. “I would be the ultimate hypocrite if I ignored you. For the realm’s sake, I used to be you. Questing for a throne, building an army. I assure you, my plans were just as grand. But I’m afraid my wife has the right of it. Ambition like ours often leads to ruin. Personally, I don’t care if you fail and they string you up as a traitor. But I fear it would trouble Syn. Honestly, I’m just trying to save her some grief.”

“You’ve always been very considerate of my feelings,” Syn told him, with some genuine warmth in her tone.

“The picture of benevolence, isn’t that what you call me?” Loki spoke to her but his eyes never left her brother. Tension all but hummed between the two men and she had the urge to step away from them. She stayed still, though, afraid any movement would tip them both into violence.

“It seems there can be no compromise between us,” Boe said. His tone was trying to be casual but had gotten lost somewhere in vaguely menacing.

“It seems so. Best you take your leave of us.” Syn couldn’t help but think Loki did politely threatening far better than her brother did.

Boe studied Loki with a crafty look she recalled from childhood. It had usually preceded her or one of their friends getting injured by and possibly blamed for his antics. Fortunately, Loki knew the look of someone about to do something stupid quite well. He dodged the first strike of Boe’s sword, pushing Syn away in the same move. Then his short swords appeared in his hands and he met the next blow with one of his own.

She pressed against the trunk of her tree, watching them twirl around. She had never been one to watch the warriors practice, not least of all because she rarely had the time, but she had seen a pretend battle or two. Years of travel and skirmishes at Loki’s side had shown her many different fighting styles. So she could say, with some small authority, that her husband was beautiful when he fought.


There were no wasted motions, just smooth strikes and blocks. He moved faster than her brother, faster than she could follow at times. She knew he was holding back, that he could have killed Boe quickly. And she knew that was for her. So she didn’t have to watch him kill her brother. Boe was not showing the same restraint. He went for a killing blow several times and was thwarted by Loki’s reflexes every time.

Eventually, Loki seemed to tire of the game and laid her brother out, his sword pinned under Loki’s black boot. “Syn,” Loki called, barely out of breath. “Mercy or no?”

Boe’s eyes found hers. “Sister. Please.”

Save the puppy eyes, brother. You’d have killed me gladly had you the chance. She glanced up at her tree. It held the path of her life in its branches, or so the tradition went. She expected she was about to make a new fork in the trunk.

She walked over to the men and stood next to Loki. She reached up and ran the palm of her hand along the blade of his sword, splitting the skin. He gave a start of surprise but she saw in Boe’s eyes he knew what she was about to say. She let the blood from her hand drip on the ground before him. “We are not blood,” she said quietly. “I am not your sister. We’re not kin. In the name of my father, I rescind your right to the throne. And I will see you burn before you set foot on it.”

She bent and picked up his sword. She pointed it at him, hand rock steady. “This is the sword of the Alfan prince, who is dead. Get out of my sight before I have my husband gut you with it.”

He stood slowly, holding her gaze the whole time. She didn’t know that she had ever seen so much rage in a man’s face before. There, apparently, he had even Loki beat. She still held the sword, ready to swing if he made a false move. Without breaking eye contact, he backed away, then disappeared down one of the paths.

Loki sighed. “You should have let me kill him,” he said, brow furrowed.

Exhaustion swept her again and she let the sword drop to the ground. “Not today,” she said quietly, turning to the main path that would return her to the castle.

“Why not today?” he asked at her back.

“It’s Unification Day,” she said, walking away. “Let’s slaughter what’s left of my family another time.” With that, she left him in the center of the garden and walked a slow path back to the palace.

Chapter Text

Loki found her an hour later, propped up in the bed, carefully bandaging her injured hand. He came as far as the foot board and leaned on the post. “I told Thor what happened. The guard has been doubled. The council wants to flood the streets with soldiers to roust out the rebels.”



“I’m sure that will lead to a calm and confident populace,” she said, not bothering to hide her contempt.

“My brother is valiantly trying to talk them out of it.” He pushed off the post and came to sit next to her hip. He took her injured hand and began to unwind the bandage she’d so recently managed to affix.

She realized what he was about when he brought her palm to his lips. “You’re not supposed to heal a blood oath wound.”

He gave her his trickster grin. “Dear heart, when do I ever do what I’m supposed to?” He kissed her hand and cold green light flooded the line of the cut. When it was healed, he lifted his mouth, but his brow furrowed and he rubbed his thumb over her hand. “It scarred.”

Sure enough, there was a faint white line running the width of her palm. “It’s all right,” she told him quietly. “I’ve grown quite philosophical about scars.” His gaze flickered to her breast, then back to her eyes. “Things that change you should leave their mark,” she explained.

He discarded the bandage wrapping and turned to sit against the headboard with her. “And have I left my mark on you, gentle wife?”

She laughed a little. “I believe the marks you leave are too subtle for most to see.” She sighed and leaned her head back on the solid wood at her back. “You think I erred in my mercy.”

“It’s not the choice I would have made.” That was surprisingly diplomatic, coming from him. “But I know this is difficult for you.” He watched her face. “If I see him again - if he comes at you again - I will kill him, Syn.”

“I know,” she whispered. She closed her eyes, as if that would block out the truth of it. She wanted to ask him how he had done it, all those years ago. But there was no good way to ask. You know all those times you tried to kill your brother? How did you manage that? Do I have to go entirely mad or is there an easier way?

He surprised her by answering without her having to say a word. “I don’t think I ever truly wanted to kill Thor,” he said and she opened her eyes to look at him. “Not really. I just wanted him out of my way.” He made a vague shooing gesture, like you’d use against a pesky fly at a picnic. “I never really contemplated his actual death.”

“You should probably tell him that someday.”

Another hand wave. “Oh, we’ve buried all those old hatchets. Even Sif trusts me now. And she practically ran the Kill-Loki-if-He-Betrays-Thor club they used to have.”

She chuckled weakly, then sighed. “I try to tell myself that it’s no different than when I thought he was dead at the hands of the Asgardians. I’ve done my mourning; this should be. . . not easy, but a formality. But I know it’s a lie, as always.”

Loki took her hand in his and rubbed his thumb over the scar again. “He isn’t your brother.” She looked up at him. “If I could go back and give Thor advice, that’s what I would tell him. He isn’t your brother, the boy you played with. He’s a shell, full of anger and greed, and he’s blind to those happy memories. To treat him as anything else means your death.”

She curled her fingers over his. “Did you mean what you said? About ambition leading to ruin?”

He chuckled a little, head tipped down. “I suppose I did. My ambitions never brought me anything worthwhile.”

“That’s not true.” He glanced at her. “If you hadn’t pretended to be Odin, we never would have met.”

That got her his fond, true smile. “One worthwhile thing, then. And not what I thought I wanted at that.” He bent close and kissed her. “You were worth a thousand defeats. You and the peace I’ve found with you.”

She rested her head on his leather-clad shoulder and breathed in the wintery scent of him. “Do you still long for a throne?”

“Oh, every now and then I think about it.” He rested his chin on her head. “I rather enjoyed being Odin, looking back. It wasn’t what I expected it to be, but it had its pleasures.”

“Even grievances week?”

A groan rumbled through him. “The bickering, Syn. You’ve never heard such bickering.” He shifted to look down at her. “I’d have revealed myself far earlier had I not had a sharp tongued servant to tell my troubles to.”

“My, she must have been formidable, to give you advice.”

“It’s true, she was. Very easy to tame, though. Just the proper application of fresh fruit.” He laughed when she elbowed him. “I am content in our cottage and with my army of village children. I believe my days of attempting to subjugate worlds are over.”

It was a relief, but she felt the oddest pang of regret as well. Not that she necessarily wanted him out there conquering and pillaging. But, well, those ambitions had been such a part of him, and for so long. It made her a little sad to know he’d given them up. She believed he was content with her and Lakefire; there had been no shadows on his face and he’d been touching her when he spoke. But content and happy, or even satisfied, were very different things.

She had long come to terms with the thought he would never really settle. There would always be bouts of restlessness. Jaunts to Midgard. Tricks played on his brother. He was still Loki, after all. But a Loki who no longer dreamed of a throne? Deep within her, in the dark part of her soul that occasionally wanted to let him run loose and damn the consequences, she mourned that loss.

*

Thor was only marginally successful in convincing the council not to enact martial law in the Capital. They increased the guard around the palace and soldiers began taking patrols in the streets, focusing especially on the lower districts and the docks. It was, by all accounts. a disaster waiting to happen. Syn learned of this all second hand, because Loki had decided it was unwise for her to leave the palace, not even to walk the garden with a guard. She was fairly certain if he had his way she’d be entirely sequestered in her chamber.

He was like a nursing cat, dragging her back to the nest by the scruff if he felt she ventured too far. She was tired and drained and longing for home so she let him fuss, stared at the walls, and waited for it all to be over.

It took two days for someone to light the proverbial match. No one was ever really sure of the details. Some said a soldier got a little too eager and pushed a wharf rat a little too far. Others said one of the potential rebels decided enough was enough and pulled a weapon on a guard. Syn suspected that her brother had had some hand in it, overtly or not. In the end, it didn’t really matter how it had happened. The result was the same. Civilians and soldiers killed and rioting in the streets. The palace gates were barred and Thor and Sif went out in the streets to try to quell the panic.

“You should have gone with them,” she said to Loki for what might have been the fifth time.

“I am not known for my brawling,” he said calmly, looking out at the gardens from the window in her chamber.

“Your magic could be useful in calming the people. Or at least confusing them. You could turn their swords to loaves of bread.” She didn’t mention that her healing would be of use, as well. She knew full well there was no way he would let her out of the palace before her brother was caught.

He tipped a look her way. “Sometimes I wish I could give you my powers, just for a day. Just to see what you’d do.”

She tossed aside the book she’d been reading. “Apparently I’d start with turning weapons into baked goods.” She stretched her arms up over her head and groaned. “This is the most boring revolution I’ve ever attended.”

“I apologize that it isn’t to your liking.” He stepped away from the window and joined her on the bed. “I can think of one way to entertain you.”

She planted her palm on the center of his chest to hold him off. “I feel that that would be rewarding you for keeping me imprisoned here in my tower.”

The look he gave her was dangerously close to a pout. “It’s for your safety.”

“I think the hallway is relatively safe. The library, too, if you insist on keeping me inside.” He scowled and she moved her hand to his cheek. “I know you fear for me. I know. I am not asking to go join the fray. But I swear, Loki, the walls are closing in on me. You must let me breathe.”

He sighed and sat up, glaring at the wall as if it had insulted him. “Perhaps I’ll go find you a new book of poetry. I can walk. Take my time.”

It was the smallest possible concession he could make, to leave her alone for a few minutes. But it was something, dammit, so she’d take it. “More than one,” she said. “And it doesn’t have to be poetry. Perhaps a romance. I can read you to good parts.”

His mouth quirked slightly at that and he bent to give her a swift kiss before rising. “You’ll send for me if anything should happen?” he asked at the door.

She pressed her fist to her chest. “The very instant.”

He gave a brisk nod and left. She flopped back on the bed with a sigh and took a moment to enjoy the peace and quiet of solitude.

After two good days of not using it and being too busy and frazzled to assess its state, her magic was ready and eager to bubble up inside her. She had nothing to heal or move or attack so she just let it free, racing through the halls of the castle and out into town. It was how she used it to find Loki on those rare moments she needed to get to him immediately. Over the years, her range had grown and her ability to recognize others, especially those close to her, had improved.

She found Thor first, easily recognizable by the blaze of magic that was Mjolnir. Sif was harder to find, having very little magic to her, but there she was, a crimson spark of berserker rage. Reassured they were both well, Syn pulled her feelers back, limiting herself to the castle again. There were sparks of magic here and there, wives and young nobles who had taken shelter in the palace. There was Loki, in the library, as promised, glowing green and powerful. She resisted brushing her magic along his, fearful it would drag her to him instinctively.

And there, almost hidden, was something that didn’t belong. An amber glow, almost like her magic but darker. It was in the palace, but not in any room she could name.

It was in the walls.

Without having to think about it, she latched onto Loki’s light and wrapped around it. Her magic yanked her bodily through the palace and into his arms.

There was a series of soft thumps as he dropped the books he’d been holding so he could steady her. She rode through the usual wave of dizzy nausea, pushing it down as quickly as she could.

“Syn, what-” Concern laced Loki’s voice. He knew full well she only used that particular trick when desperate.

“Boe,” she gasped, still a bit out of breath. “He’s here. In the palace.”

His face darkened. “Where?”

She shook her head. “In the walls. He must be using the tunnels.”

He stood at his full height. “You need to get back to your room. Ready yourself for a fight and don’t let anyone but me-” He cut off with a gurgling choke just as the point of a sword emerged from his chest, right through his heart.

Syn gasped and staggered back a step, hand to her mouth. Loki reached for her blindly and she instinctively caught his hand. His face was a mask of shock and he seemed to be trying to say something, but only rough, animal noises came out. Dimly, she was aware of tears running down her face, but she felt oddly numb to it. Shock, she told herself. You’re in shock.

The sword twisted, carving out more of his flesh, then Boe lifted a foot, planted it on Loki’s back and yanked the sword out. Loki’s body fell bonelessly to the floor and Boe turned to her. “Don’t worry, sister. I’ll send you to see him shortly.”

Chapter Text

When the numb wore off, she expected pain. Grief. Fear. What she felt was rage. Red-hot, blazing rage that scalded out every other emotion she’d ever felt. She realized that this must have been what Loki felt when his world had crashed in on him. Rage at the lies and betrayal. Rage at those who had hurt him and those who were only in the way. It burned a hole in her and she saw only darkness.

”If I lost you. . . I would fall into that darkness and never come out. I would burn the world that took you from me.”

Oh, darling. Wait till you see what I do.

The creature she’d once called brother stepped towards her as if in slow motion. “I’ll think of you fondly when I am king.”

She called to her magic and it rose in her, hot and searing as the rage she felt. She’d often thought of her magic as something separate from her. Connected, symbiotic, but with a mind of its own. If that was true then apparently it loved Loki as much as she did, because it came to her with a force she’d never felt before.

Boe raised his sword and she lifted her hand. The sword came down and she caught it, hand glimmering with gold light, untouched by the blade. HIs eyes widened. “You will never be king,” she said, sounding calm and detached, almost serene. “And I will never think of you again.”

Loki’s magic was sharp, ice and knives. Hers was warmer, softer. Blunt to his blade. But as anyone who had ever faced Thor in battle could attest, a great deal of damage could be done with a blunt instrument. She lifted her other hand, palm out to face her enemy, and threw every bit of magic she had at his chest.

It slammed him through the library window in an explosion of glass and wood. The magic followed him the three stories to the ground, grinding him into the dirt, crushing organs and pulverizing bone. It was a blow that would have killed an Asgardian. An Alfan had no chance at all. She felt not even a moment of triumph, simply turned and staggered to Loki’s side.

The world swirled around her as she dropped to her knees beside him, gripped his shoulder, and rolled him onto his back. His skin was beginning to turn the bluish-grey of the Jotun. The wound gaped wide in the center of his chest, dark and wet against his armor. She was dimly aware of the door bursting open, of the shocked cries of the guards and one of them running off, presumably to get help. She wrapped her hand around Loki’s throat, in the same way he had done to her a thousand times. There was no pulse and he was cold, so much colder than usual.

A series of memories crashed into her.

She’s a child bringing her mother one of the palace cats, injured in a tussle. By the time she reaches her, it’s too late and her mother looks sad as she holds her and explains “We can’t fight death, my darling.”

She’s a youth, slipping through the library at Asgard and passes by the second prince studying some dusty tome. He glances as her and gives her a smile she’ll one day compare to a knife’s blade and she blushes darkly.

She’s a woman and that same prince, now in the glamour of his father, pins her to a door and demands she say his name.

She’s older, battered but unbroken, and that same mad, wonderful prince is standing with her by a summer smooth lake under a hunter’s moon wrapping their arms in green ribbon and calling her wife as he tells her he loves her for the first time.

Syn knew it was hopeless, that he was gone past where her healing could reach, but she called to her magic anyway and it came in a roar, flooding him and surrounding them in golden glow. She poured it into him, filling the hole in him, stitching it together. She thought of the fairy tale of the false king, of the happy ending written later, the princess who gave the broken king half her heart and a breath of her soul. She thought, He has all of my heart; he’s the other half of my soul. It can’t end like this.

She rested her forehead on his, magic still swirling into him. “He’s mine,” she whispered to whatever capricious gods watched them. “I will find him.” She’d go wherever he was. Raze Hel to the ground to find him and bring him home.

It cannot end like this.

She pulled down deep into the core of herself for more magic and found a tiny spark of pure white, eager and willing to be used. It chased along the paths her magic had forged in him and found his heart. It wrapped around the organ she had only just rebuilt and flared brightly. Before she could understand what she’d just witnessed, she sensed something else. The tiniest flicker of green ice.

She wrapped her magic around it, protected it, blew on it like a flame until the flicker became a spark, became a blaze. The glow around them became tinged with green and a pulse stuttered to life beneath her palm. The white glow eased away from his heart and it beat steadily on its own. Loki moved then, lifting a hand to catch her throat and shift her so he could kiss her.

The wound in his chest was healed. Bone, muscle, skin, and blood vessel had been carefully stitched back together, faster than she would have thought possible. She checked it thoroughly, searching for fault, for any hint of something that would trouble him in the future. Everything was as it should be. His heart beat steadily, his lungs filled and emptied, and he was kissing her as if he’d never let her go. She eased her magic back and was relieved when his stayed as it was, bright and strong. She tucked all of the gold back in herself, curling it around the bright white spark that she would think of later, and opened her eyes.

Stark blue ones met her gaze and she leaned back so Loki could sit up. He flattened a palm on his chest over the broad hole in his armor that now revealed a shiny white scar where the wound had been. Then he looked back at her and gave her his small, private smile. “Trick the reaper himself, eh, wife?” he said softly.

His name came out as a sob and tears spilled onto her cheeks. Before she could throw herself into his arms, he was caught up by two muscled, well armored ones as Thor snatched him up in a bear hug.

“Brother! They said you were dead.”

Loki gave Thor’s arm a weak pat. “Their information was correct but out of date.” He groaned when Thor’s arms tightened. “I do appreciate your concern, Thor. Truly. But do you suppose I could hold my wife before you shatter all of my ribs?”

“Oh!” Thor put Loki gently on his feet, adding a firm pat on his brother’s back. Syn watched him notice the gaping holes in Loki’s armor and the big warrior’s face paled a bit.

Loki reached down and helped her to her feet before wrapping her in an embrace at least as firm as Thor’s had looked. He buried his face in her hair and took a long, shuddering breath. The thought that he might be crying brought fresh tears to her eyes and she clutched at his back. He stroked her hair, trying to comfort her despite the fact his hand shook.

This was apparently all too much for Thor, because she felt him wrap his big arms around both of them and suddenly, she was laughing through her tears because it was over; they were alive and they’d won.

*

It wasn’t as simple as all that, of course. In the stories, the invading army collapsed once their leader was dead. In reality, troops tended to fight until it became obvious they’d lost. Rebels were rounded up by the guard, though many escaped, back into the lower districts. It would be impossible to find them all and the only hope was that with no leader, they would be in too much chaos to regroup immediately.

Thor was unwilling to leave his brother’s side and while Syn wanted nothing more than to remain in her husband’s lap for the rest of the century, someone needed to be in charge. So it was she and Sif who liaised with the guards and the army and the nobles. They who decided how far to pursue those who fled. They who organized the crews to carry away the dead and the healers to deal with the injured. They who stood on the palace steps and watched the aftermath of the battle slowly recede into reconstruction and healing. And whatever odd, teasing friendship had started to bloom between them found its root and grew branches.

“It will take time,” Sif said as they watched workers haul away a cart of shrouded forms. “Your land has seen too much death.”

Syn glanced at her. Out of armor, she was actually a fraction taller than the warrior. “I suppose that’s the joy of our long lives. Time we have in abundance.”

“You’ll go back to your lake now?”

The thought of Lakefire was an ache in her chest. She longed for her stone cottage and sprawling garden. “Not yet. The rebellion is crushed for now, but the Steward is dead and the nobles are frightened. The people are still unhappy. Thor is here as Odin’s representative so it falls to him to restore some sort of order before he leaves. He is unwilling to let Loki out of his sight and I am not leaving without him.”

“You would think Thor would be used to his brother dying and resurrecting by now,” Sif said in gentle exasperation.

“Indeed. I think the concern is that this time wasn’t exactly Loki’s idea.” She rubbed an idle hand down her front. “We meet with the council tomorrow morning; he’s insisting I join again. Please tell me you’re attending as well. So I’m not the only woman in the room.”

The warrior smiled. “I cannot tell you how often I have been the only woman in a room.” She glanced up at the palace. “Go spend time with your husband. I’ll distract Thor for a while.”

Syn found Loki in his chambers, alone by some miracle of chance. He was lounging in bed, reading, but grinned widely and held an arm out to her when he saw her. He claimed to be fine, better than new, and the palace healers had given him a thorough check. But his very idleness belied his claims. Her husband was not one to lay abed when there was work to be done.

She climbed onto the covers and curled herself at his side. He dragged her closer, head pillowed on his shoulder. She slid a hand under the hem of his shirt, flattening her palm over the steady thump of his heart, fingers tracing the edge of the scar. He pressed a kiss into her hair as silence stretched between them.

“Do you remember it?” she asked after a while.

He rubbed idle fingers along her arm. “Oh, very well. I saw Valhalla and the unending battle for glory. I was met by a warrior in black and gold armor. It might have been Odin’s father, Bor, though the details are hazy. He opened his arms to welcome me then stopped, head cocked, as if listening to a far off voice. Then he spoke, low and gravelly. ‘Best go back, boy,’ he said. ‘I’ve no stomach to tangle with that Alfan maid of yours.’ And the next I knew I was back in my body and you were kissing the life back into me.”

She curled her hand into a fist and thumped his shoulder. “You mock me.”

He chuckled and kissed her hair again. “I remember little,” he said, voice softer. “A void of great blackness, like the one I fell through after the Bifrost. Then a whisper and a warm gold glow, much like what I see when I search for you. I went towards it and I. . . felt you, but it was also like hearing you and tasting and smelling you. I wanted to stay, with all my heart. And then the gold glow blazed and the void was gone. And there was just you, healing me.” His arm tightened on her. “My fierce Alfan.”

She listened to the rasp of his breath and the thud of his pulse a moment. “You know, there was a moment when I wanted to destroy everything I saw. I wanted the world and all the realms to feel the same pain I felt.” She pressed her face into his throat. “I think if I lost you, I would fall to a darkness far deeper than the one you dance with.”

Silence filled the room and he pulled her closer still, crushing her a little. “Well. It’s probably best for the realms if we both stay alive as long as possible. Let’s strike a pact, shall we? To die together, old and in bed, a few thousand years hence.”

She craned her neck back to look at his face, unable to discern if he was joking again or serious. She thought, perhaps, it was a bit of both. “Agreed,” she said softly and stretched up to kiss him.

Chapter Text

The council meeting was chaos. The Steward and two council members were dead. Those remaining hesitated to volunteer for the Stewardship. They wanted Thor to appoint one of them to the position. He was reluctant to do so without guidance from Odin. No one was willing to wait for him to go and fetch the old man. Meanwhile, the populace, while no longer actively revolting, was still unhappy.

Syn stood at the window, back to the bickering council, watching the crowds swarming the gates of the palace. So far, the mob was being loud but nonviolent and a line of guards was able to hold them at bay. She didn’t really blame the crowd. Poorly treated for years, they’d finally found someone to rally behind and he had turned out to be as bad as those already in power. Now, their leaders were dead, their problems the same, and no one would tell them what was going to happen. Listening to the circular argument going on behind her, she didn’t think transparency would help much, anyway.

“This is your land, your people,” Thor was saying. “Surely one of you is willing to take on the mantle of Steward.”

“Have you looked outside?” She didn’t recognize the noble’s voice and didn’t care enough to turn and look. “Anyone taking the chair now is likely to be assassinated. Putting us right back here.”

“The people will give you time -”

“The people are angry and afraid. They’ll assume we’re all as corrupt as the one who came before.”

“There’s another option.” That was Lir. She’d been surprised to see him in the meeting. Apparently, his father had been injured in the riots and had returned home to recuperate, so Lir had taken his seat.

She waited for him to explain his other option but there was only silence. She risked a glance behind her to find the entire assembly staring at her. “What?” she said warily.

“The people wanted a royal on the throne.” Lir’s voice was quiet, almost regretful.

She felt an immediate rush of panic flood her veins. Before she could respond, Loki’s voice came, firm and sharp. “No.”

“It would make the people happy,” Thor said. She and Loki both glared at him.

“After all she has been through, you would ask her to do the one thing she’s always been adamant she doesn’t want?” Loki’s voice was tight with anger. “She is not a pawn to be shuffled around for your uses.”

The argument raged anew and she turned back to the window, confident that Loki would plead her case with his usual intensity. (And who would ever have thought he would be the one arguing against her taking the throne?) She watched the crowd outside the gates and the panic started to fade.

Sif came to stand next to her, the only other woman in the room, as predicted. She gazed out the window in silence a moment, then said quietly, so the others wouldn’t hear. “You should consider it.”

Syn glanced at her. “Oh, not you, too.”

“They say those who want power the least are the most suitable to wield it.” The warrior didn’t look at her, only forward, out the window. “You’d be a good queen,” she added quietly.

Syn waited for the words to cause another flare of panic but it didn’t come. Instead, she heard herself say, “Why do you think so?”

“Your little village. Lakefire? You love it.” Syn nodded, watching Sif intently. “Every time there’s a problem with the people. Every time someone comes to you for help. Every time you have to make a decision that will affect the realm, that’s what you’ll see. The town of Lakefire and all her people. And then you’ll make the right decision.”

Syn sucked in a slow breath and looked out the window again. “I’ve always been very clear about this. I don’t want a throne.”

Sif glanced at her out of the corner of her eye. “You didn’t want to take a throne, the way Loki is willing to. They are handing you one on a platter.” She paused again and waited for Syn to look at her before adding. “What would the people of Lakefire want you to do?”

Hilde’s voice came to her first. Gentle, sweet, loyal Hilde. She had accepted Syn as she was, trusted her before anyone else knew what to do with her. Hilde would tell her to follow her heart and be brave. Then there was Riane, practical as she was sarcastic. She’d wonder why this was even a question. Someone had to be in charge, might as well be Syn. Couldn’t be worse than the last one. The thought was so clear - and in Riane’s voice - that Syn almost laughed.

Then she realized that, instead of panic, what she felt was acceptance.

She rubbed a hand over her eyes. This was not a decision to be made lightly. She should not be considering turning her entire life upside down after a few pretty words from Sif and imagined advice from friends.

But it wasn’t just that, was it? It was everything. This week. Her memories of her childhood. The years spent finding a happy medium between Loki’s chaos and her peace.

Loki.

She looked over at him, still arguing for her, going against everything he’d ever wanted to make her happy. How far they’d come from the mad prince willing to choose ambition over her. How did you repay a man who changed so much for you? Who held himself to a higher standard so as not to hurt you? Who let go of his dreams to find his place in yours?

You find a dream you can share, of course.

He looked over at her then and must have read her thoughts on her face. There was a moment of shock, then his expression split into a wide trickster smile. She found herself smiling back, feeling an odd blend of madness and certainty.

She turned from the window and walked past a grinning Sif to stand at the head of the council table. She crossed her arms, watching the men argue, and waited. Finally, slowly, they all seemed to notice her and grew quiet, watching her with expressions ranging from confusion, to worry, to - in Lir’s case - triumph.

“I will not be a figurehead, or a puppet,” she said and the silence in the room became absolute. “I am my father’s daughter. If we’re going to do this, we’ll do it right. There will still be a council. I don’t guarantee you’ll all be on it, but I’ll have one.” Loki grinned at her from the back of the room. “Things will change. Dramatically. You might not like all the changes. I will listen to dissent but I do not promise to heed it. I will be your queen, with all that entails.” She pointed to Loki. “He will be your king. This is your last chance to find another solution.”

There was a long pause. She honestly didn’t know which outcome she preferred. At least this way they could never claim she stole the throne. She’d given them every chance to go the safe route. Stay with Asgard, elect a new Steward, wallow in the comfort they’d known. She was an unknown variable, as Natasha had once called her. Surely they didn’t have the strength to jump into the unknown.

Then one of them stood, Lord Orran, of all people. He of the awful wife. He put his fist to his chest, held her gaze, then bent low at the waist. “Your majesty.”

Lord Kerr stood up next and mimicked him. Then Lir. Then another lord, and another, until all the men on the council were bowing to her. Thor and Sif were grinning like fools. Syn looked at the bent backs, then at Loki. He schooled his face into something resembling somber and raised his fist to his chest as well, bowing.

She blew out a breath. That was that, then. “Go let the people in.” Lords started to straighten in surprise. “Open the throne room doors. They need to know what’s happening.”


“But-”

She pinned the man who spoke with a glare and arched her brow, which was all the reminder he needed of what had just occurred. The lords murmured assent and began to file out of the room.

When she was alone with Loki and the Asgardians, silence reigned. Until she looked at Thor thoughtfully. “When you first came to ask me and Loki to come with you. . . was that your idea? Or your father’s?”

He didn’t respond, which was answer enough for her. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Loki’s eyes widen in dawning realization.

“You tell him what I said here,” she told Thor quietly. “I’m not a puppet, not even his. I’m queen of Alfheim and he’ll give me the same respect he gives the other rulers. Or he’ll have a fight on his hands. And with Loki on my side, I might even win.”

Thor watched her a moment, then grinned. “You’re going to be a very good queen, sister.”

“Hmm.” She turned to Loki and reached out for him. “Ready to meet your people?”

He stepped forward and took her hand, weaving their fingers together. “You don’t have to do this,” he said quietly.

“Oh, you’d never forgive me if I backed down now.”

The fingers of his free hand stroked the length of her neck. “I would. Eventually.”

She closed her eyes and let out a breath. “It’s the right thing to do.”

“Don’t say that, you’ll put me right off the idea.” He put lie to his words by giving her his small, private smile and dipping to kiss her gently.

His magic chilled her from shoulders to ankle and she leaned back to see he’d changed her gown into an elaborate black and green one. It was raw silk, heavy and cool against her skin, a flattering blend of Alfan corsetry and Asgardian drape. She ran her hands over the fabric, examining herself, then arched a brow at him.

“Never underestimate the importance of dressing the part,” he said, still smiling. He touched the top of her head and she realized he’d put her old crown on her head, styled into her hair.

How far they had come since the first time he’d given her that bit of advice. She stretched up and kissed him again. “You missed your calling in fashion, husband.” He scowled at her just as a servant came to tell them the throne room was now teeming with people.

It would have been more appropriate to take Loki’s arm but she continued to just hold his hand as they made their way down the hall to the king’s entrance. Queen’s entrance now, she supposed. She could hear the roar of the crowd before they reached the doorway and her fingers tightened on Loki’s instinctively. He didn’t say a word, just stood at her side, steady and stable.

He walked her to the foot of the throne steps, then disentangled his hand from hers. She cast him an almost panicked look and he gave her a nudge. “This moment is yours alone,” he said softly. “I’ll be right here.”

She swallowed hard and looked up at the throne, then the crowd of people.

“Stand tall. Shoulders back, neck long. Look forward and remember that you are the most powerful person in any room you walk in.”

She counted the steps silently as she walked up them, just as she had as a little girl, scrambling up them to give her Papa a hug. Eleven, twelve, thirteen. She stood in front of the empty throne, spine straight, pulled to her full height and waited for the murmur of the crowd to quiet.

“I am Syn the Truthful,” she said, loud and clear. “Daughter of Hoenir the Honest, the last of his line.” She waited for the whispering that caused to swell and ebb. “I was raised here as a princess but after the conquest by Asgard, I was taken to be a servant in the palace of another king. I know what it is to work until your back aches and your hands bleed. I know what it is to be hungry and alone and afraid. I know that you have been treated poorly by the Steward and by extension, Asgard. I know that you’re angry.”

The crowd roared in agreement and she gave them a moment before lifting her hands in a quelling motion. “I would like to promise you that everything will be different. That you’ll wake tomorrow between linen sheets with a full belly and a sack of coins. But change takes time. It comes by inches and gasps. It’s difficult and it costs a great deal. But change is possible.” She found her gaze drawn to Loki, still watching at the base of the steps, face full of love and pride. “I have seen it happen.”

She took a breath and looked back at the crowd. “I am going to make you a different promise. That I will try. I will try to make your lives better. I will try to address your concerns. I will try to make change quick and easy and painless. I will try, for all of you, to be a good and just queen. In return, I ask that you trust me. Have faith in me for a little while. In my intentions. In my ability to rule. Have faith in everyone’s ability to change.”

Silence echoed in the room. Syn held her breath, aware that this could easily erupt into another riot. She tried not to let the fear show, tried to look regal and secure. Very slowly, very subtly, the crowd seemed to ripple. Not in one great wave but in dozens of small ones. It took her a moment to realize they were kneeling.

She caught Loki’s eye and jerked her head, indicating he should come up. He ascended the steps and she moved back, watching as the last of her people took a knee. Loki reached her and took his place at her side. Back straight and eyes ahead, she sat on what was now her throne.

*

The nobles were insisting there be a proper coronation and she didn’t argue. Now was not the time for picking battles. She’d be kicking several of them off the council soon; this could be their last unchallenged proclamation. She did insist that Riane design her gown and Hilde come to be one of her attendants. And that several carriages be sent so that anyone else from Lakefire who could attend would be able to. She imagined the palace would soon be overrun with Loki’s army of children and the thought made her smile.

Thor and Sif had stayed a few extra days to help with repairs and remind people that, while Asgard’s rule was over, ties were far from severed. Eventually, it had been time for them to report to Odin, so they had returned to Asgard, promising to attend the coronation. Major repairs to the palace had been completed and they were currently in the middle of what seemed like endless meetings regarding rebuilding the parts of the Capital that had been damaged in the revolt. Once that was scheduled, it would be time to take a look at general city improvements.

For now, however, they were having a rare moment alone waiting for lunch to be served. Syn lounged on a chaise in a sunny parlor, watching Loki pace. He had her royal scepter and was tossing it in the air, letting it flip, and then catching it. He’d done so at least two dozen times so far and she found it a little mesmerizing, even as she wished he’d drop it, just once. He glanced over at her. “What is that smile for, wife?”

She propped her chin on her fist and let the smile grow. “King Loki, at last. Does it make you happy?”

Toss. Flip. Catch. “It’s not exactly how I thought it would happen,” he admitted with a slanted smile. “But I am happy, yes. And you? Is my reluctant queen having second thoughts?”

“A few. But the position is growing on me. I’m not looking forward to my first encounter with Odin, though.”

He waved a dismissive hand, tossing the scepter again. “You’ll handle him easily.”

“Do you think he’ll attend the coronation?”

Flip. Catch. “No. Too soon. He’ll send Thor and the Warriors. You’ll probably see him first at the realm summit in the winter.” He chuckled. “May yours go smoother than mine did.”

“Oh, I don’t know that I’ll attend this year’s summit.”

He didn’t pause in his pacing. “Whyever not?”

She watched him carefully. “I’ll be far too busy with the baby.”

Toss. Flip. Miss. Clatter. He turned very slowly to stare at her. “What.”

The problem with shock is that it could be hard to tell if it was positive or negative. She kept calm and rested a hand on her belly. “I went to the healer this morning because I was tired and ill again. She confirmed my suspicions. I’m just shy of three months along. So we’ll see her in the winter, after the first freeze, I imagine.”

He stumbled a few steps towards her and kneeled by her chair. “A baby.” She nodded. “You’re sure?” Nod. He stared at her stomach. “A girl?”

“I felt her,” she said quietly. “When you were. . . when I healed you. A bright, white spark in the middle of my gold. She helped bring you back.” Syn caught his hand and flattened it on her abdomen, right over the little white glow that grew stronger every day. “She’s going to have quite a bit of magic in her.”

His breath was coming short and fast. “What if she looks Jotun?”

Oh, her poor husband. Of course that was his first worry. She answered calmly but fiercely, “Then we will love her and accept her for who she is and execute anyone who says anything against her.” She touched his cheek. “It’s a good thing, Loki. It’s a new start.”

It took a moment for him to look at her but when he did, the panic was gone from his eyes. He stretched up and kissed her firmly, cupping her throat. “I love you,” he whispered.

“I love you, too,” she told him.

“Thor is going be the most ridiculous uncle,” he muttered, shaking his head. She giggled and wrapped her arms around his neck. His arms slid around her and for a moment, they just held onto each other.

Chapter Text

It had been centuries since Odin the Allfather had stood in a child’s nursery. He still recalled the room that Thor and, later, Loki had slept their infancies in. Frigga had woven blanket after blanket, more than any child could ever use. The dwarves had sent an exquisitely crafted mobile, so that stars and moons danced over the babe’s head as he slept.

The nursery at Alfheim was different and yet exactly the same. Here a pile of blankets and nappies. There a collection of presents from the other realms. There the crib, with a mobile dancing above it, this one of carved wooden animals. And in the crib rested the child. A little girl with fair skin and a cap of black curls, swaddled in pale yellow muslin, sleeping peacefully.

Odin stood over the crib, inspecting his granddaughter. He could see Loki in her, even at rest. It brought him back to that ill-fated day in Jotunheim, finding a Jotun babe left to die. How different the realms would be if he had never picked up that child.

There was a quiet gasp and Odin looked up to see the queen of Alfheim standing in the nursery door. The gasp had come from the plump, red-haired woman at her side who was holding a hand over her gaping mouth. The queen didn’t look a bit surprised, watching him with a serene, almost amused, expression on her face. Finally, she spoke, “Hilde, be a darling and go tell the king his father is visiting. Walk slow, there’s no need to rush.”

The other woman nodded, bobbed a little curtsy at Odin, and disappeared down the hall.

Syn of Alfheim stepped into the nursery and stood across the crib from him. She glanced down at her daughter, as if confirming she was well, before looking at Odin again. “Sneaking in, Allfather?”

“As the front door would likely be barred to me-”

“We would have greeted you as a fellow realm sovereign.”

“But not as a visiting grandfather.” He couldn’t hide the anger in his voice, or the regret.

She tilted her head. “Grandfather? Last I heard, Loki was no longer your son. So how could you claim his kin as yours?”

Odin grit his teeth. “My wife’s kin, then.”

Her face softened and she looked at the babe again. “Your wife was always kind to me,” she said thoughtfully. She bent and stroked her daughter’s cheek. The babe’s eyes opened, wide and bright blue, just like her father’s.


Syn slid her hands beneath the little body and lifted her up to her shoulder, murmuring reassurances. She came around the crib and set the baby in his hands. “Her name is Hela.”

Odin gazed down at the baby in his arms. She blinked up at him with bleary eyes. He had braced for her to cry but, like her father before her, she only cooed, smiling a little. He felt something deep inside him unclench as he held her and found himself smiling in return.

“It’s a strange name for a child,” he commented.

“She helped bring her father back from the dead,” Syn said with an easy shrug. “It seemed to fit.”

Pain lanced through him at that. His son so close to death. For no matter what he said, no matter what sins they both committed, Loki would always be his son. It was the way of fathers. There was more of him in Loki than either of them would ever admit.

“For a very long time, I hated you,” the queen said quietly, interrupting his thoughts. He risked a glance at her and found her watching him hold her daughter with her own gentle smile. “But I’ve seen first hand what could have become of me had you not taken me. And if you’d left me here, I would never have met Loki. So, I suppose I find myself grateful to you, in some small way.”

Odin held her gaze a moment, then looked down at Hela again. “I should like to claim it was all part of a grand plan, centuries in the making. In truth, I saw a child crying and couldn’t leave her.”

Syn smiled a little. “You’ve a soft heart on occasion.” Her expression turned sly. “How much did you plan?”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he said gruffly, even as he thought, She is his match, isn’t she?

“You knew who I was. You knew the Alfan people were growing restless under your extended rule. We were the only allied realm with a steward instead of a proper regent.” She tilted her head. “You told Thor to bring me to the Capital. You must have suspected there was a chance I would end up on the throne. My only question is, was that for me? Or was it for Loki?”

He looked down at the baby again. It seemed a safer place to put his gaze then her canny green eyes. “You think I’d want Loki on a throne? After all he’s done?”

“He was good at it,” she said softly. “The year he was you. He played at king well. Better than you thought he would.”

“You helped him,” he snapped, realizing too late he hadn’t, actually, contradicted her.

She noticed, too, based on the size of her grin. “Of course. I give excellent advice, you know.” She paused and tilted her head. “He’s coming now. If you want to disappear.”

Odin had never considered himself a coward. Was fairly sure he’d have imprisoned anyone who insinuated it. But he did, for a split second, consider handing her the child and taking his leave.

Instead, he stood his ground as his younger son swept through the nursery door and stopped just inside to stare at him.


“Hilde said it was my father visiting,” Loki said in a voice so casual it tipped into bored. “But, as I have no father, I couldn’t imagine who she meant.”

Odin sighed and saw the queen roll her eyes rather expressively. “I did not come to fight, Loki,” he said quietly.

“Then I’ve no idea what we might do since that does seem to be our favorite activity.”

“Loki,” Syn said in a quiet, warning tone. “Not in front of the baby.”

A muscle flexed in Loki’s jaw, but when he spoke it was more measured. “Does she meet with your approval? The child of your two foundlings?”

As Odin watched, the baby yawned and flailed both her fists in the air. He smiled almost in spite of himself. “I think she has your eyes. And I’ll pray for your wife’s sake she doesn’t have your mischief.” He glanced back at his son. “She doesn’t deserve that.”

“No mother does,” Loki replied, with a hint of real humor in his voice.

Hela let out a quiet cry and Odin moved to hand her to Syn. Loki stepped in and took her instead, cradling the babe in his big hands before tucking her against his shoulder. Her fussing stopped immediately and Loki smiled softly at her. Odin was certain he had never seen that expression on his son’s face before.

Odin was old, even by Asgardian standards. It had become obvious that his death would be in bed and not the battlefield. His days were long and, if he was honest, lonely, with Frigga gone and his sons scattered. He had not expected to see a grandchild.


He had not thought he would see Loki happy.

Whatever else his last years brought, that, at least, he could count as a triumph.

“I will take my leave,” he said, fighting emotion. “While we can still part civilly.”

Syn lifted a hand and touched his arm. “We’ll be having a ceremony in the spring to plant her tree,” she said quietly. “It would be nice to have your attendance.”

He nodded without a word, turning away to leave.


“Allfather,” Loki called as he reached the door. Odin turned to regard him and his son continued. “Next time, enter by the front door.” Loki’s eyes gleamed with some unnamable emotion. It wasn’t forgiveness, but it may have been something close. Acceptance, perhaps. “We may even see fit to serve you some wine.”