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The Morning After

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He rose from the Odinsleep slowly, as he ever had, the bright haze that wrapped around him cocoon-like retreating and then vanishing into mist. His one eye opened and he gazed upwards at the vaulted ceiling overhead, seeing the golden outline of Frigga's silhouette wavering nearby.

There was a routine that came with the awakening, there always was. First there would be Frigga, steadfast and loyal and a reminder of the duties he held towards the Realm and the beauty he fought to protect, all in one. Second there would be his familiars, Huginn and Munin and the wolves, bringing him news of what transpired in his absence. Later there would be food to sate his ravenous hunger, and meetings with his advisors and councilors. But not yet.

"My wife," he said as he always did, voice gravelly with the force of his waking. "Asgard is well?"

"Perfectly well," Frigga assured him, although he could have known that from the lack of alarm. Frigga sat always by his side when he entered the Sleep, to guard him and -- though it was invoked only rarely -- to monitor the situation in Asgard. If there chanced to be some disaster that really,  truly   could not wait, Frigga alone knew the secret rituals to interrupt the Odinsleep and rouse him to action. She had done so only three times in the last thousand years, the most recent being when his sons had quarreled and the Bifrost shattered.

Not that he doubted her judgment, in rousing him in the face of such a disaster. Jotnar in the halls, Heimdall struck down, and both his boys on the edge of death -- only the Allfather could have kept them from tumbling into the howling void below the bridge.

And failed even at that. But now was not the time to dwell on his past failures, nor on old hurts. With Frigga's aid he sat up, slowly, and took a goblet of wine that she pressed to his hand. "Thor reigns?" he mumbled, around the first gulp.

As before, it was a rhetorical question -- of course Thor reigned, it was the practiced custom now that his eldest would sit on the throne while he Slept. So it was with some alarm that he saw a strange expression flicker across her face. "Er, well..."

Odin raised his eyebrows, and Frigga hurried to explain. "We meant to fetch him, dear, but it turns out that he and the Avengers had left Midgard for some adventure on the far side of the cosmos -- dealing with someone named the Beyonder, as I recall. There was simply no way to reach him."

"Ah," Odin said. "So you reigned, my queen?"

The expression crossed Frigga's face again, and this time it was more discernable as  guilty,   like a child caught hiding sweets. "Well," she said, "you know the tradition, my dear -- that the queen can serve as Regent only if there is no male heir left to take the throne..."

"But there isn't --" Odin's mind lurched back into gear. Of course -- when he'd pardoned Loki, and reconfirmed his legal status as citizen of Asgard and Odin's own son, he'd also reconfirmed his place in the succession. With Thor reinstated and his lessons in humility and kindness well learned, Odin hadn't expected it to matter. "Loki   reigns? And the realm hasn't come down around our ears?"

He meant it as a joke, but the way Frigga stiffened nervously in her chair quickly drained the humor out of it. "My wife, what has that boy been up to?"

"Now, dear, you mustn't scold him," Frigga said anxiously. "He only wished to do well, you know."

Odin groaned, and drained the goblet of wine. He'd once lived for thirty days drinking nothing but wine and mead; at times like this he wished he could go back to those days. "The last time he tried to do well by  the kingdom, he almost destroyed a planet," he grumbled.

"Oh, no, nothing like that," Frigga assured him.  "He...  may   have instituted a parliamentary democracy."

Odin lurched forwards, startled and alarmed. "He committed revolution against the throne --?!"

"No, no!" Frigga hastened to reassure him. "The royalty of Asgard is as secure as they ever were, under this new system -- the parliament merely handles lesser details, the everyday running of common life, that sort of thing -- all according to their roles as laid out in the constitution."

"Constitution?" It took Odin's sleep-fogged mind a moment to make sense of the word, even in the All-tongue; he rejected  the quality of one's personal endurance   before coming up with a dim memory of some paper document of a type popular on Midgard, one enshrined like a religious object. "We don't have a constitution."

"Ah..." Frigga hesitated. "We  didn't...  have a constitution. Loki wrote one for us. It's really quite poetically worded, dear, you should read it."

Odin shook his head, pressing his fingers against the bridge of his nose in hopes of staving off the incipient headache. Frigga, goddess that she was, sensed his discomfort and passed him another goblet. Odin took a sip, and was surprised to find it was not wine at all, but some astringent, steaming liquid which cleared his head and left his breathing easier. "What is this, a new potion devised by Eir?" he asked.

"It's tea, dear," Frigga said. "Loki brought it with him, and planted several bushes in the palace grounds... It's all the rage with the younger servants already."

Speaking of servants... Glancing around, Odin noticed something else that was out of place in his chamber -- or rather, not  in   their usual place. "Where are the guards?"

"Out. Loki sort of... gave everyone on the palace staff the day off. "

"A day  off?"

"He declared a kingdom-wide bank holiday. He only wished to make people happy, dear. Did you know this is the first day in five hundred years Heimdall has been able to sleep in late? Or sleep at all, for that matter."

"How can we have a bank holiday? We don't have banks," Odin objected.

"Well," Frigga told him, "we  didn't   have banks."

Odin groaned again. He loved his youngest, he sincerely did, but he was beginning to genuinely fear for his country. "We must prevent news of this from spreading to the other realms," he mumbled thickly, trying to push himself to his feet. "With our military might dispersed, the other realms will be eager to push an attack --"

"Oh, they already did," Frigga informed him calmly. "A band of  young idiots from Alfheim snuck over the rainbow bridge in the night."

"They  what?"  Odin demanded. "You didn't -- and the guards were all stood down? How did --"

"Well, they were run off. By what looked to be a stampede of... rhinoceroses. At least, I  believe   that is how you pluralize it," Frigga admitted. "Somewhat like a bilgesnipe crossed with a unicorn. I believe they are a common household pet on Midgard."

"These.... rhinoceroses," Odin said slowly. "They were summoned as a type of magical guardian, yes? They vanished after their duty was done?"

"That is how he intended them, Loki says, but he somewhat underestimated the amount of power he put into the spell. He's spent too long trying to do magic on Midgard, silly boy, he doesn't know his own strength. They're rather... corporeal."

"So there are a herd of rhinoceroses running around my palace," Odin said numbly.

"No, dear, only the gardens. They don't seem to like being indoors. They've been browsing on the plants there -- they're quite gentle and harmless. Well, except for the time they got into the tea bushes, that is. Then they became quite exciteable."

Odin sagged back on his bed, and for a moment entertained the serious temptation to just roll over and go back to sleep. No, that would be weak. Cowardly.  "I've got to see this for myself," he muttered, and made the habitual gesture that would unlock the sanctum doors.

"Now, dear," Frigga began anxiously. "You may not want to let them --"

Before Frigga could explain who them  was there came a scrabbling at the doorway, and a tiny grey shape launched across the floor. It disappeared momentarily from sight at the edge of the bed, then a tiny head with huge eyes as round and shining as coins popped up over the edge of the coverlets and regarded Odin with frank curiosity.

Odin stared back. "What in the Nine Realms is a kitten doing here?"

"Loki was only worried for your health, dear," Frigga told him. "Apparently, the healers of Midgard have concluded that stroking felines for half an hour each day can lower blood pressure. So he gifted you a kitten."

"Oh." Odin relaxed. Compared to some of the other things Loki had done during his brief tenure as king, and given Frigga's reaction, he had worried it was something much more outrageous.

"And when I thanked him for the gift, he gave us sixteen more."

"Oh," Odin said, in a very different tone of voice. A chorus of squeaking mews from underneath his bed gave him a clue as to where these other gifts were hiding.

"And changed the heraldic animal of the house of Odin to that of a kitten. The new banners are hanging in the feasting hall already, they're really very cute, the ambassador from Nidvallir is entranced --"

Odin sighed, and massaged his forehead again. "My wife, would you call Loki in here at his first opportunity?" he said. "It seems I have some things to talk about with my son."

"Of course, dear," Frigga said. "I'll summon him as soon as possible -- the last I heard, he was going for diplomatic talks with the dwarves. Something about commissioning magical metal boxes for each household, which can miraculously heat food in a matter of minutes once they are hooked up to the electrical grid --"

Odin was vaguely familiar with the Midgardian devices. Vaguely. "But we don't have an electrical grid," he pointed out.

"Er," Frigga coughed delicately. "Well, we didn't..."

"Send Loki to me as soon as possible," Odin interrupted, and Frigga nodded in relief. "But first, bring me more wine."

He was going to need to be a lot more drunk to deal with this.