brunhild

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Fredegund

Queen Consort of Neustria (western Francia)

Born ? - Died 597 CE

Claim to Fame: A brutal and formidable queen, best know for her forty year feud with her sister-in-law, Queen Brunhild of Austrasia.

Background: High-ranking women in Merovingian Gaul could hold substantial wealth and status in the fifth and sixth centuries which enabled them to exercise significant social, political and religious influence.

Born into a low-ranking family, Fredegund was a servant to the first wife of King Chilperic I of Neustria, Audovera. She seduced Chilperic and convinced him to divorce and expel Audovera. Chilperic then married a wealthy second wife, Galsuenda, but she soon died and was swiftly replaced as queen by Fredegund. Stories of Galsuenda’s death vary but it is believed that she spoke out against the immorality of Chilperic’s court so the King and his favourite mistress, Fredegund, had her strangled in bed. The powerful Queen Brunhild of Austrasia was both the sister-in-law of Chilperic (she was married to his brother) and the sister of Galsuenda. Brunhild’s fury at her sister’s death sparked a feud between the once unified houses of Austrasia and Neustria that spanned over forty years. The rivalry between Brunhild and Fredegund was particularly bitter and lead their families through generations of conflict.

Fredegund is represented in primary sources as a particularly violent woman who used her desirability to manipulate and corrupt those around her. She frequently contracted assassins as well as torturing, maiming and killing opponents. Among her many alleged misdeeds, Fredegund was suspected of ordering the assassination of Brunhild’s husband, Sigebert I, and attempting to assassinate Brunhild’s son Childebert II, her brother-in-law Guntram of Burgundy, and even Brunhild herself. In a jealous rage, she even attempted to murder her own daughter, Rigunth, by slamming the lid of a chest down on her neck as she reached for the jewelry inside. However, her violence was not limited to royal family members, and included a number of officials, clergymen and locals. In a classic example, Fredegund attempted to quell a dispute between kinsmen but ‘when she failed to reconcile them with gentle words she tamed them on both sides with the ax’ by inviting them to a feast and having them all murdered. Her formidable reputation served her well and she manipulated all levels of society through the fear of her fury.

When a dysentery epidemic struck her husband and two of her sons in 580 CE, Fredegund was plunged into remorse. Believing the epidemic was punishment for her sins, she burned unfair tax records and donated to the church and the poor after her sons succumbed to the disease.

In 584 CE, her husband, Chilperic, was mysteriously assassinated and Fredegund sought refuge in the Notre Dame de Paris cathedral. She died of natural causes 8 December 597 in Paris and is entombed in Saint Denis Basilica.

Several years after Fredegund’s death, her son Clothar II defeated Brunhild in battle and, despite the Queen being in her late sixties, he had her stretched on the rack for three days and then torn apart by four horses. Such was the bitterness of their familial enmity.

Note: The main source for Fredegund’s life is Gregory of Tours’ History of the Franks. Gregory was patronised by Queen Brunhild so his depictions of her qualities and the evils of her rival, Fredegund, are likely biased. Other sources recognise Fredegund’s brutality but treat her and Brunhild more equitably.

~ Much of this mini-bio is based on an essay of mine, so please PM me for sources.

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Aslaug Meme → [2/3] Quotes: 4.14 - “In the Uncertain Hour Before Morning”
✧ I am not my mother, nor yet my father. I would never win. But still I have fulfilled my destiny.

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Thompson had been asked if there were any plans for a solo “Valkyrie” movie and Feige had responded, “Pretty good idea.”

Then Thompson noted, “Recently I marched up with a couple of other women who work in Marvel and [asked Kevin] “How about a movie with some female super heroes? Like all of them.”

Feige says, “It was a pretty amazing moment to be somewhere and have your shoulder be taped and turn around find every female hero we have is standing there going, ‘How about it?’ And I said ‘yes.‘”

The Seneschal

My first Tumblrfic! A one-shot little thing that just would not get out of my head, so I had to write it down. The unexpected survival of someone important from Thor and Loki’s past prompts hilarity and romance.

Warnings: at least ten times the amount of recommended daily sugary fluff, Loki being rather excessively redeemed, Thor being an adorable doof, mangled old Norse stuff, spoilers for Thor: Ragnarok.


Earth it is, then.

Such simple words. His first real proclamation as king. It seemed simple. Point enormous ship towards Midgard and go there. But, like most things in Thor’s life of late, the reality turned out to be anything but straightforward.

Spaceships were very complicated things. They needed fuel and maintenance and all sorts of other things to keep them running. This one – the newly renamed Asgard – apparently ran on a certain type of exotic matter particular to one of the rarer types of compact star, which was probably why it had been sitting in the Grandmaster’s hangar on Sakaar rather than being actively used. It was a minor miracle – although Loki insisted it had more to do with his outstanding piloting skills – that the thing had managed to limp through the portal in the first place.

It was also low on general supplies, like food and potable water, although on the plus side was extremely lavishly furnished with what turned out to be quite a lot of potentially valuable goods. The mineral ore in the aft hold was also apparently quite prized, or at least the trader Loki spoke to was convinced that it was. Thor decided not to ask for the details of the transaction when his brother had returned with a certain smug edge to his triumphant grin.

‘Why do we need these…hydrosonic things?’

'Hydroponics,’ the Valkyrie, whose name he had finally discovered was Brunhilde, repeated with a roll of her eyes. 'I told you, to grow food. We can’t trade anywhere near enough to keep everyone fed and it is going to take a long while to get to Midgard.’

'Hulk bored.’

'But couldn’t we have traded for more food and less-’ Thor paused to peer at the unfamiliar term on the dataslate ’-nutrient fluid?’

'Yes, but the technology will be more efficient in the long run,’ Loki pointed out. 'The difference between hunting and farming.’

'Hulk bored.’

'At least the water filtration systems seem to work.’ Thor scratched at his chin for a moment. 'Do we have a full head count yet, Heimdall?’

'Six hundred and eighteen,’ the former gatekeeper replied solemnly.

'That’s all?’ Thor tried not to sound too appalled, without much success. Asgard had housed over two hundred thousand people under Odin’s rule. Still, between Hela and Surtr it was remarkable that they had managed to save that many.

'We’ve little idea of who survived,’ Heimdall added. 'I’ve spoken to a few, guildsmen and artisans mostly, but-’

'Hulk BORED!’

'Who invited him?’ Thor asked. 'This is a council meeting, isn’t it?’

'Nobody invited him,’ Loki said. 'He just showed up.’

'We need to get a proper understanding of who we have on board,’ Brunhilde said, loudly enough that they all looked at her and even the Hulk subsided. 'And someone ought to be coordinating berths, and work assignments. Korg and the other scrappers are doing their best but we need-’

'A seneschal,’ Heimdall finished.

'The last seneschal of Asgard was-’ grimacing, Thor glanced at Loki in time to see his brother’s face fall ’-our mother.’

'Historically speaking the role of seneschal is separate to the duties of the royal family,’ Heimdall pointed out. 'But yes, Lady Frigga did adopt it in addition to her obligations as queen.’

'Thor no have queen,’ the Hulk said with a broad grin. 'He bad at girls.’

'That’s-’ Thor tried not to get too indignant at that pronouncement ’-that is not true, I just never – I am not bad at girls. With women. Shut up.’ He sat back and folded his arms, pointedly ignoring Loki’s snicker and Brunhilde’s barely-suppressed chuckles.

'I actually had someone in mind,’ Heimdall said, thankfully putting a stop to any further needling on that front. 'For seneschal,’ he added, only a little hastily, but ignored the Hulk’s snort of amusement at the clarification.

'Oh thank god,’ Thor said with feeling. 'Please call them up.’

'As you wish.’

Discussion turned to other matters in the meantime – Thor had to admit he was rather glad that Loki had so peremptorily taken charge of the need for trading with outside factors, for once putting his gilded tongue to some proper use – until a light knock at the door heralded the arrival of whoever Heimdall’s candidate was. Thor called for the visitor to come in and then felt himself break out into a broad grin of unmitigated delight at the diminutive, dark-haired figure that entered.

'Y/N!’

She inclined her head in a half bow.

'Your majesty.’

Pah.’ Springing to his feet, Thor rounded the table in two quick strides. 'You only called me that when my father was in the room. And even then…’

She laughed and permitted him to pull her into a hug.

'Thor, it’s so good to see you again. Great Norns, who cut your hair?’

'Oh, a creepy old man on an alien planet.’

'It's…different. And crooked-’ one hand actually came up to tug at the side of his shorn locks ’-we must find some shears and at least even it out-’

'No, no-’ Thor hurriedly batted her away ’-no more needs to come off. It’s fine. Really.’

'You’re lopsided! And oh…’ she stroked the skin beside his eyepatch '…your eye…’

'You want to make a hairdresser the seneschal?’ Brunhilde exclaimed to Heimdall.

'I’m hardly a hairdresser,’ Y/N said wryly.

'Then who are you?’

'Peace!’ Thor grinned at them both. 'This is Y/N Sjöfnsdottir – her mother was a nurse of sorts to us when we were boys, we used to play together as children-’

'Until her many talents led her elsewhere,’ Loki finished, standing up to move to his side with a smile that was small and brief enough to give it away as genuine. 'Hello, Y/N.’

'Loki!’ For a moment she stared at him with an unreadable expression. Then she reached out to very carefully prod his chest, clearly expecting him to dissolve into thin air and actually gasping when he didn’t. 'You’re – you’re actually here?’

'Very m-’ he didn’t get any further before she hugged him, too, although it was a much briefer contact and she turned back to Thor rather quickly after letting go.

'So, what does my king require of me?’

He laughed outright at her.

'Your help, as always!’

The Hulk decided to choose that moment to once more announce that he was bored, so after the briefest of amused introductions Brunhilde decided to take him down to the cargo bay, rolling her eyes at Loki’s half-pleading, half-chastising reminder not to damage the trio of extremely valuable power convertors sitting there.

'Not quite a typical successor to the Allfather’s council but at least it’s a bit different,’ Y/N said laughingly to Thor. 'I take it you want to drag me into this to help as chamberlain in some way, since there seems to be a marked lack of organisational ability in the room?’

'You’ve already been invaluable in overseeing the distribution of supplies and the wellbeing of the refugees,’ Heimdall said to her, with a meaningful glance at Thor. 'You’ve a knack for the role.’

'You’re too kind, Lord Heimdall.’

'He’s right, though.’ Thor folded his arms and inclined his head. 'I’d like to appoint you my seneschal, Y/N. The position hasn’t really been in use of late but…well, you’ll be perfect for the job.’

'And if I refuse?’ she asked, but the amused expression on her face said that she wouldn’t do any such thing, and they both knew it.

'I shall be very sad,’ Thor said, beaming at her. 'I’ll moan, and pout, and possibly throw a rage. And then I’ll make Loki do it, instead.’

'Oh, wonderful,’ Loki muttered.

'Dear Norns, there’s a threat and a half. I’d better accept, then.’ Her eyes danced. 'Although I should warn you now that rations are extremely lean which isn’t helping the already extremely low morale of our refuges, so-’

'We’ve already secured some additional supplies, as well as the means to set up food production on board the ship,’ Loki put in.

'What sort of quantities?’

'More ample than if someone else had handled the negotiations.’

Y/N rolled her eyes.

'Naturally. I don’t suppose you bothered putting anything onto the system?’

'The what?’ all three men asked at the same time, provoking an exasperated sigh.

'The ship has an integrated network operations and database system run on the hardwired consoles as well as these-’ she brandished a slim, palm-sized screen at them ’-so perhaps we could consider using it?’

Thor broke into another grin that was as relieved as it was grateful.

'Do you see why we need you?’

*

Ten minutes later, en route down to the enormous main cargo deck, Loki found himself in one of his rarest conditions; lost for what to say.

Y/N was alive.

The idea, the reality, overrode all attempts at cohesive thought. The last time he’d seen her…it had been years ago, before Thor’s confirmation and all that came after. When he’d returned to Asgard in chains, Frigga had said Y/N asked to see him but had been denied by Odin. Of course. Later, after he'd…acquired the throne, he’d wanted to send for her, desperately, but couldn’t risk exposing himself by doing so. Knowing that she’d survived, against all odds, and was here

'Oh, this is good. Depending on the rationing, of course, and we need a proper census to confirm numbers and demographics…’

The detached, businesslike tone was painful to hear. She’d once had nothing but smiles, even for him, laughing at his tricks, defending his wayward nature. Memories surfaced unbidden – sunlit corridors and running feet, his own chuckles and the sweet melody of her laugh.

'…spoken to but I recall there were several greensmen from the lower terraces and at least half a dozen artificers-’

'Y/N.’

She paused and glanced back at him, the animation draining steadily from her face.

'You’re angry with me,’ he said, somehow managing to keep his voice level.

Cocking her head, she folded her hands over the data slate and turned to regard him properly.

'I’m not angry with you.’

'No. I suppose not.’ Loki managed a small, grim smile, and glanced down at his boots. 'Let me guess, you're…livid, enraged, furious, perhaps all three?’

'I’m hurt.’

'What?’ That made him look up at her.

'We all thought you were dead, Loki.’ Y/N’s voice sounded taut as a bowstring, ready to snap but barely controlled. 'After the Bifrost – after Midgard – after everything – I’m not angry with you. I just can’t believe you would let us all think-’ pausing, she sniffed and seemed to collect herself after a moment. 'I tried to see you, before.’

'I know.’

'I begged Odin, but he refused and your mother – your mother said it was best I didn’t. Later I…left.’

'Left?’

'The city. I went north into the wilds.’

He blinked, confused.

'Why?’

'Why would I not?’ she replied, and wiped at her eyes as if impatient with herself. 'My family were all gone by then, and your mother – and then Thor was gone, and you were dead.’ Stopping, she took a short breath. 'I was living in one of the old fortresses up in the mountains when Heimdall found me, on the run, and then there was Hela, and the refugees started arriving…’

'I’m sorry,’ Loki blurted, and had to drop his eyes when she looked askance at him. He closed the distance between them and put his hands over hers. 'I never…I never meant to hurt you. Not like that, not – not at all. I’m sorry.’

Y/N sighed and met his gaze when he raised it.

'Everything and…you’re sorry.’

'Yes.’ He risked a small grin. 'Well, not entirely sorry…I mean, if you hadn’t left the city and been in the mountains when Hela arrived then you might not be here, and alive. And that I would not change for anything.’

She stared at him for a long moment and turned, pulling away and lifting a hand to cover her mouth. For a moment Loki panicked, but then she whirled back and he felt his shoulders sag in relief as she threw her arms about him, laughing and crying all at once.

'Oh, I have missed you, you – you – scoundrel!’

He hugged her back, taking the opportunity to bury his nose in her braided hair, and felt an irresistible grin of pure delight split his face as he did.

'I’ve missed you, too.’

The embrace still didn’t go on as long as he would have liked, but at least it was better than the perfunctory one from earlier. Y/N drew back and smiled, reaching up to trail her fingers through a strand of his hair.

'Thor loses his, and yours grows out…it suits you.’

'Thank you.’ He barely resisted the urge to lean into her hand – curses, he’d forgotten the effect her touch had on him – and tried to sound brisk. 'Shall we look at these supplies, then?’

'Yes, we’d better.’

An hour later, back in the cabin he’d appropriated for himself, Loki sat down hard on the still-strange bed and regarded the empty wall opposite him blankly. His fingers flexed.

Cast enough illusions and you risk forgetting what is real.

But sometimes forgetting, even just for a little while, was enough.

He gave in and reached for his magic, cloaking the narrow room in a glamour that enveloped all of his own senses while betraying nothing to others. It was an old spell, easy to cast, as familiar as the pages of a well-read book. For a moment he closed his eyes, drinking in the cheers and adulation but not caring about the false crowd.

“They love you, you know. Perhaps almost as much as I do.”

Loki opened his eyes and smiled at her. He’d spent a long time getting every detail of the chimera just right, from the way the light hit her hair to the exact hue of her dress. Green and gold, of course, but then she was lovely to him whatever colours she wore.

'My beautiful queen,’ he murmured. The glamour smiled back, a perfect simulacrum of her face, and stepped up to his side.

“My beloved king.”

Loki reached up towards her but stopped just short of touching her face, knowing that would dispel the illusion. Instead he banished the rest – the hall, the crowds, the regal trappings – stripping the spell back so that she stood before him much as she had just now in the cargo bay. He could almost pretend she was really there.

A knock at the door shattered his concentration and he hastily broke the spell, taking a few breaths to collect himself. But still the fantasy lurked in his mind’s eye, taunting him anew to have something so close and yet so out of reach.

*

'…twelve weavers and nine jewellers, but none of them are adverse to retraining so I was thinking of an adaptation of the old apprenticing system, perhaps?’

'That sounds perfect. What do we need – uh – more of?’

'Artificers, mostly, although more greensmen wouldn’t go amiss. Oh, there’s also the matter of the twenty-nine orphans.’

'Orphans?’

That slightly alarmed exclamation from Thor was enough to bring Loki’s attention sharply back to the council meeting in full.

'There were lots of separations in the evacuation, and beforehand,’ Y/N said. 'What with one thing and another…yes, we’ve twenty-nine children who are without parents or other family to take care of them.’

'Thank the Norns it’s that few,’ Brunhilde advised grimly, taking a swig from her current bottle.

'Yes. Well.’ Thor leaned forward and laced his hands on the table. 'Any suggestions?’

'Two that I can think of.’ Naturally Y/N had not brought a problem without already thinking of a solution. 'We could set up some sort of centralised caretaking attached to the new school-’

'An orphanage, you mean,’ Loki interrupted. Thor made a face.

'I don’t much care for that idea. What alternative is there?’

'Fostering,’ Y/N said. 'There are also those who lost children, or whole families who survived and might be willing to take another child in.’

'Old Asgard had a rich tradition of fostering,’ Heimdall put in. 'Not just for the parentless, but between wider families or different bloodlines.’

'Yes. I recall Fandral was fostered most of his life with an old ally of his uncle’s because he was nothing but a nuisance to his parents.’ Thor’s grin at the memory of his friend dimmed slightly at the sudden recollection of his death. 'Still – that seems a far better idea to me. We should ask those who are able. I mean I should ask,’ he amended hastily, and for some reason glanced at Loki with a slight frown. 'Is that…appropriate?’

'I think the king gets to decide what is and isn’t appropriate under the circumstances, brother,’ Loki replied dryly, but couldn’t help an involuntary surge of affection for the enormous oaf.

'Yes, of course. Well, then, if you could-’ Thor gestured absently in Y/N’s direction, but she was already making a note on her slate ’-and could I speak to the children, as well? I’d just like to tell them that they – ah – won’t be forgotten about. Nor their lost families.’

'Of course,’ she said, and flashed Brunhilde a small smile when the Valkyrie’s eyebrows rose dubiously. 'Thor’s always had a soft spot for little ones. Something to do with comparable intellectual capacities, I believe,’ she added, catching Loki’s eye with a wink that made him chuckle. It was an old jest, from happier days, and he tried to ignore the way her gaze seeking his made his heart stutter as though tripping over itself.

'Hey!’ Thor protested. 'I am your king now, you know.’

'Of course,’ Y/N said, both unruffled and unrepentent. 'I’ll send the list of comparable intellects to your slate…your majesty.’

The Hulk’s booming sniggers in Thor’s direction echoed as she made her way out of the room, until Heimdall suddenly leaned forward and cleared his throat.

'The mention of children is perhaps timely.’

Thor’s grin vanished instantly, replaced by bewilderment.

'Eh?’

'You should think about taking a wife,’ Heimdall went on, as calmly as if he were suggesting that the other man take a short walk.

'A wife?’

'He’s talking about the royal succession, your majesty,’ Brunhilde said dryly, taking another swig from her drink. 'Sorting out a queen, begetting heirs, that sort of thing.’

Begetting-’ Thor hurriedly cleared his throat, visibly panicking ’-no, I don’t think we need to worry about any begetting just now, we’ve got larger concerns and-’

'A king should have a queen,’ Heimdall insisted.

'I think I’ll decide if-’

'The people of Asgard just went from a substantial number to an endangered species,’ Loki said, now thoroughly entertained by his brother’s discomfiture. 'Most of the berths on this enormous ship are still empty, even with all the survivors.’

'Point.’ Brunhilde grinned, clearly also now rather enjoying herself. 'It’s going to take a few years to get to Midgard even at the top speed this ship can do, which it won’t be doing most of the time, and only one way to boost the population for the long term.’

'A king should lead by example, should he not?’ Loki added with affected innocence, and snickered all the more at the glare his brother shot him.

'Those considerations aside, it will comfort the people to know the fate of the throne is secure,’ Heimdall said, somehow still contriving to be serious despite the fact that Thor was positively fidgeting in unease at this point. 'A queen, and an heir, will help everyone remember that Asgard still has a future.’

Except-’ Thor raised his hand as if he’d just plucked the deciding argument out of mid-air ’-I don’t have anyone to marry. So. Can’t be done.’

'There are plenty of unattached women on board,’ Loki pointed out. 'Pick one.’

'Look in my direction and I’ll hit you,’ Brunhilde said when Thor’s gaze started to slip sideways. ’Your majesty.’

'Well I can’t just-’ Thor was all but spluttering now ’-I can’t just pick a woman like…like plucking an apple from the nearest tree-’

'Thor no pick apples or women. Thor got no game.’

’-shut up, Hulk – and besides, I haven’t really been around on Asgard for years, I don’t even really know anyone-’

'I’m sure we can help you find one,’ Loki said helpfully.

'That is a fair point,’ Heimdall said, raising a hand to forestall further bickering. 'The queen of Asgard cannot be chosen lightly, especially now. It must be someone capable and caring, someone known to the people who has their trust-’

'Someone like Y/N,’ Thor said absently, stroking his beard. 'What?’ he asked when they all stared at him. 'I just mean – oh, god! No, I couldn’t marry Y/N! Could I?’

Loki became aware that his amused grin had turned rather brittle.

'I think that’s between you and Y/N,’ Brunhilde said with a laugh.

'She would be ideal,’ Heimdall said slowly. 'Everyone knows her, and trusts her – she was coordinating the refugees and supplies even before you appointed her as seneschal. She’s the right age, from a good line, familiar with the duties of the crown-’

'But I can’t marry Y/N!’ Thor exclaimed. 'It’d be…weird. Wouldn’t it?’ Ignoring Brundhilde’s scoffing, he glanced at Loki. 'Surely you don’t agree with this?’

It took every inch of Loki’s skill in dissembling to keep his expression neutrally amused. Every instinct in him screamed to agree, to insist that Thor could never marry Y/N Sjöfnsdottir, to conjure some excuse or reason why such an arrangement would be utterly disastrous…

'She would be an excellent candidate, brother,’ he heard himself say. 'Heimdall is right. She’s capable, accomplished, known and trusted, and…has a heart big enough to love all of the Nine Realms and much beyond.’ Oops. He hadn’t meant to say that bit, but nobody seemed to have noticed the slip and in fact Thor was now looking rather pensive.

'I suppose you’re right. She is kind, and fair. It would be…strange. At first, perhaps. But we could find a way to make it work, I’m sure. Still…’ he grimaced again, lost in thought.

Speak, you fool, Loki raged at himself. Nudge his doubts and have him put the idea aside! Why are you struck dumb now of all moments?

'I suggest you ask her, your majesty,’ Brunhilde said. 'These are hardly the days of Búri and Auðumbla when a king may co-opt a woman without her permission. Not that it wouldn’t be very funny to watch you try.’

Hur hur hur. Thor bad at girls.’

'Shut up, Hulk.’ Thor folded his arms defensively. 'Fine. I’ll speak with her later. Is there any other real business to discuss?’ he added, rather witheringly.

There was not, thankfully, and the others left – the Hulk still chortling – but before Loki could flee the room he felt an enormous hand descend onto his shoulder.

'Brother,’ Thor’s gaze was entreating. 'You must help me. I’ve not the way with words that you do, and of all the people to have to ask this, of all things-’

Under other circumstances Loki would have doubled over in laughter, but the painful reality of it kept him sober. So now he was to counsel his brother, the mighty Thor, ever-preferred and ever-glorified, on how to gain the hand of the one woman that he, Loki, would ever truly love.

'You need no tricks, Thor,’ he made himself say. 'No speeches. Simply explain to her the need and ask what you must of her. She’s no stranger or foreign princess to falsely court.’

'Yes…of course.’ Thor visibly exhaled. 'Thank you, Loki.’ A grin. 'At this rate I could be forgiven for thinking you really have decided to reform.’

'Don’t draw hasty conclusions, brother.’ And Loki left the room in a hurry before he betrayed himself.

*

'You said you needed to speak with me?’

'Yes!’ Thor hurriedly modified his tone, trying desperately not to bely his nervousness. How absurd. He would have gladly fought Hela a dozen times, or taken on Surtr’s mountainous fiery form in single combat, rather than have this conversation. 'Come in. Sit. Um. Would you like a drink? It’s-’ he squinted at the bottle, attempting to recall the name, but could only come up with ’-blue.’

Y/N chuckled as she settled into one of the chairs.

'I’ll leave the mysterious beverages to Brunhilde, thank you.’

'Fair enough. Uh, do you mind if I-’

'Of course not.’

Thor Odinson, the God of Thunder, reduced to drink to try and calm his nerves! The new King of Asgard downed the tumbler, wincing slightly at the aftertaste, and finally turned to face the woman he now had to…propose to. Oh, it would be no real hardship. Y/N was fair of face and kind of heart, and there was no doubt in his mind that she would make a wonderful queen, and wife. And mother, however much the latter in particular terrified him. But it was…Y/N. He and Loki had once chased her screaming down the main hallway of the palace and the three of them ended up in a wrestling match in the pond outside the gates. Once he’d pulled her hair, and she’d kicked him so hard between the legs he couldn’t walk right for two days. Loki had nearly killed himself laughing at the sight of his mighty older brother reduced to a moaning limp.

'You said you needed to speak to me?’ Y/N prompted. 'You’re just staring like I’ve sprouted a second head.’

'Oh. Yes. Right.’ Thor sat down opposite her. What had Loki said? Simply explain to her the need and ask what you must. Easy for you to say, brother. 'So. After you left the council today something came up – well, Heimdall brought it up – and I need to ask you to, um…’ he trailed off, because she was sitting there with her hands folded calmly in her lap regarding him with infinite patience and his mouth suddenly decided to forget how to work.

After a few moments of him opening and closing his mouth on the barely formed beginning of sentences, Y/N actually leaned towards him with a small frown of concern.

'Thor, what in the worlds is the matter?’

'Nothing,’ he managed. 'Nothing is the matter.’ For some reason his eyes chose to fix on the ample curve of her lips, so entirely unlike the slim contours of Jane’s. Why did the notion of kissing her fill him with such intense panic? 'It came up – Heimdall mentioned – well, it was sort of agreed – that Asgard needs a…uh…a queen.’

She sat back and nodded as though this was the most normal conversation in the world.

'Of course. Continuity of the royal line, the future of our people. Very sensible.’

'Oh. Good. I’m – ah – I’m glad you agree.’ Sitting back himself with a rather poor attempt at nonchalance, Thor tapped his fingers against the arms of the chair. 'There were…suggestions…I mean there was a suggestion on a very good candidate and-’

'Oh. Oh.’ Then she smiled. 'Of course! She’s very…different from your lady mother, but that’s perhaps all to the good. Have you spoken with her?’

’S-spoken with her?’ Thor echoed, now utterly bewildered. 'I thought I was – I mean I am – I mean she’s you.’

Me?’

'Yes.’ Confused, a little alarmed at her disbelieving tone, Thor’s mind went completely blank and before he could entirely register the motion he had shifted to one knee before her, as though they were on Midgard. 'Will you – uh – will you marry me?’ Damn, I don’t have a ring. Wait! I don’t need a ring, we aren’t on Earth. Damn, I don’t have anything else for a handsal either. He found himself actually patting at his clothing, entirely at a loss. Oh! He still had one of the smaller daggers he’d appropriated from Sakaar during the escape. A dagger wasn’t a very appropriate handsal for a woman like Y/N who wasn’t martially-inclined, but it was better than nothing. With fumbling fingers he unbuckled the sheath and held it out to her.

'Uh. Sorry. I didn’t plan this very well.’

Y/N looked away for a moment, biting at her bottom lip, and there was genuine regret on her face when she turned back to him.

'Am I speaking to my king, or to Thor?’

That doesn’t sound good.

'Oh. Uh, me. Thor, I mean. Always.’

'I can’t marry you, Thor. And I won’t.’

He blinked.

'You mean – you’re saying no?’

'I am saying no, Thor. I’m sorry but-’ she stopped when he got up and then half-collapsed back into the chair, clapping his hands over his face.

'Oh, thank god!’

He exhaled, leaning back for a moment and feeling as though an enormous weight had just vanished from his shoulders. Then he noticed the bewilderment on her face.

'I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I just…of course we can’t get married. It’d be…it’d be weird. Creepy. You know?’

She burst into giggles.

'When why in all the Realms did you ask me, you great lummock?’

'Well your name came up and everyone agreed you were a good choice and-’ Thor broke off and gave up, joining her in laughter at the sheer absurdity of the entire concept. 'You’re absolutely right, of course. It would be insanity. I thought perhaps we could…make it work somehow, but-’

'I think we could,’ she said with a smile, standing up and patting his arm fondly. 'If it came to it. I care for you a great deal, Thor, truly, but-’

'Then why?’ he asked, thoroughly taken aback by that pronouncement.

'Because my heart belongs to another, that’s why.’ She gathered her skirts and made for the door, but his noise of surprise checked her. 'What? And I swear, if you make one comment about you being my king I’ll-’

'No, no, never!’ He beamed at her. 'But you…I had no idea you had any – uh – well. Is it anyone I know?’ A horrible thought occurred. 'Oh…is it someone who’s alive?’

'Yes, he’s alive, and that’s all I’m saying on the matter.’

'Oh?’ Thor’s brows creased with the effort at an intuitive leap. 'Oh! Is it – good god – is it Heimdall? I know you two were up in that refuge for quite a while before-’

'It isn’t Heimdall, and-’ she held up a finger in warning ’-I am not about to play some extended guessing game, so you can stop your postulating right now.’

'But I want to know!’

'Tough!’

'I’m your king!’

'I don’t care!’

*

Loki was reading in relative peace in one of the smaller refectories on the upper deck, having sent an illusionary simulacrum of himself off to keep Korg occupied, when Thor came bouncing in with the sort of joyous, boyish bonhomie that he hadn’t exhibited since before his brief exile to Midgard.

Oh, wonderful.

Too late, the oaf had spotted him and he’d probably have to engage in at least some brief conversation before he could conjure another duplicate to slip away. What could he possibly say to congratulate his brother on gaining the one hand Loki had ever wanted to see in his? How could he possibly conceal his bitterness at the unwitting cruelty of it?

'Brother!’ Thor boomed, levering himself down onto the metal bench at Loki’s side. 'You will not believe what just happened!’

'I take it that congratulations are in order?’ Loki ground out.

'What? Oh, no!’ Thor slapped him on the shoulder. 'Y/N said she couldn’t marry me, thank god.’

'Oh dear.’ Trying to keep his voice neutral, Loki exhaled slowly as relief flooded him. Thank the Norns, finally, for some small mercy. 'Does she miss your flowing locks, perhaps?’

'Very funny. No, she said her heart belongs to someone else! How about that?’ Thor grinned as though he’d just said something terribly witty. 'It never even occurred to me that Y/N might have someone. Someone on this ship, since she said he’s alive. Oh, but it isn’t Heimdall.’

'Heimdall is old enough to be Y/N’s father,’ Loki pointed out, but the relief had already evaporated to be replaced once more by grim despair. Of course Y/N had a suitor. Amazing it was only one. And of course said suitor would have waited for her to return from her self-imposed exile, and of course the thrice-bedamned bastard would survive Ragnarok itself…

'I suppose.’ Thor for some reason seemed irrepressibly fascinated by the situation. 'She wouldn’t tell me who it was, though.’

'It’s hardly any of your business,’ Loki said. 'Or mine,’ he added, as much to remind himself as to point out that his brother was gossiping like an old washerwoman.

'I suppose not technically, but…she is rather like our sister, don’t you think?’

'I think given recent events, actively seeking out another sister sounds like a poor plan.’

'Well, yes, but-’ Thor nudged him insistently ’-don’t you want to know who it is? Oughtn’t we to find out, to make sure he's…well…worthy of her?’

That wasn’t actually the worst line of reasoning Loki had ever heard from his brother, but the idea of pursuing the information would be unlikely to end well.

'I’m sure Y/N would be touched by your concern,’ he said sarcastically, returning his attention fully to the slate in his hands. 'However I’ve certainly no interest in arousing her displeasure by poking my nose into the matter.’ And thereby putting a large target on the head of some unfortunate who has done no real wrong…and whose loss would break her heart.

Pah, I thought this would be right up your street, brother. Investigation, intrigue, sneaking about…’

'No.’ Loki got up and walked out, ignoring Thor’s playful shouts and not pausing for a moment until he was back in his quarters. A twist of frustrated magic burst from him, knocking things onto the floor. Ruthlessly he pulled it back under control and gestured sharply, summoning the doppelganger of Y/N. Tranquil, unjudging, gentle. Reaching out carefully, so as not to disturb the spell, he traced his fingers around the shape of her cheek.

'I love you more than anything in this world or any other,’ he whispered. 'No matter what.’

But of course the illusion simply looked back at him, serene and beautiful and as empty as always.

*

'Is it Bjarke, that artificer who solved the power integration problem?’

'How long are you going to keep at this? Surely you’ve named every unmarried Asgardian man on the ship by now.’

'Possibly.’ Thor smiled and shrugged. 'You still haven’t given me an answer. Not so much as a wink, a clue, anything!’

'Why are you so desperately insistent about knowing?’ Y/N exclaimed as they rounded the corner and entered the empty council chamber. 'Do you want to go and challenge him, or something similarly archaic?’

'No, of course not.’ Thor sat down and crossed his feet up on the table, then grinned when she slapped his boots down on a reflex. 'Y/N, I merely wish to know, whoever this man is, that he is worthy of you.’

She laughed.

Worthy of me? And by what yardstick would you measure such a thing, hmm?’

'Well-’ that had him stumped for a moment ’-I don’t know…does he seem honourable…is he of good mind, and heart…’

'I doubt very much he’d come out very well against your measurements of such things, Thor.’

'Eh?’

Slamming her data slate onto the table with unnecessary force, Y/N levelled her gaze at him.

'You won’t give up, will you?’

'Never!’ Thor leaned over and took her hands in his. 'Please, Y/N. I honestly don’t mean to tease, really. You know I care a great deal for you, and this mystery suitor of yours-’

'Hardly a suitor.’ She gave his fingers a squeeze and sighed. 'Thor, my heart belongs – entirely and completely – to Loki. I’ve loved him since I came of an age to see boys as anything more than a noisy nuisance.’

Thor felt his jaw drop.

'Despite knowing all that he’s done, the mistakes he’s made, even that he isn’t actually Aesir…’ Y/N shrugged and let go, sitting back with a wistful look '…he’s an imp and a scoundrel and he’s Loki. I know he’s done some…horrible, awful things, but he has a good heart.’

Thor was still gaping as the doors opened to admit Heimdall, and the sound of Loki and Brunhilde bickering just behind him.

'Even if he keeps it rather well hidden at times,’ Y/N finished under her breath, hastily shifting back to her usual chair but shooting Thor a stern glare that warned him to silence on the matter.

He could hardly concentrate as the business of the meeting got underway, barely managing monosyllabic grunts and acknowledgements to anything he was asked.

He felt like a fool. A blind, idiotic fool.

Even when you had both eyes, you only see half the picture.

Of course Y/N was in love with Loki. Even when the three of them were children, running riot around the palace, it was Loki and Y/N, Y/N and Loki. Hiding together, running together – usually from Thor – whispering together in corners or behind tapestries…

It took a whole hour after the council broke up before the King of Asgard realised something very important and practically sprinted down the passageway to his brother’s quarters.

*

The near-frantic hammering at his door made Loki hastily dismiss his current illusion spell and glance over in irritation.

Yes?’

Thor barged in without further preamble and an enormous grin plastered all over his big, oafish face.

'Brother! There you are!’

'What do you want?’ Loki snapped. The glamour he’d been practicing was quite involved – he was trying to recreate a particularly fond memory of himself and Y/N in the palace gardens.

'I’ve made a discovery of vital importance,’ Thor said, clapping his brother on the back.

'How wonderful for you.’

'It’s about Y/N.’ Thor sat down beside him and grinned. 'And her mystery man.’

'I’m not interested.’

'You should be.’

'And yet.’ Loki glared at him. 'I doubt she would appreciate your attempts to-’

'She told me who he is.’

'I don’t care.’

'I don’t believe you.’

'Good for you.’

'Loki!’ Thor punched him on the arm, hard. 'You really aren’t interested?’

'No, I’m not.’

Now his brother’s grin had taken on an even more buffoon-like quality than usual. Folding his arms – aware it was a defensive action and not caring – Loki fixed him with a steely gaze.

What?’

'You have no idea. Loki, God of Mischief, self-proclaimed master manipulator, and you have no idea!’ Thor seemed to be enjoying himself immensely for some reason.

'I have no idea about Y/N’s suitor because I choose not to,’ Loki spat back at him, irritated beyond measure with his persistence. 'As should you, it being none of either of our business-’

'It’s you.’

’-what?’

'Y/N has no suitor, she just said her heart belongs to another, and that man is you, brother!’ Thor thumped him on the arm again but this time Loki barely registered the impact because he was too busy battling to keep his expression under control. Devoid of any real reaction. Devoid of the completely irrational feeling of hope that welled up despite his best efforts to suppress it.

He looked away and constructed a shrug.

'If that is your attempt at a jest, brother, it is an exceptionally poor one.’

'I would not jest on this. Loki.’ Thor actually grabbed his arm and pulled him back. 'I’ve been trying for the last week to get Y/N to tell me who held her heart-’

Loki hardly heard him, mind racing. He couldn’t have let something slip. He was a master of masks, and he’d had centuries of practice with this particular one. Had Thor perhaps just stumbled upon this awful prank by pure chance, seeking something to taunt his brother with and having the idea prompted by the recent discovery of Y/N’s survival?

Yes, that must be it.

'Loki!’ Thor snapped his fingers in front of his brother’s nose. 'Are you even listening?’

'You’re hilarious,’ Loki said flatly. 'Forgive me for not rolling about in laughter but I’m rather weary.’

'You care for her so little that you’d treat this as a joke?’ Thor stood up, shifting rapidly from irritated affability to genuine displeasure. 'I thought you’d changed. Perhaps I was wrong.’

'I’m not the one making mockery of one he claimed to think of as a sister,’ Loki snapped.

'For god’s sake, Loki, you’re supposed to be the prince of lies, surely you can see when someone is telling you the truth?’

Thoroughly angry now, Loki looked at him with his mouth open to retort, but the words died before he could form them. Of course so much of subterfuge was knowing how to read it flawlessly in others, from their more obvious tells to the subtler signals available only to a master of magic…

There was no lie in Thor’s eyes.

The mask dropped before Loki could stop it, and an edge of something almost like pity crept into Thor’s gaze.

'Loki, you fool, how long have you felt this way about her?’

'Too long,’ Loki admitted, and had to lean both his hands on the tabletop to stop himself from stumbling. 'She has no idea. Nobody does. Did,’ he amended.

'Yet still you counselled for me to try and wed her?’

'She would make an excellent queen for Asgard.’ Loki hung his head and shook it. 'And you would have done everything in your power to make her happy.’

'I still will.’

That made him look up, and his brows creased.

'What?’

'Y/N will not marry me because her heart belongs to you. You rather clearly feel the same way about her, though you’ve hidden it even better than she has.’ Thor spread his hands in an expansive shrug. 'Why should you not be together, brother?’

'After all I’ve done, and all your talk of worthiness, you would send a frost giant to her?’ Loki asked, making no attempt to hide his bitterness at the latter part of the remark.

'She knows your heritage and cares not.’ Thor shrugged again. 'I care for both of you, and I believe she brings out the best of you. She always has, even when we were children.’

That made Loki laugh, although he couldn’t deny the truth in that verdict.

'Ah, so your plan is to leash me to Y/N to keep me behaving myself, is that it?’

'Will it count as a leash if you wear it willingly?’ Thor replied with another grin, and then sobered. 'If this will make someone I care for very much so happy, and give me my brother back…how could I possibly do anything but wish for it to be so?’

That was actually rather touching, but Loki still found himself wary to the point of hesitancy. After everything he’d done, the lives he’d taken, the knowledge that he was a monster from the nightmares of Aesir children…it was one thing to say she cared for him, but if he dared to present himself to Y/N and ask for her favour then surely, surely she would recoil in shock.

He was startled out of this unpleasant rumination when Thor stepped behind him, grabbed him by his upper arms and practically frog-marched him out of the room and down the corridor.

'What are you doing?’

'You can thank me later.’ Stopping in front of another cabin door, Thor put him squarely in front of it, leaned around to knock loudly on the metal and then turned to depart. Loki floundered for a moment – he hadn’t been so summarily carted somewhere by his brother in well over eight centuries – but before he could summon the wherewithal to do anything at all, least of all flee or cloak himself, the door opened and Y/N was regarding him with a rather confused expression.

'Loki? What’s wrong?’ She ushered him quickly inside while he was still trying to gain control of his tongue. 'You look like you’ve just been savaged by a bilgesnipe!’

The entirely relevant but inappropriate conclusion had a snort of laughter escaping before he could censor it.

'No, I – ah – I just needed to speak with you.’

'Of course.’ She motioned for him to take one end of the small couch and then sat down a decorous distance away. Loki swallowed hard, his throat suddenly dry. This would never do…the God of Mischief, left tongue-tied like a stripling boy…

'What is it?’ Y/N asked him gently, reaching out to lightly touch the back of his hand. When he looked at her she gave a small smile. 'Oh dear. The last time a son of Odin boggled at me like that things got extremely awkward.’

'Yes. About that.’ His voice broke and he hurriedly cleared his throat. 'Thor told me about the – um – the proposal. And why you…said no to him.’

A guarded tension stiffened her shoulders.

'Oh?’

Loki risked shuffling up a little and took her nearby hand in both of his.

'Yes. All of it.’

He hadn’t seen her look that murderous since he’d set fire to her doll when they were children. And that had been an accident. Well, mostly.

'I am going to kill that useless, nosy, prying-’

'Y/N, I love you.’ It came out in rather a rush, and Loki hastily carried on in the vague hope that with sufficient momentum behind them the words would come easier. 'I’ve always loved you. I never thought – I never imagined you would – especially after everything…the Bifrost, and Midgard, and knowing how I hurt you by pretending to be dead for so long-’

He was obliged to stop when her lips suddenly arrived on his. Then they were kissing each other and her hands were on his face, his fingers were winding through her hair and the entire room seemed to shrink to nothing but the feel of her against him…

They were both gasping by the time they broke for air. Loki pulled Y/N closer and leaned his forehead against hers, feeling a grin escape. Then it became a laugh – the most free, open one he could remember having uttered in years – and her chuckle rose to meet his until they were both all but doubled over in each other’s embrace.

'Oh, Loki-’ Y/N tangled her hands up through his dark locks ’-we’re both such idiots. I never even dreamed a prince of Asgard could love a mere housekeeper.’

'And I never thought a beautiful, kind-hearted seneschal could care for a lesser son, or a monster.’ Loki touched her cheek and then drew back, dropping his gaze. 'You know what I am. I’m not even Aesir. I can’t-’ he swallowed ’-I can’t give you children, or anything normal-’

'Hush.’ She kissed him again, with such tenderness that it made his heart ache. 'Loki, I love you, with everything that means.’ Her smile warmed him down to his toes. 'Why in all the Realms would I want something normal when I could have you?’

'You…truly don’t care?’

'Not in the slightest. Besides-’ she winked ’-with your idiot interfering bilgesnipe of a brother to look after, what need will we have of children?’

They both laughed at that and Loki pulled her closer, into his arms where he’d so yearned to have her for so very long.

'That’s very true.’

'I’m still going to kill him,’ she added playfully.

'Of course. Maybe be merciful and make it painless.’

'If you insist.’ Tucking her head under his chin, she sighed deeply. 'How I love you, Loki.’

'And I love you.’ He turned his head so his cheek rested on her hair. 'I should have told you so a long time ago.’

'Tell me every day,’ she replied softly.

'As my lady wishes,’ he said with a laugh, and kissed her.

*

Thor was halfway back to his own cabin, grinning delightedly and feeling thoroughly pleased with himself, when something else occurred to him and made him stop short.

'Wait – who did Y/N think I was going to ask to marry me?“