Sif was not a late riser by any definition of the term. If the sun was up, then so was she. Most days, she finished her early morning training before the majority of those in the city were even awake. The silence never bothered her during her return walk; in fact, Sif welcomed the quiet stillness. Loyal though all four might have been, her companions were, as a rule, loud and rambunctious. ‘The calm before the storm,’ Sif thought of her walk to the palace as: the final half hour wherein she was left to her own thoughts. Not so that morning.
To begin with, her thoughts were not of the pleasant variety. Thor’s welcome home had lasted but for ten minutes hours ago, but for whatever reason, Sif simply could not get her mind to stop replaying it. Married, she kept thinking. He’s getting married. Yes, Sif had known of Thor’s feelings for Jane Foster. Everyone on Asgard knew how Thor felt about his Midgardian woman. Yet Jane was not who Sif had lost to; it was someone else entirely. An attraction to Jane was understandable. She was clever and attractive in a mortal sort of way—but [Name]? There must have been something appealing about her, but Sif was lost as to what it was.
Married, Sif thought again. Thor married was a strange notion indeed. The very idea muddled her thoughts. Though Thor had matured greatly since his brief exile on Midgard, Sif still saw him as the hot-headed, reckless warrior that had desired to take on all of Jotunheim with a band of six—much like the way in which Volstagg, Hogun, and Fandral still did not see Sif as a woman. She was male, if not entirely sexless in their eyes, which meant bringing up her feelings on Thor’s nuptials to them was quite impossible. Laughing at her was the least they could do. Worse still, they might take the cause up with Thor, and Sif was not so boorish as to come between a man and his wife, or Thor and anyone he cared about unless that person had a good shot at harming him. Unfortunately, [Name] looked entirely harmless.
More unfortunately still, Sif’s hope of getting her mind off Thor’s new bride and all related dilemmas was sorely dashed. Unlike almost every other morning of her life, the city was buzzing with activity before she even set foot outside. Everyone was up and about and unusually cheery. The reason behind the cheer became apparent as Sif walked through the streets: Asgard’s prince had brought home a wife. The royal family had a princess at last. It took all of Sif’s strength to not roll her eyes at the general populace’s excitement at the matter, but she managed, perhaps a little too well. People kept insisting on coming to talk to her as though she should be pleased about the situation.
“Lady Sif! What a marvelous morning,” said an elderly woman toddling past her with a basket of food clutched underneath one thin, willowy arm.
“It is…beautiful,” Sif answered, inclining her head in greeting. Surely this woman had places to be, errands to do. She would continue on her way. But just like the last twelve people that had stopped Sif in the street, this woman grasped Sif’s hand and pulled her to a stop. Her palms had been worn soft by labor, in stark contrast to Sif’s calloused fingers. Sif could have pulled away, if doing so would not have been tremendously rude. As it was, she was forced to stop and have the top of her hand caressed while the woman’s eyes twinkled up at her. It was quite disconcerting.
“Are you pleased with the news?”
“I…” Sif found herself somewhat taken aback. There had been the occasional rumor that she and Thor were together that appeared on and off for centuries, but there had never been any truth to it. Normally when such rumors arose, Thor would take another girl to bed. Why a second woman was not helping in this case, Sif didn’t know. “I am very pleased for Thor, of course. Nothing could make me happier than seeing him happy.”
Though this was very much an exaggeration, the woman seemed pleased to hear it. She beamed as she gave Sif’s hand a final pat and then finally released her.
“Have you seen her?” she breathed. “Is she beautiful?”
Sif’s dark brows furrowed slightly. It was beyond her as to why the people of the city were so enthralled by Thor taking a wife. They themselves got married all the time. As for [Name]'s beauty: “I saw her only briefly. [Name] is…” Sif trailed away again. There were so many things a woman could be that weren’t beautiful: clever, or brave, or kind, or strong. She didn’t know you well enough to say any of those, though, so Sif had to simply finish with, “beautiful, yes.”
Her accompanying smile felt strained, but this did not seem to deter her new friend. “[Name]? So it is true? She is of Midgard?”
“As far as I am aware.”
The woman’s eyes closed. Sif stiffened; was she in pain? “A woman with such a short lifespan. But I am sure Prince Thor knows what he is doing.”
“I am sure as well,” Sif said, though she wasn’t. Spending several hundred years as Thor’s close companion had given her a much more accurate view of his mental facilities than most of his subjects. Thor was smart, obviously, but sometimes he didn’t entirely think things through. Sif’s companion merely sighed.
“So long as he is happy, I suppose. I won’t keep you any longer, my lady. Likely you’ll want to go get prepared for tonight’s ceremony.”
She turned to shuffle away. Sif’s hand shot out to grab her shoulder almost of its own accord. “Ceremony?”
The woman blinked up at Sif’s face. “Surely you’ve heard, being so close to the family? There will be a feast tonight to officially introduce the new princess.”
“Oh,” Sif said vaguely, releasing the woman. “That. Yes. I…I should be going. Thank you for your kind words, madam. I will make sure to relay them to Thor as soon as I find him.” In a daze, she turned and started back up the crowded street. The old woman might have said thank you or bade Sif farewell, but she did not know. Her mind was full of one word again: Married. Sif’s feet beat a quick tattoo against the bricks. To what purpose she was hurrying, not even she was aware. To put a stop to things? To beg Odin to reconsider? Both acts would be deplorable. Sif did not beg—and even if she deigned to, that would likely only upset Odin further. He had been remarkably volatile since Loki’s return. Sif would not have been surprised to find herself thrown out for merely suggesting the king do things differently. She might have tried to get Odin to rescind Thor’s exile, but that was a different Odin, a different situation.
Thor must have felt something for [Name]. Surely even Thor was not so dense as to marry someone on accident. How to explain Jane Foster, then? Thor clearly still held feelings for her as well. Did he simply have feelings for everyone but Sif?
Oh for Odin’s sake! It was not like Sif to allow herself to be so distracted. Coming to a halt, Sif squeezed her eyes shut. It was not like her to let anything cloud her thoughts or judgment, let alone a man. There were hundreds of men on Asgard. With a proud toss of her head, Sif continued on her way. There was no need for her to fret. She had only to find Thor and…maybe she didn’t know what then. No, Sif realized, she was only in hurrying in the hopes that she might see him just once before the banquet. Perhaps this was all some rumor, blown out of proportion by those living outside the palace. Perhaps all that was happening this evening was a feast before Thor’s friends returned to Midgard. Perhaps the marriage had been broken off. Odin had made plain his views on Thor’s love of Jane. [Name] would be no better—worse, since Thor seemed not to enjoy her company.
Crossing the drawbridge to the castle only made Sif worry all the more that the woman’s words were not a false report spread by overenthusiastic subjects. The excited clamor in the city was echoed here, but with greater purpose. No banquet had been held at the palace since Thor’s return from exile. Every single member of the staff was bustling about in preparation, eager, it seemed, to be working for something celebratory again. Horse-drawn carts pulled loads of food up to the gates, young woman unfurled bright banners from the high windows, and when Sif finally stepped inside, she nearly trod upon the hands of a man scrubbing diligently at the floor. Walking around him was simple enough. The rest of the servants dashing this way and that, the aristocrats running about determined to discuss Prince Thor’s most recent bumble, and the young women desperate to find something eye-catching to wear despite their prey being captured at last, were not so easy. Everyone was in such a state that they hardly thought to look at Sif twice, let alone do so with the fear she was so accustomed to.
She would have complained of a headache brought on by this debacle, had her mind not been so focused on finding Thor in the tumult. He would not be difficult to find, she did not believe. If this was all really in celebration of his taking a wife, surely Thor would want to be in the middle of it all. Lamentably for Sif, though she looked for nearly an hour, she saw not one member of the royal family, let alone the one she was searching for. The thought of going to the dungeons to ask Loki occurred to her, as Thor was the only one that seemed the least bit interested in visiting his outcast ‘brother’ these days, but the thought of Loki’s general unpleasantness if he had heard the news made Sif think better of it. She had no desire to be sneered at that day, and trying to show Loki what for would only land her in a prison cell as well.
By that point in time, Sif felt something akin to nerves; small pricks started in her palms and worked up her arms. Sif was no stranger to nerves, but she also knew that she could control them. She had to, if she wanted to be an effective warrior—which is all she had ever wanted in her life. So what if she could not find Thor? He was already married. There was nothing Sif could do except wish him well, and if her quest this day failed, there was little chance of him missing his own marriage announcement.
She had to get ahold of herself. Appearing before Thor upset over his marriage would hardly impress him. Admittedly, it had been decades since Sif had to worry about impressing Thor just to get him to allow a woman to stick around him and his friends, but the habit was still there. Most men of Asgard saw women as overly-emotional wrecks—though their own queen was a shining example of many women being otherwise. But by now, forcing all of her feelings into a part of herself that she could not readily access was habit to Sif. The act came to her without thinking, though at times it was more difficult than others. This was one such time, and the constant movement and noise all around her certainly did not help.
Her gait was forced into a stumble much more often than she would have liked, but eventually Sif did make it over to one of the balconies. Banners already spilled from its railing down toward the sparkling streets below; no one was like to bother her here. From this vantage point, Sif could see the city again, awash in colors and flooded with movement. As she rested her elbows on the ledge again Sif wondered why this was all such cause for excitement. Perhaps she would feel the same, if it were her Thor was married to, or if he were married to someone he liked, at the very least.
“Jane, please. I know this is hard.” The familiar voice seemed to vibrate Sif’s very ribcage. Somewhere nearby was Thor, but just as Sif was about to turn toward him and announce her presence, another person began to sniff. “Jane, I am sorry. So sorry. Had I known the pain this would cause you, I would not have—”
“Married my best friend?” finished an unfamiliar voice. Jane’s, Sif decided, though she had never heard Jane upset. She would not have surmised as much had Thor not said her name with Sif right there.
“I would not have come to see you at all!” Thor protested.
Jane let out a peal of bitter laughter that sounded as though it were coming through a thick wad of fabric. “So either I don’t get to see you because you’re married, or I don’t get to see you because you’re avoiding me. Great! Just—Just great.” If Sif were not very much mistaken, Jane’s words ended in a sob. Hearing women break emotionally was not an entirely new experience for Sif, but because she knew Thor, this was more difficult. Sif chanced a glance behind herself. If she moved quickly, then she could leave before either Jane or Thor knew she’d been there—but the hallway still was full and before Sif could take so much as a step forward, they were talking again:
“Jane, please. This is hard for me as well.”
“But not as hard!” The words were so loud that Sif’s battle-trained body automatically shifted to get a good look at their source. Jane was on her feet, fists balled and shaking at her sides. “You’re married! To my best friend! And I’ve got nobody!”
“Jane.” Sif was frozen to the spot, forced to watch as Thor reached out toward her, face blankly tight but arms imploring.
“No!” Jane whirled about, took several steps toward Sif (who seriously considered throwing herself off the balcony to get away), then paused to hurl something else back at Thor: “I’m not coming to your dumb party! I promised Heimdall I’d come by to talk to him more about the Bifrost anyway. At least he actually wants me around.”
“I want you around.”
There was a very long pause. The tension in Jane’s shoulders faded, as did her voice when she finally spoke: “That’s a problem, too.”
Before Thor could say or do anything else to keep her there, Jane turned and walked quickly into the overflowing hallway, head down so that she did not notice Sif standing there. Sif was not so lucky with Thor. After watching the back of Jane Foster’s head disappear around a corner, she turned back to see Thor slowing standing with his eyes straight on her. His jaw was set in that way that always indicated that someone was about to have their skull cracked open.
“Sif,” he said with a curt nod, stepping forward.
“Thor.” She inclined her head in return. This show of submission was normally passed on by the two of them, but Sif felt it best to start out on a more proper foot as she added, “I did not mean to eavesdrop. I merely stopped here to think. Had I known you were there with your Jane, I would have simply found another alcove with which to be alone with my thoughts.”
He only snorted, but to Sif’s relief, he did not brush past her. Instead, he crossed over to her to settle with his arms on the baloney railing as well. Sif did not turn to face the same direction. Eyeing the side of his face was enough to tell her that she was not in any trouble. After a few minutes of silence—many more than were typical for Thor—he ran a palm across the top of his head.
“I do not believe she is my Jane anymore.”
“Then it is true.” He glanced at her, forcing Sif to explain herself. “They are saying all of this,” she gestured at the continued ministrations of seemingly everyone that had access to the palace, “is to celebrate your marriage to [Name].”
Thor followed Sif’s gesture with his eyes; a look of dawning comprehension filled them. Apparently, he had not realized the plan had already been put into motion. After a long minute of looking, Thor redirected his gaze back out to the city beyond the window. “Yes. Mother has decided that announcing it would better protect [Name] from any punishment that might otherwise be enacted upon her.”
Sif blinked, then allowed her gaze to follow Thor’s to land on the buzzing city below. “By the people?” she asked. There had been no murmur of dissent among those she had walked with that morning. The worst Sif had heard was an old woman’s worry that Thor’s wife would be gone too soon, but that was one woman unused to combat or life among Thor’s family. Thor shook his head.
“By my father.”
For a long minute, Thor was silent. Even Sif could see how tense the muscles in his shoulders were, as though Thor was expecting (or perhaps even desiring) an attack at any moment. When he spoke, though, his voice was quiet. “He may have refused to annul the marriage, but he also sent [Name] to the dungeons.”
“The dungeons?” Maybe Sif didn’t know [Name] very well, but it seemed out of the realm of rationality to send someone to prison for marrying someone—and after they had requested to stop being married to begin with. “Why would he—”
For some odd reason, Thor suddenly looked even farther away from her, refusing to meet her eye. “To punish me, I believe.” In the quiet that followed, Sif waited for Thor to elaborate. He did not.
“That is ridiculous.”
He snorted at that as well. “Anyone trying to talk sense to my father these days is in over their head, I fear.”
“And yet your mother expects you to announce your marriage tonight while your wife sits rotting in a cell?”
“Mother is not in over her head as most, I suppose. I appealed to her, she appealed to Father. [Name] is in my—our—quarters now, presumably getting ready for the feast tonight, while I tarry here in the hopes that some flash of inspiration shall strike and make everything right once more.”
“Thor,” Sif said impatiently. Had she been younger, she might have gone as far as to stomp her foot. “You are the prince. The only prince, after all that Loki has done. Surely there is something you can do. It is your life. If not for you, should your parents not be concerned about doing what is best for the realm?”
The unstated addition of marrying a woman from Midgard not being what was best for the realm lingered in the air between them—or possibly just Sif mentioning Loki’s crimes. Thor’s mouth twitched into a scowl shortly before he shook his head and slid his hand off the railing.
“My life is no longer my own to live these days. Like it or not, I am still Odin’s son and subject.”
For the first time during this particular conversation, Sif allowed herself to frown. Who was this standing before her that sounded so utterly defeated? Where was the Thor that went charging into Jotunheim against Odin’s expressed orders, who stole horses and food as soon as he was old enough to leave the castle grounds unsupervised, who defied his father’s edicts at every turn if they so much as mildly inconvenienced him? She could not stand it, and lifted her chin slightly as she declared: “Tell me what you would have me do. I am your warrior, not Odin’s.”
Thor shot Sif a wan smile. Though it was nowhere close to his normal grin, she took it. Many things had changed since his most recent return from Earth, but at least their friendship had not. “Since when do you take orders, Sif?”
Sif quirked an eyebrow in response. “You know I always follow them when it matters.”
“Well,” Thor let out a single, humorless bark of a laugh that stretched his face unpleasantly, “unless you can somehow convince my father to let me out of this marriage to [Name] and let she and the others go, I am afraid there is nothing I can command you to do. A pity, seeing as how another chance will likely be another century in coming.”
At least the jesting in the midst of his frustration sounded more like Thor. Sif took a step closer to him so that, had she been desperate or cruel enough, she could have easily kissed him. It was not any easy thing to say but, “Then I shall do so. The worst Odin can do is send me away from here; he will not bother to send me to Earth after my brother has made his loyalties to you so obvious, and he dare not send Heimdall—”
“No, Sif.” Thor’s voice was gentle, but firm. “The Nine Realms are at odds. Father fears war will break out before they know peace again. If his prediction comes to fruition, Asgard will need you.”
“It will need its prince focused as well.”
“Do you mean to suggest taking a wife will distract me?” He almost looked amused at that. Almost. The smile stayed this time, at the very least, as Thor took one of Sif’s hands in both of his own. “Just attend the feast tonight. Between Jane’s refusal to come and my wife that detests me, I fear it will otherwise be a very lonely celebration.”
“You must be truly desperate to want my company at a party.”
The look Thor gave Sif as he brushed past her into the throng was answer enough. He was desperate. Of course, Sif would have gone to the feast regardless; it was expected of a woman of her rank, after all, and it would look bad if Thor’s company did not make an appearance for such an important event in his life. If she could get through Thor’s first almost-coronation, she could get through the announcement of his marriage. At least this was not likely to be interrupted by Frost Giants breaking into the treasure vaults.
Much to Sif’s displeasure, this did require a different sort of garb. A coronation allowed armor. A wedding celebration required frills. Sif did not much like frills, and by extension did not much like the sort of parties thrown by Thor’s parents. Going drinking with her friends was one thing; it was quite another to be expected to eat and dress and prance before an appraising crowd. It did not help that so many men—warriors, at that!—believed that if Sif put on a dress and left her sword at home, it meant that she was giving it up entirely. She did not wish to spend an evening being looked at like a piece of meat. Thor frequently stood up for her normal attire at such events, but Sif could hardly ask him to do so that evening.
She settled for keeping a dagger strapped to her thigh. It would hardly help if something serious came up, but it made Sif feel better to have a weapon all the same. Besides, if any man tried to get too friendly at the end of a dance, she could simply pull the fabric up enough for him to get a good look at the flash of metal.
Sif’s preparation took her hardly an hour once started. Her appearance hardly mattered, really, as who would be looking at her when Thor’s wife would be there to gape at? Still she sat in front of her mirror for much longer than usual putting actually arriving at the feast off for as long as possible. In the end, only her promise to Thor to go actually got Sif to do so. Her procrastination had one bright spot: it made it so that she was not the first to enter the hall, nor the last. The celebration was already in full-swing by the time Sif arrived; she was able to slip in entirely unnoticed.
The dance floor was already ablaze with swishing skirts and flashing metal. Enormous tables sat to the side, stacked with food still steaming from its cooking. Chatter (most of it in regards to the royal family’s recent addition) and music filled the air. Sif might have found it pleasant, had the situation not been so dreary for everyone personally involved. As it was, she found herself preoccupied by looking for some familiar person to settle down with, lest she be inundated by requests to dance. She had no desire to dance that night, yet the only person she spotted that might have been sympathetic was the Darcy woman, who was already dancing herself, beaming in the midst of two of men who looked terribly bemused. Sighing, Sif turned toward the food. If there was no good company to be had, what with Thor missing and perhaps his wife not even wanting Sif to remain at his side, she might as well pay her respects to his parents. Standing in line to do so would do a sufficient job at keeping away any who might want to ask her to join them.
“Your Majesties,” Sif said, kneeling as soon as she was admitted into Odin and Frigga’s presence. Watching on the way there, she had seen Frigga do nothing but smile and Odin do nothing but frown, so it was to the queen that Sif directed her greeting. “May I offer my congratulations on this momentous occasion? I hope Thor and his wife will be very happy, and rule this realm well in your stead.”
Again, Sif kept her head down. She was unused to such displays of submission, but Odin’s attitude as of late made her wary. Frigga, on the other hand, had always been kind to Sif. What was more, she had always been more than supportive of Sif’s desire to fight rather than stay at home having children. Thus, Sif did not think the friendliness in Frigga’s voice was feigned when she responded:
“Rise, Lady Sif. You know you need not kneel here. You are practically family.”
“Practically, but not family enough,” Odin quipped. Sif’s eyebrows rose while Frigga reacted not at all. If Odin really was as fickle lately as Thor claimed, Sif had to admire the queen’s ability to remain unruffled. Perhaps she was worried over what would happen to Loki if she commented; it was common knowledge that Queen Frigga had done a lot of talking to save her son from execution.
Sif remained kneeling before them, face blank, until Frigga took her hand and pulled her to her feet.
“We are very pleased to see you here. I am sure that Thor will appreciate seeing you as well.”
“I spoke to him briefly, earlier.” Several of those still waiting in line took up grumbling; Sif did not even glance at them. It did not seem a good plan to tell either of Thor’s parents of his complaints. Sif did not want to be responsible for sending Thor’s wife to prison a second time, so she simply continued, “Did I arrive too late for the announcement?”
Odin, it seemed, thought it best to pretend Sif wasn’t there. His eye fell upon something on the dance floor—Darcy, Sif presumed, though she dare not turn about to look—and remained there as Frigga took up the conversation in his stead. “Oh, no,” she said, brightly and to her credit, in Sif’s opinion. “That will come later this evening, after everyone has had a chance to speak to [Name]. There appears to be no rush, considering how fast the news has traveled. Everyone already knows Thor married a woman on Earth. The announcement is just to make things proper.”
The king muttered something that sounded much like, “Nothing about this is proper,” but Sif did not have a chance to double check. Frigga opened her mouth to either continue or request her husband put up a more cheerful façade. Right as she did, the noise in the hall plummeted. The music dropped away instrument by instrument, the chatter all but died, and Sif did not have to twist about to see the reasoning behind this sudden shift in atmosphere. The act was nearly impossible anyhow, with Frigga’s hand still on hers. Surely removing one’s hand from the queen’s was an act of treason? Slowly, Sif shifted herself so that she could see across all the heads of those below, straight to the doors at the end of the room. A couple stood in the middle of the wide-open space: a tall man wearing a helm with sculpted wings and a woman that looked pale and utterly out of place. Sif only just noticed they were holding hands when the man let go and the spectators immediately took up a roaring trade of conversation as though the lull had never occurred.
Sif’s eyes followed Thor as he made his way in her direction. She did not fool herself that she was who he was looking for, nor would she have wanted to be, what with how grim he looked. Frigga must have noticed Thor’s ruinous expression as well, for she released Sif with a gesture toward the woman still standing awkwardly in the doorway. “Go on. I do not want you to have to listen to this.”
Even if Sif felt she could have argued, she would not have. Thor had made it plain that he did not desire her help on this subject. Besides, Sif did not feel that he could reasonably expect to get out of his marriage now. Not after everyone had gone to all the work of preparing the feast and dressing for and attending it. If Thor wasn’t careful, he would find himself in the dungeon with Loki. She did not stay to greet Thor, and instead carefully picked her way back down to the floor, the opposite direction from where he was coming from. Once there, Sif found herself rather lost as to what to do. Food did not appeal to her, nor did dance or company. Frigga had suggested (or so Sif thought) that she go make herself acquainted with [Name]. Sif was not so certain that this was a good plan. If she recalled her days prior to meeting Thor correctly, women had the tendency to be a little possessive of the men they chose for their own. The queen may have held fast to the idea that Sif and Thor could maintain a friendship even after this event, but if [Name] did not feel the same way, Sif would not force her to accept her presence. Thor still might; however, even that was dangerous. She would not allow herself to come between a husband and wife.
Up close, you looked even more alien—an oddity, Sif knew, since she was the alien to you. Anyone looking to find reasons to dislike Thor’s wife would not have to look very far. There were shadows underneath your eyes on your otherwise [color] skin, and your dress, while spectacular, did not fit very well. That must have been due to the suddenness of the occasion; what choice would you have had but to wear something of Frigga’s? Your hair had been styled to match what was currently considered fashionable with the rest of the court, and yet Sif still found that you didn’t look very Asgardian at all. Perhaps it was the look of distinct discomfort on your face that did it. Sif decided to take pity on you, at last crossing the last bit of floor over to you and doing her best to smile.
“Our parties have sorely missed a sour face since Loki was imprisoned,” Sif said as you looked over to see her. “Yours will do quite nicely.” You threw her a look that plainly said that you had no idea that she was teasing. Not a great way to start out if Sif had any desire to remain on speaking terms with your husband—and she did, very much. Seeking to gloss over this moment, Sif inclined her head in yet another uncharacteristic bow. “Your Highness.”
“Please,” you said in a slightly strangled voice, “don’t do that.” Sif was surprised to see that you had turned slightly pink around the edges, but decided to humor you all the same.
“Of course. [Name], then?” You nodded. “I am Lady Sif.”
“Yes, you said as much last night.”
“I was unsure if you would remember. The excitement of today might have driven my name out of your head.”
“Excitement,” your voice remained barely quavering even when you forced a laugh, “I guess that’s one way of putting it.”
There were so many listening ears. Sif found it hard to believe that anyone would go as far as to desire to hurt you because they didn’t find you a suitable princess, but she did not want to give them cause to. Thor had asked her to be there for support, not to stir up rebellion. Thus, instead of aiding you in your complaint, she deftly changed the subject:
“Have you enjoyed what you have seen here so far? The palace is quite lovely in the summer.”
“My new quarters are quite a bit nicer than the ones shown to me this morning.”
Good Odin, were you so intent on ruining the feast’s entire purpose? Sif honestly did not want to open hostilities with you. If she had been thrown in prison for such a petty reason as marrying Thor, she, too, would have been upset, but surely they had explained to you why the announcement had to be made. Did you simply have a death wish?
“[Name].” Before Sif could ponder this very seriously, Thor returned, his hand outstretched toward you. You caught Sif’s eye, flushed, and looked down at your toes. You had seemed much more brash, confident, angry the night before. Well, if Odin had wanted to accomplish something by sending you to have a nice chat with his disowned son, he could at least say he had managed to break your spirit. Sif lifted her eyes from you to Thor; he did not look angry. In fact, his expression looked soft, sympathetic, even, as he took the fingers you so stiffly offered him. Admittedly his voice sounded more emotionless than anything when he said, “You should eat. You have not had anything since breakfast this morning,” but Sif did not feel she could expect Thor to be entirely pleased about the situation. She tried to slip Thor a smile; he was gone before she could. Sif watched him lead you over to the high table with a mixture of pity and regret roiling in her stomach. Thankfully, she was not left to feel this sensation very long before she felt a hand on her shoulder.
“You will get your hand off me, sir, if you desire to retain your capability to create children,” she said loudly. A few nearby women looked over at her, aghast. The words did have the effect Sif wanted, though, as the hand quickly disappeared, allowing her to spin to face her assailant without ripping the flimsy fabric covering her skin.
“Lady Sif,” Fandral said with a flourishing bow. “Radiant as always.”
“And disinterested as always, Fandral.” Though Sif smiled as she said it, Fandral still lifted a hand to his heart in mock hurt.
“One day, Lady Sif, I shall crack through the ice around your heart.”
“Yes, because you did such a good job with Loki’s,” Hogun said. Fandral frowned.
“You know what I meant.”
“And you know what it sounded like.”
Apparently the rest of the group had decided to keep Sif company. Volstagg trundled up as this exchange happened, his usual plate heaped with food held steadily in one hand. He beamed and nodded at her, and Sif deigned to smile back. Volstagg had never once tried to make an advance on her, though his being happily married with a whole myriad of children might have had something to do with it.
“Good day to you, Lady Sif.”
“And you,” she returned. “How is—”
“Enough with the pleasantries. What are we going to do about that?” Hogun and Fandral had stopped their fight for the latter to wave his hand toward where you were now bowing before a cheerful Frigga and a dour Odin. Sif hoped you had managed to conceal your displeasure before being admitted into their presence.
“Do?” Volstagg repeated around a mouthful of roasted bird. “We’re supposed to do something about it?”
“Of course,” said Hogun. “Thor is our friend. We fought for an end to his exile only to stand back as he is forced into a relationship he does not desire?”
“If Odin desires it—” Sif began.
“Odin desired his exile, too,” Fandral interrupted. “And look how well that turned out. Instead we had a mad man for our king and he nearly threw us into war with two separate realms. All that in less than a week.”
“I highly doubt that [Name] has the ability to start a war with any realm,” said Volstagg. “I spoke to her last night. She is a delightful young woman. The idea that she would want to start a war is absurd.”
“The problem with you, Volstagg, is that you are inclined to like everyone. Did it look to you like Thor liked her?”
“It didn’t to me,” Hogun put in. Fandral sent him an appreciative smirk.
“Lady Sif. You have spoken to Thor, have you not? Tell me, does he not desire to be let loose from this marriage so that he has a chance with a woman he actually admires?”
It pained Sif to admit it, but “He did.”
“But he also told me not to do anything about it.”
“He says that Odin believes Asgard will be at war soon, and that we should all remain free and available to fight in it. There is no point in rescuing him from a marriage only to have him die in battle because we are not there to back him up.” This, Sif thought, would silence the lot of them. Their hearts were in the right place; even Sif ached to do something to allay Thor’s pain—but if he told them not to do something, they were not to do it. That was how companionship worked. For nearly an entire minute, no one said anything: Volstagg turned to watch the dance and chew happily at his food, Fandral frowned, Hogun watched impassively as one of the women near Sif fluttered her fingers at him. But then:
“He is too damn noble for his own good after he returned from exile,” Fandral declared. “If Thor does not wish for us to do something, then we must simply get [Name] to do it.”
“You expect [Name] to force Odin to dissolve the marriage?” Volstagg asked. Fandral rolled his eyes.
“No, you great dolt. That would only get Thor in trouble as well. Odin will not stop the marriage himself, that much I understand. However, if she leaves—of her own volition, mind—what is Odin going to do about it?”
There was silence again. Sif found herself only capable of staring. What sort of idiocy was this? Hogun, though, nodded as though in appreciation of such a plan. She was very nearly afraid that something would come of Fandral’s thoughts until Volstagg swallowed his food and announced:
“I do not like it.”
“You don’t like it?” Fandral repeated incredulously.
“What you plan to do is to make a woman so miserable that she has no choice but to return to her family and friends at home in shame. I would not think a man such as you would be capable of such thoughts, Fandral.”
“She is already miserable, by the look of the things,” Hogun said.
“And that makes it better?” Volstagg asked.
“Come, Volstagg!” Fandral clapped Volstagg on the back. “This isn’t just for Thor. It is for the realm! We can hardly hope to be victorious in this upcoming war of Odin’s if our leader is too preoccupied by the burden of marriage.”
“I would hardly call marriage a burden. I am very pleased to have such a lovely wife and wonderful children. Perhaps Thor will be pleased as well to have his [Name] and whatever children she produces.”
“I can have plenty of children while not being forced into the monotony that is a monogamous relationship,” Fandral said. Sif had long since learned that berating him for such an archaic view of women was a lost cause, and so held her tongue. Volstagg had not, and opened his mouth to protest. No sooner had he done so, however, than did Hogun put in his two cents:
“You’re missing the point. This isn’t because we think Thor would be happier unattached. He obviously loved the Jane woman. Maybe he still does.”
“Exactly,” said Fandral, and by then he was clutching Volstagg by both shoulders—an impressive feat by all accounts considering how small and thin Fandral was comparatively. “You might be perfectly happy with your wife, but look at Thor. Does he look happy, Volstagg?”
Volstagg’s eyes followed Fandral’s pointing finger; Sif’s, though reluctant, did the same. No, Thor did not look happy. He looked stiff as he shoved the remains of his food about his place, and though he and [Name] remained close, they did not look close. This was enough for Volstagg. Sif could swear she could actually see his argument crumbling around him. Fandral could, too, as was obvious by the way he smiled at Volstagg’s slumping shoulders.
“Alright. But only if you swear to not be worse than necessary.”
“Of course!” Now that Fandral had his way, he was practically beaming. It almost hurt Sif’s eyes to watch. “I have never met a woman that didn’t find me utterly charming even at my worse.”
Sif snorted, but no one paid her any mind. Why was she even there? She had put in her appearance, made an attempt at making [Name] feel comfortable. No one was likely to notice Sif’s absence from this point onward. Unfortunately, she did not feel that she could leave her friends without eliciting some sort of tedious commentary.
“Then it is decided,” said Fandral. “We will save Thor and Asgard in one fell swoop. Killing two dodos with one pebble, as the Midgardians say. Does anyone have any ideas as to how to go about impressing upon Thor’s lovely lady that he does not belong here?”
[Name] very clearly already felt that she did not belong here. This celebration in her honor was hardly likely to change that either. The only reason Sif lingered was so that she might hear whatever ridiculous concept the three of them came up with. She was not expecting Fandral to look right at her and for Hogun and Volstagg to wait patiently for her to come up with something.
“You could neglect to follow this foolish plan of yours right now,” she answered coolly. Fandral only sighed.
“Has anyone ever told you you’re terribly unimaginative, Lady Sif?” he asked conversationally. Sif shot him her sweetest smile.
“Is that how I managed to get all of your weapons away from you the last time we sparred? My utter lack of imagination?”
Fandral sputtered and turned hastily away. That was really all Sif needed. She had had enough. As the rest of them put their heads together and began to discuss in murmurs the best way to scare off Midgardian women that were obviously already frightened enough, Sif only lifted her eyes toward the glistening ceiling and turned her back on her three regular companions. She supposed she ought to tell Thor of their plans. He was not likely to appreciate them when they came to fruition. When she looked back out up at the table, however, he was still sitting with you, still silent, still unmoving. Maybe tomorrow, Sif decided wearily, and she began to make her way along the edges of the dance floor out into the vacant corridors. None of them, Fandral, Hogun, nor Volstagg, would be able to come up with anything drastic before morning. Until then, all Sif planned to do was sleep. There was still the slightest chance that she could wake up and find this all a dream.