(Ah, the budding lovelives of teen Asgardians.)
The Courtship of Lady Sif
Loki and the Warriors Three winced in sympathy then groaned in dismay as Thor suddenly doubled over in pain, his hands carefully cradling what his younger brother often sneeringly referred to as "the Jewels of Asgard". The wielder of Mjolnir fell to his knees, tears squeezing out of his closed eyes and his face reddening as he forgot to breathe for several moments. Then he gasped as his lungs took in air once more, and he tried to roar in rage. However, what came out of his mouth was a high-pitched whimper. "You dare—!"
Lady Sif looked down at him with an expression fearsome enough to make the stoutest of hearts quail. "Oh, please!" She rolled her eyes. "I did not hit you that hard! Now, get up! We are not done sparring!"
Thor rose unsteadily. "Oh, I am very much done, my Lady!" he exclaimed. He backed several steps away from her. "What has made you so vicious today? We have all felt the sting of your vexation." He gestured towards the four young Asgardians watching them, who were all sporting various bruises and cuts. Loki looked like a pup with a bluish-black spot darkening his right eye, Hogun's left wrist bore the mark of Sif's hand where she had twisted it, Fandral had a wound on his lower lip that was still bleeding, and Volstagg's head possessed a bald spot where she had torn out a thick clump of hair. When her eyes slid to them, they all visibly gulped in sudden nervousness.
Sif sighed, the slightest tinge of remorse softening her face and her tone. "I did not mean to show my displeasure so plainly," she said, "But certain tidings made known to me have severely disturbed my thoughts."
"And what disturbs your thoughts so, Lady Sif?" Hogun wondered.
She pursed her lips, annoyance creasing her brow for a moment before she sighed again. "My brother Heimdall," she began, "told me yesterday that Snorri Sturluson has spoken to him—about me."
"And what is that flea-bitten cur saying about you now?" Thor instantly thundered. He and the others well knew of the animosity that Snorri had borne Sif since she had defeated him in a wrestling match over a month ago. The wretched boy had then gone around Asgard spreading the most outrageous lies about the young female warrior. Thor and the others had retaliated on her behalf by stealing Snorri from his bed one night, tying him up, then hoisting him atop the Palace's highest point. He had stopped gossiping about Sif afterwards, but it seemed that he was up to his old mischief once more.
"He has not been telling lies about me," Sif clarified, her cheeks oddly pink. "But what he has said to my brother is even worse than his foulest lies."
"What did he say to Heimdall, Sif?" Fandral pressed her for the truth. "Tell us, and we will cut off his tongue for you."
"Then I will cook it with wine and make him eat it," Volstagg added.
She could not help but smile at their words. Then she grew serious again as she struggled to share the news that had so perturbed her upon hearing it from Heimdall's lips. "Snorri Sturluson," she took a deep fortifying breath, "has told my brother that he—wants to court me."
Five stunned expressions greeted her revelation. Then, as one, all five broke out into huge smiles and guffaws.
"Snorri Sturluson," Thor said in between loud roars of laughter, "wants to court you? Has he gone mad?"
"Sif! Oh, my Lady!" Fandral gasped, mirth shaking every part of his body. "For a moment, I thought you meant every word you said."
Volstagg, for his part, was laughing so hard that he had to lean on Hogun for support. The other warrior, meanwhile, was pressing one hand against his mouth, trying to control the bursts of laughter that were so uncharacteristic of his usually serious mien. Even Loki, ever dour Loki, was smiling and chuckling. Sif was so taken aback by the sight of the younger Prince of Asgard looking happy that she just stared at him in fascination for countless minutes. When he realized that she had her eyes on him, he sobered and tried to regain his normal quiet manner. But his deep green eyes still sparkled with amusement as they met hers—and that was when he made his second realization: she was not jesting about Snorri's desire to court her.
He moved to Thor's side and shoved an elbow into his brother's ribs to get the other's attention. "I do believe she is serious, Thor," he then said in his careful, measured way of speaking.
Gradually, their group quieted, and the five of them regarded Sif with astonished looks. "You are not trying to be amusing?" Thor approached her warily. "You really mean what you have just told us? Snorri truly wishes to pay court to you?"
"Why do you find that so hard to believe?" she huffed, the little that she possessed of feminine vanity rising up within her breast to take offense at their incredulity.
"It is not that we do not believe anyone would ever wish to court you," Fandral tried to soothe her. "We just find the thought—odd. Very odd."
"Extremely so," Volstagg seconded, and the look Sif gave them then promised she would remember every word they spoke and make them pay for each one violently. So Loki decided to step in before the others could shorten their lives further by continuing to speak.
"My Lady Sif," he addressed her, "there is no need to be so upset about Snorri's plan to court you. He may do so if he wishes, but you can always refuse his suit." After pointing out that little fact that seemed to have slipped her mind, he fully expected her to calm down and loosen her grip on her sword. However, that did not happen.
"Of course I know I can always refuse him!" she snapped. "What I fear is that my mother may not allow me to do so! She was in transports of joy upon learning of Snorri's intentions. She thinks that having a suitor would finally cure me of the 'warrior madness' as she calls it, and I would start acting like a proper Asgardian lady. I have tried to disabuse her of this notion, but she will have none of it. She has even made Heimdall promise her that he would not forbid Snorri from courting me. What if she goes so far as to betroth me to him? I am doomed!" Fury overtaking her completely for a moment, she whirled around and threw her sword like a spear. It flew through the air and struck a nearby tree where it sunk in to the hilt. Then she stamped her feet like a child.
"Well," Thor ran a hand through his unruly hair, trying to think. "That could be a problem." The others silently agreed with him. After a minute though, his eyes lit up and he turned to Loki. "Unless—" He regarded his brother with a questioning look.
"What?" the dark-haired Prince asked. "Why are you all staring at me?"
"Yes!" Sif smiled in relief. "Loki!" She walked up to him and seized his hands in hers. "Clever Loki! You always know how to get us out of trouble—"
"Because he is the one who often gets us into trouble in the first place," muttered Fandral, but they all ignored him.
"Loki," Sif said his name again and looked at him pleadingly. "Please, use that brilliant little mind of yours to make all this go away, and I promise not to beat you at sparring anymore."
He stared into her eyes for a moment, then he looked down at their entwined hands. A strange frown marked his face. "What would you have me do?" he asked. He glanced up at her again with such an intense gaze that her smile faltered for a second.
"Why, come up with one of your schemes, of course," she told him, letting go of his hands because they had suddenly felt very warm. She also realized with some discomfort that she was standing too close to him, so she took a few steps back to put some distance between them. "Help me persuade Snorri that he would be better off hating me than trying to court me, and convince my mother at the same time that she should never, ever encourage anyone to court me again."
A thoughtful expression came over Loki's face. "That would require a good bit of planning, my Lady," he said, then he smiled. "Perhaps I may be able to come up with something."
They all cheered. "Excellent!" Thor clapped his brother on the back. "You create a plan and we will help you accomplish it. This should be an interesting little intrigue for everyone." They agreed that Loki would be given a day to formulate an appropriate scheme, then they would discuss it during their next sparring session. Afterwards, they all left the practice field in high spirits, the excitement of plotting mischief quickening their steps.
Two nights later, Snorri Sturluson arrived at Sif's home to pay her a visit, bearing a gift of blossoms fashioned from fine gold and jewels. Sif, uncomfortably dressed in a gown her mother had forced her to wear, received him politely and offered him refreshments. He graciously accepted and, in between gulping drinks and consuming pastries, he expressed how much he admired her, how he regretted spreading lies about her in the past because he had not yet realized that he cared for her then, how much he wished that she would judge him worthy of her heart, and so on, until she felt quite sickened by all his gallant prattle. She was starting to fear that he would never stop talking when the door burst open and in strode Thor.
The Prince of Asgard was dressed in his most formal clothes and he beamed as his eyes raked over Sif's ladylike appearance. Then suddenly, dramatically, he fell to his knees before her. With one hand on his heart, he began to recite, "My Lady Sif, she whose beauty illuminates the darkness of night, the mere sight of your eyes causes my entire body to tremble with the fever of passion and desire. I humbly beg you, my Lady, to receive this small token of my devotion." He fumbled for something at his side until he handed her a silken bag that she took with a puzzled little frown. She opened it, looked inside, and gave a squeal of delight.
"Oh, Thor!" She batted her eyes at him coyly. "Is this truly for me?"
"It could be for no one else, my Lady," he replied.
She then turned to Snorri and held out the opened bag before him. "Oh, Snorri. Look! What a thoughtful gift from Thor!"
Her jealous suitor could not resist looking into the bag. He wanted to find out what it was that Thor had given Sif which had pleased her more than his gift. As soon as he peered into the opening, something dark and hairy leapt out and latched onto his face.
"Aaarrggggh!" He screamed in both terror and surprise as he tried to free himself from the grip of the overly large spider that was now hugging his face tightly. "Get it off me! Get it off!"
Laughing, Thor grabbed the spider away and gave it to Sif, who put it on her lap and began to pet it like a cat. She pouted at Snorri. "Whatever is the matter?" she cooed. "Is it not a darling little pet?"
Snorri, who was quite well-known for having a deadly fear of spiders, could only stare at her in horror, white-lipped. He looked like he wanted to say something to her but, before he could open his mouth, in walked Fandral.
"Lady Sif!" The swordsman bowed before her. "Never in all the Realms have I beheld a maiden lovelier than you. Your beauty shames the light of the stars. Allow me to express how much I adore you by presenting this lowly gift at your feet." He placed what appeared to be a belt of leather on the floor, then it moved and hissed, and what was actually a snake quickly wrapped its coils around Snorri's right leg.
"Gyyaaahhhh!" He screamed again and began hopping up and down. "It's trying to swallow my leg! Help me! Help!" Fandral, chuckling all the while, somehow managed to extricate the snake in spite of Snorri's constant movements and gave it to Sif, who wrapped it around her throat like a necklace.
By this time, Snorri was ready to bolt from the room. But he managed to gather the shreds of his pride about him and sit down again. At a considerable distance from Sif. This left room for Thor and Fandral to sit on her right and her left side, respectively, where they both looked at him with evil little grins.
Then Volstagg and Hogun appeared. They were carrying a large chest between them that rocked unsteadily in their grip as something inside it snarled and thumped against its iron prison. Snorri jumped. "Nay! I will have no more of this foolishness!" he hissed. He pointed a finger at Sif. "I know not how you divined my intentions behind the game I was trying to play, my Lady, but I am not going to let you and your oafish friends humiliate me any further!" He started to make his way to the door, but his path was suddenly blocked by Sif's mother, who had decided to come in and see if her daughter was treating her visitor well.
"Snorri!" Her smile of welcome withered at the look of venom he threw at her. "What is happening here?" she inquired of her daughter, who had the most innocent expression on her face.
"You have my sympathies, my Lady," he told her. "Your House has been cursed by a daughter that no man in his proper faculties would wish to court, let alone wed. She is a disgrace to the memory of her ancestors and I can only pity you for birthing her from your womb—"
He would have spewed out more vitriol but for the fact that he was suddenly silenced by a knife against his throat. Sif's mother never lost the pleasant expression on her face and her voice never faltered as she said very politely, "Thank you for visiting us, Lord Sturluson. Now if you would please leave and never come back, I would be very grateful." Pale-faced, Snorri nodded and quickly scampered away. She then looked at her daughter and the group of young men gathered protectively around her. "Perhaps, next time," she said softly, "I will not allow any suitors to visit you after all, Sif." She gave Thor a little bow, then left.
After a moment of stunned silence, Sif started to laugh. Soon, her friends joined in her mirth. "That worked brilliantly!" Thor exclaimed. "Loki would be pleased." He looked at Volstagg and Hogun. "Why did he not come with you?"
Hogun shrugged. Still laughing, Sif decided to search for the one that had crafted such a fine bit of mischief as soon as she could and thank him for his help.
She found him in the Palace library's farthest corner later that evening, reading a dusty old tome. He did not look up when she stood before him and asked, "How did you know?"
"How did I know what?" he replied lazily and flipped a page, his eyes never leaving the book.
"That Snorri was planning to humiliate me in some way by pretending to court me." She sat across from him. "Tell me. How did you know that he had a malicious motive behind his actions?"
He finally looked at her, and his expression clearly said that she was foolish for not realizing what should be so painfully obvious. "Sif," he pointed out patiently, "The man hates you so much that he once tried to cut off all your hair. Whatever made you think that such hatred could have somehow magically transformed to love?"
His words struck her deeply and, for a moment, an expression of hurt was evident on her face before she carefully blanked out her countenance once more. She stood up and seemed like she was going to leave, then she sat down again. "Loki," there was a catch in her tone, "what do you see when you look at me?"
He frowned in puzzlement. "I see you."
"And who am I?" she persisted.
"You are who you are," he said slowly. "Sif, one of the most fearsome warriors of Asgard."
"Nothing more?" she wondered. If he, ostensibly the cleverest in their group, did not understand what she was trying to express, then she despaired of ever finding anyone who could comprehend her. Suddenly, she could no longer hold back the words. "I am also a maiden, Loki!" she burst out. "I may enjoy sparring with swords more than flirting, but that does not mean that I do not sometimes wish a man would look at me and see that I may possibly be desirable! And when Snorri claimed to wish to court me, well—" She was now too embarrassed to complete her thoughts.
Finally, after what seemed an eternity, he blinked. "Oh." Understanding seemed to have dawned on him at last. "Sif." For the first time she could remember since they were children, he sounded awkward and uncertain. "Sif, I am confident that one day, there will be such a man who would look at you and desire you." He meant every word, and her heart warmed. "I can only hope, though, that once you realize the fact that he adores you," he continued, "you would take pity on the poor man and not torment him needlessly."
She scoffed. "Of course I would not do such a thing!"
His lips twisted in a little smile. "Well, we shall see soon enough, I think," he commented, quite oddly in her opinion. But, for the moment, she was pleased that he had not laughed at her upon knowing of her secret hopes. Impulsively, she leaned across the table and gave him a light kiss that landed on the curve of his left cheek. He seemed to freeze at the touch of her lips, then his entire face became suffused with color.
A different sort of embarrassment came over her then, and she blushed as well. "Loki," she wondered why her voice suddenly sounded breathless, "I do believe you are the dearest one among my friends right now. Thank you. For everything."
He nodded. "I am ever at your service, Lady Sif."
Their gazes locked—and it seemed it was an effort on both their parts to look away. "Well, then." She rose. "I will leave you now to your books. I shall see you tomorrow, I hope. Goodnight, Loki."
He did not return her greeting, but she felt his eyes follow her until she finally disappeared from sight.