Author's Note: And here's part three! I hope you've enjoyed my little story! As always, reviews are very much appreciated! -Traveller

When they finally arrived back at the palace, it was past midnight and everyone else had long since retired to bed. Thor ordered a guard, who looked to be half-asleep beneath his helmet, to rouse the stableboys and have their horses seen to. Less than two minutes had passed before two yawning lads stumbled out of the hayloft and relieved the five riders of their tired steeds from where they stood outside the stable in the courtyard. Satisfied that their mounts would be well cared for, Thor and his friends staggered wearily into the palace and retired to their chambers without so much as a word. Thor was stiff, sore, and utterly exhausted-the late night, the long ride, and the comedown from the rushes of adrenaline of which he had known many these past few hours had completely sapped him of every ounce of his energy. Once he had crawled into bed and pulled the blankets about his shoulders, he was immediately asleep.

But his rest was truncated by the arrival of dawn, and when he awoke he felt little better. He always regretted staying awake late into the night the next morning, and he always forgot his regrets each time he decided to do it again. Of course most times that happened, he was dealing with a fierce hangover in addition to unresolved exhaustion. But this was not much better.

The warrior pupils took their breakfast together at one of the tables in the banquet hall, as they did most mornings prior to their sessions in the training ring. Everyone else looked the way Thor felt. They all had dark circles beneath their eyes and a general haggard, bedraggled look about them. None of them had seemed to put any particular effort into their appearance that morning-even Fandral's mustache was not properly styled. And they were all nearly as silent as they had been during the long ride home the previous night, keeping their eyes fixed for the most part on their hotcakes, eggs, and bacon, and away from each other. Thor was acutely aware of the rather embarrassing events of the previous night-both his failed judgment and his terror, and he was sure that Fandral, Hogun, and Volstagg were as well. He imagined Sif kept silent to avoid further humiliating them after their blatant lack of courage. Thor had to admit he was grateful for that.

When he finally did allow his gaze to flick briefly above the food on his plate, he realized quite suddenly that Loki had not joined them for breakfast. That was odd-although his brother had never displayed an excessive fondness for food in the way Thor did, his pride had always driven him to be present at gatherings centered around meals, whether it be with their family or friends, or large banquets. And Loki was certainly to be the most rested of all of them this morning. It was very strange, indeed.

"Has anyone seen my brother?" His concern drove him to break the tense silence.

There was a general consensus of the negative, without much of anything being said. No one else seemed particularly worried by Loki's absence, or perhaps they just chose not to discuss it, preferring instead to turn their eyes back to their food and away from each other. Thor downed the rest of his breakfast and got slowly to his feet, his fatigued body protesting the motion harshly.

"I will see you in the training ring." He did not even attempt to sound enthusiastic about that, despite the fact that sparring was one of his great passions in life. He imagined that his performance would not be anything close to its typical caliber today. He was much too tired and much too sore for that. His prediction the previous day of waking up unable to walk had been nearly accurate. Never had he felt such intense saddle-stiffness in all his centuries-long life.

It took him far longer than it should have to reach Loki's chamber. Thor knocked and called out,

"Loki, are you in there?"

There was only silence for several seconds, and Thor was about to go search elsewhere for his brother when he heard a slightly stifled "Yes."

"May I come in?"

"If you insist." The answer sounded weary.

Thor opened the door and stepped into the chamber, which was decorated with mahogany furnishing and accented with emerald green. His brother sat in bed, leaning back against his sea of pillows, his comforter pulled up to his chest. A book lay open across his blanketed lap, but he was not reading it. Loki's eyes were closed, and he was pinching the bit of his forehead just above the bridge of his nose. He wore a rather uncomfortable expression. When he heard Thor come in, he removed his hand and opened his eyes to regard him with an irritated look.

"What do you want?" He did not even attempt creativity to go along with his nastiness, a sure sign that he lacked energy, and Thor thought he sounded rather congested. This was confirmed when Loki was suddenly overcome by a fit of wet, painful-sounding coughs. Startled to see his normally dignified brother in such a state, as usual the concerned Thor said the first thing that came to mind.

"Brother, are you quite well?"

His fit finally subsiding, Loki turned to regard him with an expression of utter and total amazement.

"Thor, do I sound well?"

"No, not in the least." Thor went to sit on the edge of the bed even as Loki shot him a withering look before beginning once more to rub his aching sinuses. "Are you...all right?"

There was more glaring daggers, and for a moment Thor thought Loki was going to send an acerbic retort his way. But his brother obviously caught the worry in his eyes and took his meaning, and instead answered wearily,

"I've caught a cold, you bloody oaf."

Well, there was that, at least. Anyway, Thor figured that if his brother was truly very ill, he would not be glowering or sniping at him at all. But, being the overprotective elder brother that he was, Thor would have worried until he had asked.

"Where did this come from? You seemed as though you were feeling fine yesterday."

"Yes, I was fine when I went to bed last night, and I woke up with a cold. That occasionally happens to people, Thor." Loki's characteristic sarcastic tone showed itself again, but with nothing close to its usual ferocity. He coughed again and then swallowed, his face contorting into a wince. The corner of Thor's mouth twitched sympathetically, and he poured a glass of water from the pitcher on the bedside table and handed it to his brother. Loki accepted the offering wordlessly, but his eyes flicked to Thor's for a moment, and Thor was positive he saw at least a hint of gratitude there. He smiled to himself while Loki drank.

"I've been meaning to tell one of the servants to have my window mended. It lets in a terrible draft. That's what brought this on, I'm certain," Loki pouted as he set the glass down on the bedside table. Thor wondered why Loki had not dealt with the problem of his drafty window before now-the weather had been getting progressively colder for several weeks, and surely the previous night could not have been the first time the chill had bothered him. It was unlike his brother, to let something like that go on for so long.

"I will have it seen to immediately." Thor rose from the bed and went to briefly examine the offending framework. He could find no source of a draft, but then again he was a prince and consequently not at all handy with mending things. He would ask one of the palace servants to see to it.

As he turned around, Thor's saddle-stiffness reared its ugly head, and he placed a hand on the back of the desk chair next to him, over which Loki's riding cloak was draped, to help ease himself around. But when he touched the garment, he noted something surprising.

"Loki, your cloak is damp."

Loki's green eyes widened and for a moment, he looked frozen, like a stag that had just heard the soft crunch of a hunter's boot. Then he lowered his eyes to his comforter and said, quietly,

"I...I lied, Thor. There isn't any draft coming from my window. What really happened..." He paused to cough, and managed to look heartbreakingly miserable while doing so. "What really happened was I was riding alongside the river last night when my horse's steps disturbed a partridge, which flew out unexpectedly from the brush along the shore. My mare took fright and I lost my seat and landed in the river." He pulled his knees up to his chin and hid his face behind them, obviously humiliated at this admission.

"And you rode home soaking wet in the cold?" Thor affirmed, and Loki nodded, looking absolutely pitiful. "You're lucky you didn't catch your death! Are you hurt otherwise?"

Loki shook his head. "A few bruises here and there, but the water broke my fall for the most part. My pride took the hardest blow, I suppose. Besides catching this wretched cold, that is." He sniffled pathetically. "The ride home was awful. I thought I'd never stop shivering."

"My poor Loki." Thor rubbed his back sympathetically. He was a bit surprised at his brother's sudden change in demeanor-he suddenly seemed very willing to accept Thor's comfort, and he made no attempt to avoid his touch. But Thor would not question it. If it were up to him, Loki would always be this receptive to his ministrations in times of need-it was an overprotective elder brother's dream, really. It was probably because Loki was feeling ill, Thor thought, and did not possess the energy to push him away, either physically or verbally.

"Why did you not tell me the truth in the first place?" It was probably not the most intelligent of questions, he thought in retrospect. His brother was, after all, the god of mischief, and was already becoming known to many as the Liesmith. But he asked it anyway.

Loki sighed softly, his gaze fixed on his blankets. "I...I was embarrassed, I suppose. Riding is the one physical activity at which I can at least occasionally best you, and you know how attached I am to my dignity." He laughed, humorlessly and ironically, and finally looked up at Thor. "But you found me out, brother. Nicely sleuthed, I must admit."

Thor now regretted asking why Loki had lied. He feared that he had damaged his brother's already wounded pride even further, which had not at all been his intention.

"Do not worry, brother. I shall not tell a soul. You have my solemn word as the future king of Asgard. For the purposes of everyone else who asks, there was a draft coming in your window."

Loki gave him a small smile, and there was definitely gratitude there this time, an observation which delighted Thor to no end. The rare moment did not last, however, for soon Loki was overcome by another fit of coughing.

Thor got to his feet. "I am going to see Eir to get you a tonic for that cough," he said, using his princely no-arguments tone. He doubted that Loki had been to see the palace's chief healer yet-it appeared he had not risen from his bed all morning. "Is there anything else I can get for you? You should eat some breakfast. Or at the very least drink some tea."

"Tea would be lovely," murmured Loki, closing his eyes and leaning back against his pillows again. "And maybe some porridge, if it's not too much trouble."

Thor had opened the chamber door and was about to turn around to say something over his shoulder that would have been along the lines of "of course it isn't too much trouble-anything to help my brother feel better". But the words never left his mouth, for he found himself staring at the slightly amused countenance of Sif.

"Ah, hello Sif! I thought you'd gone to the training ring." Her expression did not change, and for some reason it unnerved him a little and compromised his ability to form coherent thoughts. It was though she was indulging in some silent, private joke at the expense of everyone else present. "I've...found Loki." He gestured at his brother, who turned to regard the new visitor with a somewhat cautious expression on his face. "He has a cough, I was just going to see Eir for a tonic..."

Without bothering to ask if she could enter, Sif crossed the threshold and sidled into the room, her unchanging gaze fixed on Loki. She came to a stop in front of the bed, folded her arms across her chest, and said with a thick layer of mockery,

"Oh dear. Has the spirit of the Ugga Ruins caught a cold?"

Loki went white. Thor glanced back and forth between his brother and Sif in confusion.

"Wait a second, what..." Then it dawned on him. Of course. The dampened cloak, the receptive manner, the lie to cover up another lie to cover up the real truth. He advanced on Loki, glaring stormily. "Why, you little..."

Loki held out his hands, palms facing forward, as if to create a buffer between his small frame and his brother's enormous, powerful, angry form, and said, trying to keep calm but sounding genuinely scared,

"It was only a bit of fun, Thor. Really!"

"Only a bit of fun?" Thor practically roared. "You frightened the men who would be my warriors to the point of retreat! And not to mention spooking the horses-Volstagg could have been badly injured!" He briefly recalled the tome Loki had been studying in the library the previous day. Squirrel armies, his foot. Never mind the fact that Thor had actually been the one to postulate that in the first place.

Loki's expression switched from fearful to taunting. "The warriors? Forget them. You should have seen your face, Thor Odin's son! You were terrified!"

Thor's enraged look must have intensified even more, for Loki began to look frightened again, until Sif's laugh rang, bell-like, through the chamber.

"He is right, Thor. You were the most frightened of all of them."

Her comment caused Thor to turn his glare upon her, but Sif did not seem nearly so affected by it as Loki. The laughter still danced in her eyes. Frustrated that she had indeed noticed-and apparently taken careful note of-his reaction the previous night, he turned on her, fury and frustration flaring.

"So you were in on my brother's little prank then, Sif? I am disappointed. I thought you wiser and more mature than this! You saw what nearly happened to Volstagg..."

Sif cut him off. "You think I was a part of this? Really Thor, I knew you were quick to jump to conclusions, but I never thought you capable of such misjudgment...such folly!" Her brown eyes blazed with anger, her voice rising with every word. Thor, who admittedly possessed a severe lack of mastery over his temper, heard his own voice increase in volume accordingly.

"Misjudgment? Folly? Is it really, Sif? If I recall correctly, there was only one person last night who did not seem at all concerned about the fact that we were being attacked by a dead person!"

"And so you just assumed it was because I was a part of Loki's scheme? Truly Thor, you offend me." From the somewhat injured way she was glaring at him, Thor perceived that this statement was perhaps only half made in sarcasm. "Do you want to know what I think?" Without waiting for him to answer, she went on. "I think that last night, I was the one person who proved what you orchestrated this whole escapade to validate in the first place! I told you I would not believe in the spirit until I saw it, and I did not see a spirit! And do you want to know what else I think?" Again, there was no pause for Thor to answer the rhetorical question. "I think that you are embarrassed to admit that you, who were so set in your beliefs that there was no spirit, were wrong, in your mind, and to have it shown in front of the people who are soon to fight under you. And you are even more embarrassed to admit that you were afraid. The brave and mighty Thor..."

"ENOUGH!" roared Thor, clenching his fists at his sides, fighting to keep from sending a clash of thunder to deafen the noise of Sif's tirade. His yell caused Sif to pause just enough for them both to hear Loki whimper piteously from the bed.

"Please, can you not argue so loudly? My head aches so..." He was pinching his forehead above the bridge of his nose again, a look of agony written across his features. Thor, who had not forgotten his anger at his brother even in his confrontation with Sif, scowled menacingly at him before he turned back to the warrior woman, but he did reduce his tone to a low growl.

"I am the first prince of Asgard, and I will not stand here and be belittled..."

"I don't care if you are king of the Nine Realms, Thor, I will not stand here and be falsely accused and have invalid, unsupported assumptions made about me! By anyone, and especially not someone I consider my friend."

It was as though she had not planned to say that last part-the horror in her eyes implied that it had somehow slipped out unintentionally. But there it was, settling between them and thickening the air like a mist. But behind that horror in her gaze was an intense hurt, and Thor finally realized what he had done. He did not want to admit it, especially not in front of his brother. But it had to be done. He was in the wrong, and he had hurt someone he cared about.

"I...I am sorry, Sif," he said quietly. It took a moment after he had uttered the words for him to put aside his pride enough to raise his eyes to meet hers. But when he did, he saw that the pain in her gaze had receded a bit. He supposed he should continue. "You were right. I was afraid, and it was made all the worse by how staunchly I stood by my disbelief in the spirit. I was humiliated, and that caused me to speak without thinking and make unfounded accusations. But saying the things I did was inexcusable. I hope you can forgive me." He ended there, shooting her his winningest pleading-look. Out of the corner of his eye, he caught a glimpse of Loki rolling his eyes. Thor resisted the urge to empty his brother's water pitcher over his head.

Sif was silent for a moment, her gaze fixed upon him and suddenly showing very little of the hurt it had held just moments before. There was, to be honest, no emotion whatsoever written upon her countenance. She was considering Thor and his plea very thoroughly. Finally, she sighed a bit defeatedly and shook her head.

"Loki is right about you, Thor Odin's son. You could not be untruthful if your very life depended upon it. Because if I thought for one moment that you did not mean what you said, I would not forgive you. But as it stands, you are a terrible liar and I see nothing but sincerity in your eyes. So yes, I suppose I do forgive you."

There was nothing tender in her tone-it was a very matter-of-fact pardon. But considering how unkind he had been, Thor supposed he should be grateful for what she was granting him.

"Thank you, Sif. You have my deepest gratitude." Had she been any other woman, he would have taken her hand and kissed it. But Thor knew that doing that to Sif would undoubtedly result in being slapped across the face, so instead he merely smiled warmly.

"Now that that is resolved, I suppose all that remains is what is to be done with our little prankster," he said winking secretively at Sif before turning to face his brother. Loki put on his most miserable, pitiable expression and whimpered,

"Please Thor, whatever it is you are thinking, just refrain from it. My head throbs, I have a terrible cough, and it hurts to breathe. Not to mention I spent nearly three hours riding home last night soaking wet in the freezing cold because someone thought that setting a thunderstorm on a vengeful spirit would somehow make it go away. I think I've suffered enough, don't you?" He tacked on a sniffle at the end for good measure.

Thor glanced at Sif, who was now trying her very hardest not to smile. "You cannot hardly think you will get off so easily, brother! No, I have the perfect punishment for you..." Thor trailed off, grinning wickedly.

"And just what puts you in a position to punish me? You are not the Allfather! I do not have to do anything you tell me." Loki sounded very much like a small child, and when he folded his arms over his chest and glared at Thor, it just enhanced the effect all the more.

"Ah, but can you stop me from telling Fandral, Volstagg, and Hogun about the true identity of the spirit of the Ugga Ruins?" Of course, the warrior pupils would do nothing to harm Loki-they were good of heart, and Loki was a prince, after all-but the ruination of the joke itself would be enough to break Loki's little trickster heart. No doubt he had planned for his victims to look upon the Ugga Ruins with fear for years to come, and to quietly lord the secret truth over them. But now the game would be up, and rightly so.

Loki reacted exactly the way Thor had predicted. "Come now, Thor, is that really necessary? It's over and done, why do they have to know?"

"Brother, you would not be learning anything from this if you allowed them to continue to believe in the spirit. When Volstagg's horse reared, he nearly fell. People get hurt that way, Loki."

"I am truly sorry for what nearly happened to Volstagg." And he did look it, but Thor was still wary. Loki continued. "But in case you haven't noticed, I feel miserable. I think I have learned my lesson."

Sif scoffed. "Learned your lesson? Loki, the day you stop playing pranks will be the day Thor will sacrifice a round in the training ring in favor of studying his history lessons." But then her teasing look gave way to a soft smile, very much similar to the one she had exchanged with Loki two nights ago in the fireside room. "It is a part of you, and nothing will ever change that."

Thor swore he thought he saw Loki's cheeks turn ever-so-slightly pink, but he supposed it could have been a touch of fever. And the coughing fit could have been genuine as well, but something told him it was induced in order to prevent Sif from seeing Loki's true reaction to this discreet display of fondness. His dignity would never have allowed for her to observe that.

"But all the same..." Thor began again, but Sif interrupted him.

"Just wait a moment, Thor. Let us think about this. Is there anything really wrong with allowing Fandral, Hogun, and Volstagg to continue to believe in the spirit? Or in the three of us sharing this little secret? It might provide some very amusing times in the future. And now." She laughed. "Fandral is utterly convinced that he is cursed. I am not sure what he thinks will happen, but I, for one, am very curious to watch this story unfold."

The idea of the incredibly vain romantic dancing about the palace on tiptoe, jumping at every shadow because he believed some unseen force would strike any minute to ruin his much-prided appearance was indeed amusing. Thor finally gave in.

"All right. I suppose there is no harm in keeping this to ourselves." Both of his companions looked delighted. "I, for one, am looking forward to seeing in what ways the after effects of last night's little adventure manifest themselves in the behavior of our brave friends."

"I don't suppose Volstagg will ever tell a ghost story again," mused Loki, grinning slightly.

"I don't think anything could keep Volstagg from telling a story of any sort for long," chuckled Sif. "But you are right-he might require a bit of encouragement." They all shared a laugh and then Loki asked, thoughtfully,

"Sif, I must know-if nothing else, for the purpose of perfecting my skills as master prankster and lord of all mischief-how did you know it was me? And when did you realize it?"

She smiled his self-laudation. "I began to suspect it when Thor said you had decided not to join us. I had thought for certain that you would wish to come and observe the spirit for yourself."

Loki interrupted. "That would be slightly incorrect. I would not wish to see the spirit for myself because there are no such thing. Or at least, there are no records of observations of spirits on Asgard in any of the books I have read."

Stunned, Thor argued, "But you said while we were listening to the story that you had read many books on spirits!"

Loki rolled his green eyes skyward. "In case you have not taken notice, Thor, sometimes I do not tell the truth, and I do it convincingly."

Thor briefly recalled his conversation with his brother in the library the previous day, and the slightly confused look on Loki's face that had lasted but a fleeting moment when Thor had mentioned the comment about reading books on spirits. He realized now that Loki had very nearly made a mistake, forgetting the lie he had told the previous night. Of course it all seemed so obvious now, after everything was said and done.

Sif was continuing her recounting of her realization that Loki was behind the spirit. "The rest of it was just putting pieces of the puzzle together. Your horse was already gone when we got to the stables, implying that you had left immediately after dinner. It is not really the most optimum time to go for a ride, is it? Not to mention it was warmer in the afternoon. I would have thought you would have gone then, and spent the evening in front of the fire.

"I also thought that when the spirit positioned itself against the light of the full moon, its frame looked very much like yours. Because I already suspected you, I did not allow my fear to overtake me so much the very moment I saw the spirit that my mind could not function, unlike some others in my party." She raised a taunting eyebrow at Thor, and this time it was Thor's turn to roll his eyes.

"But I think the moment that sealed it for me was when you pointed directly at us. I knew then that you were just playing it up. Because you, Loki Odin's son, can never resist the opportunity to be dramatic."

Thor half expected his brother to be offended by this, but Loki merely smiled, his voice laden with mock self-deprecation.

"My dear Sif, I am afraid you know me too well. I fear I have failed in my duties as trickster by allowing someone to gain such intimate knowledge of the workings of my mind."

There was her laugh again, bell-like and clear. "Or perhaps I am just observant, Loki Silvertongue."

"Perhaps." The comment was but a sigh, but those viridian eyes were dancing.

As his companions engaged in their gentle teasing, Thor found himself casting his mind back once more to the previous night. In the moment when the spirit had begun to produce the smoke, Sif had murmured "What is he doing?". He. Not it. It had been the only time, within Thor's recollection, that any of them had referred to the spirit as "he" or "him" rather than "it" or "the spirit". Sif had guessed then that it was Loki beneath the cloak, conjuring the mist, laughing silently at their expense. She was indeed a marvel.

"Well Sif, I suppose a congratulations are in order," he said, with a touch of resignation but sounding mostly impressed. "You are truly warrior material. Last night you showed courage, you acted to protect a friend,"-he pictured her calming Volstagg's terrified stallion with but a few strokes and whispers- "and you kept a cool head under pressure. If it was possible for my respect for you to increase even more, it would." Thor did not give away such words easily, and he could tell Sif knew that, for her smile was genuinely honored.

"I too, must contribute my own felicitations," said Loki. "I thought my prank foolproof, and you showed me to be wrong simply by observing and thinking." He paused, thinking. "I believe you would be a much more worthy chess opponent than Hogun. Will you humor me?"

Sif scoffed slightly. "I should hardly think I would be suited to such a game. I have never played, nor do I know how, but watching you and Hogun play makes it seem to me like it is just a lot of staring. At the board, then at the other, and then at the board again. I fear I would grow disinterested."

"But if you have never tried, how would you know? I would be more than happy to teach you. I shall not be doing anything else today." He motioned with his hands to indicate his bed, denoting the current less-than-optimal state of his health. "I think you would enjoy it more than you believe, Sif."

Those last words were earnest, and his beckoning eyes were so full of encouragement and invitation that Thor could not blame Sif for giving in.

"All right. This afternoon, after training. Speaking of which..." She glanced at Thor, a mildly wicked smile on her face. "We should get going. I fully intend to beat Thor in the training ring today."

"Oh, do you?" The return jab was meant to convey an eagerness for the competition, but the effect was mitigated by Thor's acute awareness of his own exhaustion and soreness.

"As stiff as you seem to be today? Yes, I do. Very much." She smiled widely. Thor groaned internally. So she had noticed, then. Loki gave a hoarse laugh.

"So I am not the only one feeling the physical effects of last night's little escapade, then?"

"Last night as well as the riding lesson the day before, I should think." Sif's brown eyes were sparkling with jest. It really was not fair, having them both gang up on him like this.

"Oh all right, I admit it. The mighty Thor is a bit saddle-stiff. But it shall not affect my performance in the ring, of that I can assure you."

It did. That morning, Thor suffered one of the most humiliating defeats of his entire training. While Sif did not gloat excessively, which he was thankful for, that look in her eye, the one that said "I told you so", was enough to make him resolve to practice riding much more frequently. And to get more sleep.

But Thor supposed his own embarrassment was nothing compared to that of Hogun, Volstagg, and Fandral. Hogun, who had always been superstitious, was from that day forward even more so, with a particular emphasis on preventing angering spirits or wights or supernatural creatures of any sort.

As Loki had predicted, it was awhile before they could convince Volstagg to tell them another scary story. Of all three of his friends who remained ignorant to what had truly happened that night, Thor felt the worst about keeping Volstagg in the dark, for he was the one who had most readily followed Thor on the adventure in the first place. Thor would need to think of a subtle yet meaningful way to reward him for his loyalty, without actually bringing up the subject of the spirit. But in the meantime, it was admittedly entertaining to watch the enormous, hulking man jump at shadows for at least a week after the event.

Fandral, however, provided by far the most fun. Every single time he put passed a mirror, the vain young man would check to make sure that his face still possessed the same features it had five minutes ago, and that it had not developed warts or boils or become hideously disfigured. Loki found this particularly amusing, and he formulated a plan to magic away Fandral's mustache. He would have undoubtedly gone through with it, too, if Thor had not finally and definitively put his foot down, saying that he would make the truth known about the whole thing if the end to the active doing-of-mischief was not reached then and there. Loki assented, unhappily, but he still made the ends of the cherished patch of facial hair droop uncontrollably for a couple of days. Just for good measure.

Sif, ever the quick learner, took quite well to chess. After a week of playing Loki and observing his move patterns, she even managed to stalemate him. He was incredibly alarmed at first, stammering in disbelief, his eyes wide. But then Sif had begun to laugh at his reaction, and he had begun to laugh right along with her, probably because he liked the sound of her laugh more than due to any humor he found in the situation. But he was happy to have found someone who he considered a worthy opponent.

It would be several evenings before the two of them were not the only ones enjoying themselves in a state of non-awkwardness as they all sat together in the fireside room. For Thor, Fandral, Hogun, and Volstagg, it would be quite awhile before they could get past their respective embarrassments or stop thinking about that night at the Ugga Ruins. They lived in a perpetual state of discomfort for days.

And although it was nearly a week before Loki was recovered enough to resume his training, he would hold for years to come that his little prank had been worth every sniffle.