((A/N: NO EVERYONE, THIS STORY IS NOT DEAD, I AM JUST THE SLOWEST UPDATER IN THE WORLD! XD Thank you to all of you who are still reading and enjoying this story. I hope this chapter was at least a little worth the wait. All of my love to all of you and I will see you at the next chapter. A HAPPY NEW YEAR AND SO MUCH LOVE TO YOU ALL!)
Ellie carefully set the arrow in the rest, pulling back the string as she lifted up the bow, holding the arrow carefully between the tips of her index and middle finger. She took a deep breath, trying to recall Clint's words as she looked across the arena at the target…
" Make sure to lift your elbow up and draw the string back so your finger just barely touches the edge of the right side of your chin. That's your anchor point, okay? You draw your string there every time you shoot. When you're ready to fire, keep your eyes right on your target, but don't take the shot until you feel you're ready. For now, just fire when you feel comfortable."
She swallowed, holding her bow arm as still as she could. It still made her arm ache to hold the bow out and steady.
"Your arm's gonna ache for a while, you'll get used to it. Just stretch properly afterwards, you'll be fine."
No matter how happy Clint's voice sounded in her head, it didn't stop her wishing he could be here now, saying those words for all to hear. She held her bow tighter. She'd find a way to make him proud, someway.
She looked across at the lone target, readying herself. Finally, she flicked her fingers out and released the arrow.
It struck the very, very edge of the target, wedging itself into the straw and swaying slightly in. Ellie sighed. Well, it was better than a full miss, at least. With a good sixteen arrows in her quiver, only five had made it onto the target, and that was at the edge. The other eleven were edged into the wall right behind her intended target. Nowhere close to Clint's level of still. She put her bow and quiver down and started across the arena to collect her arrows.
The training ground was completely bare that afternoon. Some equipment had been set up off to the side, but since several sparing matches had been positioned due to Thor's return- or so she'd been informed, she had the area to herself for the afternoon.
The training ground to Lady Frigga had directed her to was adjacent to the open arena located only a short walk from the center of the palace. As Lady Frigga had told her, was the main center for sporting events in Asgard and hosted multiple events year round. It reminded Ellie of the Coliseum in Rome- She'd gone there once on a school trip and spent an afternoon exploring the site-but she guessed that "Death-Matches" were not the norm here. Unless it was between an Asgardian and a creature ten times his size.
When she'd finished collecting her arrows and making sure her target was still in good condition, she started back towards the other end of the arena. Her mind still partially on the conversation she'd had with Lady Frigga before.
"You lack instinct." A voice pulled her from her thoughts. She looked up.
The figure addressing her stepped through the entrance and onto the training grounds. A beautiful woman with long, dark hair and silver and red armor. The same woman who'd attacked Loki so openly in Odin's throne room! At a distance, she'd appeared powerful, up close, she seemed deadly. A warrior with great power and a fire within her that was more than willing to strike first, question later. Her presence alone made Ellie pause in her place.
"I'm sorry?" She asked as the woman approach.
"Your form is strong," the woman said. "You were trained well." She motioned to see Ellie's bow. Ellie carefully handed it to the older woman.
"Crafted to your hand," She aimed it, handling it with the most care. "This is a fine weapon. A true marksman gave this to you, yes?"
Ellie thought back to Clint, her final good-bye with him. But she pressed back the feeling of sadness and nodded.
"Yes," She said. "It was a going-away gift."
The woman's eyes, sharp and fiery as they were, softened ever so slightly. But she shook the feeling away and handed the bow back to Ellie.
"He taught you well in form, but you lack the instinct needed for battle."
Ellie blinked. "How do you mean?"
"Your firing only on form alone, you're not relying on yourself at all."
Ellie's look of confusion must have been more present than she would have liked. The woman motioned to her quiver. "Draw your arrow and set it."
Ellie did as she was told.
Ellie did, remembering the position Clint had showed her. The woman looked at her, nodding at what she saw.
"Good." She said. "Now wait."
That caught Ellie a little off guard. Wait? How long did she expect her to wait? Several seconds went by and still nothing. Ellie felt her arm on the verge of trembling. What did this woman-
She heard foot steps as the woman came up beside her. She leaned forward a little, speaking softly.
"What you are seeing before you is not a target," she said. "It is your enemy. And the arrow you have in your bow is your only arrow left. Unless you know you can hit your enemy, do not take your shot. When you know that you can hit your enemy, release your arrow."
Ellie let the words settle within her, mixing with the words Clint had told her before. Her arms were so close to trembling, but she took slow and careful breathes, fighting to keep them still."
"Don't take the shot until you feel you're ready."
"When you know that you can hit your enemy, release your arrow."
Ellie stared ahead at the target, refusing to take her eyes away from it.
"My enemy," the words barely escaped her lips. She focused all her attention, her mind, her energy upon that target.
In her mind, an image of Loki flashed. Right at the center of the target. His eyes met her eyes...
And she knew she could get him.
Feeling a surge within her, she released the arrow.
Not a direct bullseye, but much, much more towards the middle of the target. Ellie dropped her arms, biting her tongue to keep from groaning in pain in front of this woman. She looked up, gaining a nod of approval from the warrior woman.
"Well done," She said, smiling at Ellie. Ellie couldn't help but smile back, despite the aching.
By the next hour, Ellie doubted she'd be able to ever lift her arms easily again. She'd practiced the same technique under the warrior woman's tutelage and while she still lacked consistent aim, all of her arrows did hit the target and much more to the center than they had been before. The woman nodded at each strike, that same smile staying on her lips. She watched as Ellie drew another arrow, but when she saw the bright pinkness in the girl's cheeks, she moved forward.
"That's enough for this day," she said. A very tired, but relieved and pleased Ellie lowered her bow.
"You were trained well on Midgard," she said. "When did you begin to learn?"
"In truth?" Ellie said, wiping more sweat from her brow. "Only a few days before I came here."
The woman raised her eyebrows, impressed. "And your teacher?"
"The best archer I've ever met," Ellie said. "The only archer I've ever met," she thought.
"He must have been to take a novice and create a strong student in only a few days," the woman said. "You require work, but you're not without skill."
"Thank you," Ellie said. " The woman motioned for her to follow her to the target. "I'm glad Lady Frigga told me about this place. I'll be able to practice more."
"Practice is good, but without training, you'll get no where." The woman's eyes darted back to Ellie. "I'll aid you in this endeavor if you so wish."
Ellie stopped dead in her tracks, staring at the woman like she was holding out a baby puppy.
"You… you would?" She asked. "You would be willing to train me?"
"If you believe it would aid you," The woman said, a light smile on her lips.
"Yes, yes, yes! Oh, yes, thank you, I-" Ellie paused in her moment of excitement, catching the perplexed look the woman had on her face. Ellie forced herself to be calm. "I would love that. Thank you."
The woman nodded. "I finish my own training around 4 O'Clock in the afternoon every day. Meet me here an hour after."
Ellie nodded, happy that the time did not conflict with her lessons with Lady Frigga in the morning. "Perfect, I'll do that."
"I'll see about teaching you to properly ride a horse as well," The woman added. Ellie blinked, about to open her mouth when the woman gave Ellie another sly grin. "Your body posture rang of inexperience and such knowledge is invaluable if you wish to travel about Asgard quickly. I doubt you'll want to spend all your time in the palace."
Ellie recalled the previous day, riding into Asgard. She had been holding that guard's arm pretty tightly and her dismount had been… less than graceful, with two other guards helping her down. She nodded as they reached the target.
"That'd be a big help," She said, beginning to collect her arrows.
"I don't know how you did it."
"Neither do I," Ellie said, turning around. "I hadn't ridden a horse for so long, if that guard hadn't been holding me-"
"That isn't what I'm speaking of," The woman said, her voice stronger than it had been previously. She approached Ellie again, staring into her eyes.
"To be under anyone's power is a fate worse than death," the woman said. "But for it to have been Loki…" She put her hand on Ellie's shoulder. "I've seen him drive men to insanity. His wickedness knows no limits and yet you did not crumble to it. You lost neither your mind nor your heart. To find the strength in such darkness is a gift."
Ellie looked back at the woman, feeling herself clutching her bow tighter as several dark memories came back. "I could have been stronger," She said softly, remembering the terrified look in Henry's eyes.
"Perhaps," The woman said. "But what you endured did can not be overlooked. You must possess a great deal of inner strength, Daughter of Conner."
"Oh. Ellie," Ellie gave her a little smile. "Just "Ellie" is fine."
The woman returned the smile. "Very well, Ellie. I am Sif of Asgard." She held out her hand. Ellie reached out to shake it, but Sif's hand went to grasp the inner side of her forearm, wrapping around it supportively. Ellie looked at Sif before copying the gesture, like they were shaking each others wrist, not hands. But Sif nodded to her in response and Ellie accepted, smiling at her.
"Thank you, Lady Sif."
Sif broke from their "handshake" and pulled the final arrow out from the target, handing it to Ellie.
"Give it time," Sif said. "And one day Loki will find an arrow through his eye."
Ellie's smile couldn't help but grow.
"You can not corrupt someone who already loathes me, Sif," Loki said aloud, staring at the image of his flower holding the arm of a lady warrior, though there was no doubt in his mind it was Sif. "I'd have thought you'd have known this already." He chuckled. "Aid her rage all you wish, beautiful maid, fate has still cast me the winning hand…Ultimately." His eyes darted about his cell. " And you, my flower, might I guess whom you were aiming for?" He clicked his tongue. "How unkind, my dear, how unkind."
He leaned back in his chair, watching his flower begin to walk again, no doubt returning to the palace after a long session of training. She'd go to wash now; Loki's lips curled at the thought. In truth, he'd never beheld his flower completely unclothed. It might be pleasant to watch. But knowing her, she'd make quick work of it and dress for dinner. Would she be going to that ridiculous banquet? No doubt. He pondered what kind of dress she'd wear. Tight fitting, accenting every curve of her body? Flowing? Making her appear like a fresh summer breeze? Her hair brushing her shoulders…
Loki shook his head. Where were these thoughts coming from? His flower was beautiful, he knew this. Why focus so tightly on it? Yes, he missed seeing her beauty in person, but he had to endure it for the time being. Besides, he could still see the image of her he projected.
But he could not hear her voice…
Her warm voice, even when it spit words of hate at him… Her warm, inviting voice, one that bore the spirit of an active inner child-
Enough, Loki chastised himself. No more of these foolish thoughts. He'd have her again in enough time, even Frigga's words could not prevent that. He dismissed the image of her, returning to his book, trying desperately to focus on the page in front of him. But it wasn't long before the want to see her again summoned the little image back to his hand.
"You'll be at the banquet tonight, I assume?" Sif said as they walked back to the palace through the royal gardens.
"Banquet?" Ellie asked, slinging her bow over her shoulder.
"A celebration for Thor's return to Asgard and his victory on earth," Sif said with a half smile. "Surprisingly, this one was not requested by Thor himself."
Ellie gave a little smile. "Spends a lot of time at parties, eh?" She asked.
"He would celebrate his victories for weeks on end," she said. "You'll be attending?"
"Oh," Ellie said. "I wasn't given an invitation."
"A private invitation is not required," Sif said. "It's open to all of Asgard. And I suspect Lady Frigga would love to see you there."
Ellie's eyes lit up at once. "Well… Then, of course I'll go!" She said brightly. She quickly looked down at her clothes. "I'll need something nicer to wear though." She thought back to the dress she had worn earlier today. Maybe Lady Frigga would allow her to borrow it again.
Sif grinned. "I'm sure you'll find something," she said, looking just over Ellie's head. "Right about now, in fact."
Ellie turned around to see a young woman approaching them, dressed in a fine, but simple gown. She bowed a little to Lady Sif before turning to Ellie.
"Ellie of Midgard?" She asked.
Ellie swallowed. "Yes?" She said, a little uncertain.
The woman smiled. "I am Anitra, Lady Frigga's maid servant. Her ladyship sent me with an invitation to tonight's banquet in honor of Prince Thor's return. If you wish to attend, she asked that I aid in helping you prepare.
Bewilderment and amazement crossed Ellie's face. Out of the conner of her eye. A smile was firmly set upon Sif's lips. She patted Ellie on the shoulder.
"I will see you tonight," She said and headed off in her own direction. Ellie watched her go before being pulled back to the moment by a light hand on her shoulder.
"Lady Ellie?" Anitra asked. "Are you well?"
She shook the puzzled expression off her face. "Yep, Yes, I'm fine," she said. She smiled at Anitra. "I accept the queen's invitation and would be very happy to attend."
"Wonderful," Anitra smiled. "I'll accompany you back to your quarters to help you prepare."
"All right," Ellie said as they entered the palace. "But… you really don't have to make a big deal over me. I mean, I really appreciate the help, I just-"
"It is no trouble at all, Lady Ellie. We are here to help in any way we can."
Ellie thought about it for a minute. "Okay, I-… We?"
It just seemed to be surprise after surprise for Ellie now a days.
Looking back on it, Ellie thought she shouldn't have been so surprised by the group of young ladies greeting her when she returned to her bedroom; particularly on the night of a banquet and knowing nothing of Asgardian fashion. But when they all approached her at once, talking in a mass, taking her bow and arrows, removing her shoes, wrapping measuring tape around various parts of her body and escorting her into the bathroom, she felt for sure they had mistaken her for someone else.
The women talked quickly amongst themselves. Two older women gave Ellie a quick glance over from head to toe and then began a rapid fire discussion on everything from her hair to eye color as they left the bathroom.
Ellie was placed behind a silk partition and told to change just as the sound of running water filled the room and a wisp of steam went past Ellie's nose. She put her archery clothes to one side and wrapped a towel around herself as she stepped out.
The sunken-in bath was already filled with warm water and Anitra was aiding a light pink oil to the water. She motioned for the other ladies to leave to give Ellie some privacy as Ellie quickly slipped into the water. The tub was so deep her feet barely touched the floor, but there was an edge around the middle of the tub for her to sit on. After a few minutes for her to allow herself to relax and simply float in the water. It felt heavenly with the warm water relax the aching muscles in her arms as Anitra began to wash her hair.
"You don't have to do all this for me," Ellie said, looking up at the young woman. "I really don't want to cause all this trouble."
"Aiding a friend of Queen Frigga is no trouble at all," Anitra said, massaging her fingers through Ellie's scalp. "Besides, tonight is your first night among the people of Asgard." She smiled down at Ellie. "I say we show them a lady they shan't ever forget."
Her words made Ellie's cheeks grow red, but she smiled all the same. "Okay," Ellie said. "Whatever you say."
Anitra washed and rises Ellie's hair and then gave her a few minutes to wash herself. Once done, out of the tub and wrapped in a towel, Anitra brought Ellie back into her bedroom, where the other young ladies were waiting. One in particular caught Ellie's eye. She stepped forward, holding something in her arms. Upon closer inspection, Ellie let out a little gasp.
The dress was beautiful. A soft pink material designed to accent her body. The sleeves that came off her shoulders were a long, almost translucent white silk, the same silk that formed a beautiful train along the sides and back of the dress.
"I-" Ellie began.
"I'll have no more of this "bother" nonsense," Anitra smiled, taking the dress from the young lady. "It is lovely. Let's make sure it fits."
She helped Ellie step into the dress and carefully laced it up in the back, allowing the train to hide the strings. She made sure the sleeves were hanging carefully off Ellie's arms, leaving her shoulders bare. She smoothed out the train on her dress, placed a small choker- decorated with a pink diamond- around Ellie's neck, and lined her hair with several pink blossoms.
Ellie stared at her reflection in the mirror. She could hear all the women murmuring approvingly, but she couldn't bring herself to make a sound. Anitra stepped forward, adding a touch of make-up to Ellie's face.
"Do you like it?" She asked, softly. "And none of this "making a fuss" business."
"I… I don't know how to thank you." Ellie said. Not even the yellow dress had made her feel this way. That dress had made her feel like a princess. Now, she felt like a princess about to be crowned a queen. Anitra kissed the girl's hair.
"Have fun tonight." She said. "That will be our thanks, Lady Ellie." Anitra bowed and stepped back, allowing all the other women to give Ellie a little bow. Ellie bowed back, smiling and thanking them each in turn, trying as hard as she could not to tear up and ruin her make-up. She was about to stumble out even more "Thank You's" when a knock at the door grabbed her attention. It opened onto a magnificent sight.
Lady Frigga, her form dressed in a magnificent golden dress lined with diamonds and a cloak flowing off her shoulders, entered the room. Ellie swore she'd never seen a more graceful being in her life and could not help but bow along with the other ladies in the room. Frigga bid them rise before looking at Ellie. Before long, a kind smile crossed her lips.
"A maid of two worlds," She said. "Tonight, Asgard welcomes home its prince and opens its arms to a new daughter. Are you ready?"
Ellie knew she couldn't be more un-ready if she tried. But she could feel something surging through her. A warmth, a comfort she'd felt not only from Frigga, but from Anitra, the other ladies who'd aided her tonight and from Sif this afternoon.
She knew she'd never be fully ready, but she knew she wasn't scared.
"Yes," she said. "I'm ready."
Frigga nodded, offering Ellie her hand as she escorted the young woman from her room and down to the grand hall.