Rated T for violence, suggestive themes, and sensuality.

Disclaimer: I do not own Marvel. I would probably be luxuriating in a giant cash pile if I did.


ONE


an unexpected visitor


The sky glimmered with the warmth of daybreak. Curling my hand in the tangle of bedclothes, I blinked away the weariness and refused to let sleep steal away the vision that lay before me. Like a child at play, the sun slowly peeked over the horizon, basking all it could touch. A spectrum of reds and yellows lit the sky, the colours shining across the rolling hills and sprawling woods. The lands of Vanaheim looked to be aglow in fire.

With a smile, I clambered out of bed and padded onto the balcony. Leaning on the balustrade, I tilted my face upwards to revel in the burgeoning heat of the sun. Autumn was upon Vanaheim, and soon the clouds would take up residence in the skies above. I'd woken to watch the sun's ascent, the dawning of a new day. Many months would pass before I'd be able to witness such beauty again.

A soft knock at my bedchamber door pulled me away from the sight. "Enter!"

The door opened to reveal my handmaiden, eyes bright and cheery. Somehow she was able to awaken before me every day; and my father called me an early riser. "A fine morning, is it not, my lady?" Arlessa said, bustling about my room to prepare my attire for the day.

"Yes, lovely indeed," I sighed. "I will miss it. The rains will be coming soon, no doubt."

Arlessa hummed in agreement as she went rifling through my wardrobe. She selected a sleeveless apricot coloured dress, one of my more practical garments. "Your father bid me to tell you he's gone to meet Queen Frigga at the Bifrost site."

"My father has?" I furrowed my brow. "But where has Lord Njord gone?"

"He was called away to Alfheim on an urgent matter," she said. "Thus, your father has taken up his duties. For three days, he shall be tasked with entertaining the queen during her visit."

Though a nod from me swept aside the topic of conversation, I was left wondering what matter was so urgent for Lord Njord to leave in the night. The queen's visit occurred once every ten years, a gesture to keep the bonds between Asgard and Vanaheim strong. Lord Njord never missed such an occurrence before. I had half a mind to ask Arlessa what called him away, but I knew she wouldn't have enquired my father any further.

As the sunlight streamed across my bedchamber, Arlessa helped me clothe, tightening the laces of my dress with expert fingers. With a playful tune on her lips, she sat me before my vanity and braided my unruly waves into a single plait. "I am sure your father expects you to dine with him and the queen tonight," Arlessa remarked. My heart skipped a beat at the thought. I held a great admiration for the queen, she who was born of my people. It was not her royal standing that I esteemed, rather, it was her talent for magic. To make her acquaintance would have been the greatest honour. "I'll see to it that your finest dress is prepared for tonight, my lady."

I beamed while Arlessa twisted my plait, pinning it in place with my favourite golden hair comb. "Arlessa, you know me so well." I rose from my seat to face her, she who served as my handmaiden since my youth. After so many years, she knew me better than anyone else. "I don't know what I'd ever do without you."

"Verily, you would flounder," Arlessa quipped. "You'd be completely lost without me."

I laughed. "With that, I cannot argue." I swept across the room, pausing only when I reached the doorway. "If I am needed, I shall be in the house of healing."

She waved me off. "Good day to you, my lady."

Leaving Arlessa to her devices, I escaped the confines of my bedchamber and ventured through the castle with ease. There was a chill in the morning air when I entered the courtyard. Fighting back a shiver, I hastily waved a hand over my head, casting away the cold with a simple spell. I took comfort in the breeze then, feeling only its caress and none of its bite.

Grass crunched beneath my feet as I strolled, lifting my gaze to watch as the sky's fiery glow faded into a deep azure. Little by little, the sun inched its way higher in the blue, its rays glistening in the morning dew. By the time I reached the house of healing, the clouds had rolled in, overcoming the sun and every speck of sky, hiding them away for another day.

I exchanged short greetings with my fellow healers upon entering the chamber. A number of years past, I began frequenting the house of healing with ambitions of having more to offer my realm. Being a lady of the court felt unfulfilling after so many years of needlework, music and dance—all things enjoyable, but in my heart I never felt it was enough. As the daughter of the Lord High Steward of Vanaheim, I believed I was meant to contribute more. I could never be my father's heir, but I would do my best to achieve something worthy.

The head healer, Hyldir, had seen fit to mentor me during my time as a novice. On this fine morning, while examining a patient, she nodded to me upon my approach. "Good morrow, Eirlys."

"Good morrow." I slowed to a stop at the bedside of a fevered child, a small girl named Freidel, who clutched onto her most favoured doll and never let it go. She slept soundly now, her fever broken, or so I judged by Hyldir's satisfied hum when she removed her hand from the girl's brow. "I hope she slept well in the night."

"She did, much thanks to your spell." Hyldir glanced up at me briefly. "Her temperature stayed low long enough for her to sleep suitably. The heat of her fever returned shortly this morning before breaking at last."

I adjusted the blankets around Freidel. "It was the least I could do."

Hyldir reached out and placed a weathered hand on my shoulder. "You've learned much during your time here. Your mother would be proud." I gave her a shaky smile, unbidden memories of this very house floating to the surface of my mind. After a moment, she let her hand fall away and motioned in the direction of the herb garden. "All seems to be well this morning. Perhaps you would like some lessons in the way of herbology?"

"Of course."

The house of healing carried on in relative quiet for the remains of the day. A boy with a scraped knee arrived some time in the late morning. Though I had no difficulty tending to him, curing small wounds like scrapes and cuts were the extent of my healing magic. The day I'd volunteered to work in the house of healing was also the day I started my studies in magic. After several decades of learning what I could, my aptitude for magic had reached a standstill. The paltry library limited my capacity to learn, and there was little I could do to change that.

In the late afternoon, a lady of the court arrived. She looked quite out of place in the house of healing, for her attire was grand and she seemed neither ill nor injured. I observed her as she paced the house and stopped only to speak to Hyldir. There was a peculiar familiarity in the way they conversed. Something about the courtier made me think I'd seen her before, but I simply could not recall.

My curiosity was piqued, but before I could approach, I was diverted by another visitor. Halios, a Vanir hunter, had arrived for a spell to ward him from the cold. Upon welcoming him, I waved my hand in a circular motion, casting the spell I'd become uniquely adept at.

"It will only last for several hours, as you know," I told him. He grinned, and I shared his mirth. So frequent were his visits that he needed no longer speak his request. "Hunt well, good Halios. May your aim be true and your belly full of succulent meat this night."

"Many thanks, Lady Eirlys," he said with a gracious bow. "Perhaps I shall gift you with a boar if my hunt does indeed fare well."

I smiled. "I anticipate it."

Bowing once more, he turned and jauntily marched from the house of healing. As he left, I caught sight of the unfamiliar courtier treading the aisle, heading in my direction. Her eyes scanned the empty beds before lingering over Freidel. The little girl was awake now and slurping generous amounts of soup; she even fed some to her doll, much to Hyldir's exasperation. When the finely-dressed courtier neared, her gaze was quick to fall upon me.

"Good day, my lady," I greeted. "Are you well?"

"I am well." She seemed rather amused by the question. "You are Lady Eirlys, I presume?"

"Indeed, I am."

"You have a gift for magic." She glimpsed over my shoulder in the direction Halios had gone.

"I am nothing more than a healer's attendant," I said, ducking my head. "My magic does not extend further than a few protection spells and some meagre healing."

The lady shook her head and drew closer, the gold embroidery of her ivory dress shimmering in the light. "On the contrary," she said with a benevolent smile. "You have much untapped power, I perceive it within you."

I eyed her carefully, unsure of how she knew what kind of power I held or why this was of any significance to her. Taking in her features and her attire, it was then that I noticed the circlet resting upon her auburn hair. It sparkled more brightly than any adornment I had seen before. My heart dropped and the blood drained from my face when I realized who she was.

I nearly tripped over the skirt of my dress in my haste to curtsey before the queen. "Queen Frigga, I did not recognize you." I felt extremely foolish for my lack of regard. It had been many decades since I last saw the queen. Never had I spoken to her, but I respected her from afar. "I was not expecting your visit here—in the house of healing, that is."

"Do not fret," the queen said. "There is no need for such formalities. I was once a maiden in the house of healing myself." She gestured to the empty beds that stood on either side of us. "Always a good sign."

I bowed my head, my face heated now. To be in the presence of one so well versed in magic was humbling indeed. "Your Majesty, I greatly admire your gift for healing and protection."

"And your father has informed me of your gift for magic," Queen Frigga replied. "Though you may not be exceedingly knowledgeable of the art, I see you have potential."

"I fear my talent for magic has peaked," I remarked. "I have gleaned all that I can from the books we have in Vanaheim. Unfortunately, healing magic takes precedence, and I have never had much of a hand for healing." I shook my head slightly. "I have also taken an interest in the art of protection, though it is not studied by many. You are one of the few."

"Indeed, I was apprenticed to the wisest of tutors. Most practitioners your age would have finished an apprenticeship by now." She looked at me quietly, contemplatively. Then she graced me with another smile. An oddly knowing smile. "I will be dining with you and your father tonight. We will have much to discuss. Until then, I hope the house of healing remains as quiet as it has been."

"Thank you, Your Majesty. I hope you will enjoy your time in Vanaheim."

I walked her to the door, and we exchanged cordial farewells before she made her exit. Standing in the doorway, I watched her go, trepidation crawling its way into my mind. Of what did we have to discuss? I wondered. The curiosity remained as I shut the door and returned to the calm of the house of healing.

The wait for supper's arrival was not an easy one.

When evening fell, I found myself in the antechamber of the dining hall, awaiting the queen's entry. I paced in front of the fireplace, fiddling with the long, dagged sleeves of my dress. My father sat beside me, languidly sipping on his wine. Both of us had arrived early. Father always prided himself as being better than punctual, and I was to be the same.

Long ago, before I was born, he had been an eminent military leader. Punctual and stern, he was known to be. His sense of duty was well-renowned, and the warriors under his command gladly followed his example. During the time of the Aesir-Vanir War, he fought and negotiated with the Asgardians with equal fervour. Some time after war's end, he was among the warriors who fought the Frost Giants from Midgard to Jotunheim alongside the Aesir. So esteemed he was, the previous High Lord Steward of Vanaheim, having had no heirs, named my father his successor.

Abruptly, I halted to face him. He looked up from the small book in his hand and offered me one of his unfailingly patient smiles. I wished to enquire about the queen's visit to the house of healing. Something told me he was aware that she'd spoken to me, but he was not entirely aware of what had transpired.

Instead, I asked about another oddity that had arisen that morning, "Why did Lord Njord leave so suddenly in the night? It was always he who presided over Queen Frigga's visits."

"Njord was called away to Alfheim," Father said, looking back down at his book as if the topic were inconsequential and not worth a few seconds of his precious time. "There has apparently been a dispute between the Light Elves and Frey. Lord Njord has gone to settle the matter."

Frey—Lord Frey—was the son of Lord Njord. He'd been appointed the ruler of Alfheim by the All-Father himself following the Aesir-Vanir War. It was of no surprise that the Light Elves of Alfheim were chafed at his imposed rule. "Has there been much conflict of late?" I asked.

My father shook his head mildly. "It is nothing for you to be concerned about, my daughter."

Turning towards the fire, I clenched my hands together before me and frowned. His dismissive tone was something I'd heard often. Despite its regularity, the sting never lessened.

It wasn't long before the doors to the antechamber opened, a painful creak sounding as it did so. Queen Frigga glided in, clad in a golden gown, her auburn locks piled elegantly atop her head. I wished I had half her grace. And half her talent for magic.

Father approached the queen with open arms. "Good evening, my lady."

"Indeed it is, Bjoran." Queen Frigga kissed both his whiskery cheeks. She advanced towards me, that same motherly smile she graced me with earlier in place. "Eirlys, you look lovely this evening."

"As do you, my lady."

My father smiled graciously, gesturing towards the door. "Let us dine," he declared. "We have a delectable feast to attend to."

We made our way into the dining hall, a long and towering chamber. Stained glass windows adorned the far wall, depicting scenes of nature—the beauty of Vanaheim. The walls on either side sported golden banners bearing the Vanir sigil: a swirling orange-red sun, vibrant and glaring; it almost seemed to glow against the gold. The centrepiece was an ancient table, a gift from the Aesir following the war. It was scuffed and dented beneath the tablecloth and could seat nearly fifty guests. For tonight, there would only be three of us.

"It has been quite some time since I've been in here," Queen Frigga commented fondly. We took our places at the far end of the hall with my father at the head of the table.

Our first course was served immediately: a warm, creamy shellfish soup. I quietly sipped the broth and listened to the queen recount tales of her youth. She'd been the daughter of a nobleman, apprenticed at a young age before toiling in the house of healing during the war. She spoke of how Lord Njord chose her, of all courtiers, to marry the All-Father. As she told me this, she seemed proud of the role she played in uniting the Aesir and the Vanir, her eyes gleaming while she spoke.

When the second course was served—a dish of leafy greens with strawberry vinaigrette—Queen Frigga turned the conversation to me, "Eirlys, I found myself wondering if you are betrothed."

My eyes widened as I scrambled to keep my fork from clattering noisily on my plate. Questions about one's marital prospects were often followed by proposals, or so I'd witnessed. "No, I am not betrothed," I answered. "Though I am sure to be destined for a political match." My father had always been a pragmatist; a love marriage was never to be in my future.

"Do not be so troubled, for what I am about to offer is of no relation to marriage whatsoever," Queen Frigga assured me. "I have been searching for a new apprentice for quite some time, therefore I wish to extend to you an apprenticeship. I have seen some of your skill and I have heard accounts of your aptitude." I recalled seeing Hyldir and the queen speaking amicably in the house of healing earlier that day; she must have been enquiring about me. "I believe that you have great potential to learn magic, but you cannot accomplish that on your own."

My first reaction was to look at my father. No decision was ever made without his approval first. I desperately wanted to agree. An apprenticeship would open the way for a multitude of opportunities. I could imagine myself becoming a true healer, curing the sick and the wounded, saving lives. Perhaps even more appealing to me was the idea of travelling to Asgard and seeing all the Nine Realms had to offer. With excitement bubbling inside me, there was a distinct urge to leap from my seat and shout 'YES!' but I refrained from doing so.

Father bowed his head, seemingly considering the queen's proposal. "It would be a wonderful opportunity, indeed," he said. My heart dipped as I thought he would follow with a refuting statement. But he did not. "The choice is yours, Eirlys." He peered at the queen. "I assume she will have to relocate to Asgard."

"Yes, of course." Queen Frigga nodded. "When my visit here ends, she will leave with me." She gazed upon me with kindly eyes. "You may return home as often as you'd like, so long as it does not interfere with your lessons."

"Then yes. Yes, of course I accept," I said, bouncing slightly in my seat. I had to grip the edges of my chair to keep myself from launching to my feet.

"It is settled, then." The queen all but glowed. "It has been many a year since I last took on an apprentice."

"I am greatly honoured, my lady." My cheeks hurt, so widely I was grinning. "I... I know not how to thank you. I feel words would not suffice."

"There is no need. I will be learning from you as much as you will be learning from me," Queen Frigga said gently. Then she raised her goblet of wine. "A toast. To the wealth of knowledge and those who seek it."

We raised our goblets and drank.

That night, when I climbed into bed, only one thing went through my mind: I had never left home before. Now that I was going to Asgard, I wanted to experience all I could. I dreamed of embarking on grand adventures, of travelling across the Realms to see great beauty and magnificent cities. I knew that residing in Asgard would change my life forever. My mind raced with all the possibilities, the fulfilling future I would finally be able to achieve.

The elation flowing through my veins was so resonant, it wasn't until the sun began to rise that I realized I hadn't slept a wink.


Author's Note: Fret not, Loki will make his debut in the next chapter. I feel as though it bears mentioning that this takes place some years before the movie(s), hence the slight 'OOCness' you may or may not encounter. I also admit to taking some liberties with Queen Frigga's character, seeing as she has all of ten lines in the movie. I kinda made some stuff up about her based on what I found from the comics.

If anyone was wondering, the name Eirlys is pronounced EYER-liss. Bjoran is pronounced BE-yor-an.

Since I sometimes use song titles as the titles of chapters (and the fic itself), I feel the need to share it. The song in the story title is Learn Me Right by Mumford & Sons, featuring Birdy (it's also a reference to the sister song Not With Haste).

Feel free to leave a review! It would be much appreciated.