Disclaimers: During an illness not long after I saw Thor 2, in my fevered half-sleep I dreamed a rough and much more nonsensical version of this story: a strange combination of Cinderella and Agatha Christie's Ten Little Indians, set in Asgard. Any strangeness left in it or deviations from Marvel movie canon, you may blame on my faithfulness to that dream. My Sigyn (pronounced SEE-guhn) is of my own creation, based on what little is known about her from actual Norse tradition (pleasingly little, for my purposes). She bears no relation to the Marvel comics Sigyn. I am familiar with the Marvel universe only by way of the films, so discerning comic lovers may want to give my stories a miss. This is my first foray into fanfiction, and I hope it will soothe your life's troubles the way it soothed mine.

Chapter One - Presentation

Sigyn Eiriksdottir was the two hundred ninety-seventh maiden in line to present herself to Prince Loki, newly-named heir of Asgard. The trickster prince was allegedly redeemed from a lifetime of wickedness by a near-death experience on Svartalfheim, but Sigyn had seen too many faces of Loki Silver-tongue over the years to give this particular one much credence. She wasn't here seeking his approval.

By the time she was close enough to see that ridiculous helmet, her feet were twin throbbing torments in the punishing boots she'd chosen. High heels, elegant laces - they'd seemed like a good idea when she'd been unexpectedly showered with coin. Odin All-father - though supposedly bedridden with grief for his lost wife - had been generous enough to gift all five hundred of the invited maidens a clothing allowance, so that none might have an advantage over the other in appearance. A magnanimous gesture in theory, but no amount of gold was going to give Sigyn a decent cleavage, or straighten her nose, or soften the square lines of her jaw. The enforcement of sartorial equality served only to give advantage to those women who had been born beautiful.

All the same, Sigyn had been unable to resist this once-in-a-lifetime chance to indulge in elegance. To show off a slender neck and graceful collarbone, to cover her callused hands with elbow-length gloves, to contort and torment her normally lank hair into a cascade of ringlets that looked to have been shaved from fresh white pine.

Never mind the scornful glances of these highborn ladies who read her poor breeding in the asymmetrical lines of her face. Never mind that her invitation was meant only as a courtesy to her father, who had died slaying Laufey's guards during the attempted assassination of the king two years previous. Never mind that Sigyn was stealing a place from some fine lady who might have been a legitimate marriage prospect for that piebald weasel of a prince. Sigyn had survived to young adulthood without committing a single selfish act, and tonight she was trying it on to see how it felt.

Like the boots, it was already starting to chafe. What was her purpose here? What had she been thinking? Even if some myopic highborn lad did pass over the beauties on either side of her and whisk her onto the ballroom floor, she could hardly walk, let alone dance.

Sigyn looked down the line ahead of her to the front, where the latest prospect spread her frothy silk skirt as she knelt. Her hair was the color of candlelight, her dress like a splash of seafoam. It was hard to see where Loki was looking, but given the woman's plump silhouette and the depth of her obeisance, Sigyn could hazard a guess. The guard standing to Loki's left read her name off of a ceremonial scroll in a strident tone, as he had all the others. "Aesa Grimsdottir! Granddaughter of Snorri Half-Bear, victorious general of the Battle of the Red Sands!"

Sigyn still couldn't see the prince's face, only his helmet and the slim straightness of his form. As he lifted his arm, she could see the deep green lining of his fur-trimmed cloak. He gestured imperiously to his right, where some two dozen women were already waiting. Two dozen out of the nearly three hundred who had so far presented themselves. The chosen ones.

Aesa's shoulders hitched in what looked like a suppressed squeal; then she gathered her skirts gracefully and hurried to join the others. Lambs to the slaughter, all of them. They seemed pale and feverish; fans were opened and closed and opened again, trembling hands smoothed already perfect hair. Was it the nervousness of anticipation, or were they wise enough to be afraid?

The next girl looked as flawless to Sigyn as the rest of them, but apparently she didn't pass royal muster. When the prince gestured off to the left, indicating that she should head to the main ballroom, the heartbroken lady didn't even try to contain her sudden barrage of sobs. Sigyn felt a twinge of pity, then remembered that whether the girl knew it or not, she had dodged a poisoned arrow. Odin All-father may have officially pardoned Loki's sins in the wake of his heroism on Svartalfheim, but forgiveness was kindness, not magic. Sigyn didn't believe for one moment that the serpent had been transformed into a stag.

Now there was only one woman between herself and the prince. Despite herself her belly knotted, and she felt the palms of her gloves grow damp. Her cheeks were cold, her knees unsteady. She looked down at her intricate gown, a pale gray-blue like a hazy spring sky, and suddenly wished it were armor. The woman kneeling ahead of her did not pass muster either, apparently; at Loki's gesture she rose with great dignity and exited to the left. Sigyn advanced to take her place; now there was nothing between herself and Loki but silk and fifteen feet of air.

When she raised her eyes to look at the prince's gaunt, familiar face, her nervousness abated instantly. The helmet with its great curving golden horns was too much for his slender frame; it made him look like a boy dressed in his father's clothes. Her fear of him evaporated, leaving nothing but gut-souring scorn. Had she really once found him beautiful? He was like some unholy cross between a reptile and a cave grub.

"Sigyn Eiriksdottir!" trumpeted the guard at Loki's side. "Daughter of Eirik Halfdanarson, who slew five frost giants to protect Odin All-Father and his lady Queen!"

The crowd quieted. Sigyn's was an awkward claim to fame, given how futile her father's sacrifice seemed now, with the king dying and the queen's death so recent, so violent. But that wasn't the worst irony of this honor done to her father. Remembering the worst of it, she found that her spine and legs had turned to ice, and would not move.

She stood and stared directly into Loki's pale eyes. The corners of his mouth twitched as he stared back with amused astonishment: the look of a man still uncertain how to react to an act of blatant insanity.

The guard cleared his throat. "Show the Prince your respect," he said, almost kindly, as though the daft kitchen-girl were merely ignorant of proper courtly etiquette.

"I am," Sigyn heard herself say. The silence was excruciating; her voice fell into it like a rock down a well. "I am showing my respect for the savages who slew my father here in this very palace - and my respect for the man who invited them in."

Loki's expression froze into something blank and dangerous. But Sigyn had opened the bottle, and she would not stop until she had drunk its dregs. She gathered her will and turned to face the crowd. A scullery-maid turning her back on the heir of Asgard. She did not expect to live out the night.

"Do none of you wonder at the All-father's absence here tonight?" she asked in a rush while she still breathed. "Is it truly grief that keeps him abed? How far would Loki Silver-tongue go to gain a throne?" She raised her voice over the swelling murmurs of shock and outrage. "How many times has he brought ruin to those who thought themselves his allies? Whom does he serve but himself? Hear me, and do not bind yourself to this - this man-child, this liar, this power-starved betrayer of kin. Leave this hall while you have the chance. Leave Asgard, if you can, for this land will not be safe under-"

A guard's hand was over her mouth now, his other arm wrapped crushingly around her middle. She didn't struggle; it would only make his armored grip all the more painful. The guard turned back toward Loki, turning Sigyn with him, and the prince no longer looked like a boy in a man's armor. He had drawn a cruel curved blade and stood before the throne, tall and horned and terrible, with eyes like the abyss between worlds. He would cut her down and she would fall at his feet, pale silk drenched with hot blood. They would see him for the beast he was. She would die with with purpose, as her father had.

But then Loki pulled the rug from under her courage.

He smiled.

A slow smile, like an expanding crack in unstable ice. His eyes grew bright and hard as diamonds. He sheathed his weapon, then let the lush folds of his fur-trimmed cloak fall back over it. He backed up, three playful steps, then sank gracefully back onto his throne.

"The girl speaks treason," he said in a velvety voice that carried to every corner of the tomb-silent hall. "And there was a time, not long past, when I would have made her pay the price."

Sigyn could almost hear the collective hammering of the thousand hearts that crowded the hall.

"But not tonight," he said softly. As he continued to speak, his voice gradually rose, ringing with conviction. "Tonight we leave aside our griefs, our fears, our anger. Tonight, I choose to lighten my heart. This is a night to dance, to be merry, to show our enemies that Asgard is a place of beauty and joy, and that our spirits cannot be diminished by their brutality. We should not let the bitterness of this poor grief-stricken girl dim the light that the rest of you have brought to this enduring hall. Knowing myself how grief can cloud the mind, I will forgive her as the All-father has forgiven me. Come, Sigyn Eiriksdottir. Take my hand in friendship, and then join the others in the ballroom."

Loki extended his hand, gloved in black velvet, palm up, but remained seated on his throne.

Tentatively the guard released Sigyn, but she didn't move. She was caught in a moment of vertigo; his pose had jarred loose a scene from her childhood.

Tagging along behind her father, mother too sick to watch her. She was so small that the memory was only an exaggerated sketch, but the princes were nearly men already: sun and moon, the future of Asgard. Loki, his pale hand stretched toward her, something glittering-sweet in his palm. Thor stepping to his side, laying a sun-bronzed hand over the candy before she could take it.

"Never take candy from a stranger," Thor had said to her, eyes gentle as an Asgard summer despite his imposing bulk. "Especially not this stranger," he'd added, slanting Loki a look decidedly less gentle. And then the two had walked on, bickering, the guard's little girl already forgotten.

A different guard cleared his throat. In the here and now, Loki was still holding out his hand toward her.

Sigyn shook her head once, barely perceptible, still holding Loki's eyes. The sudden flash of thwarted rage she saw in them gave her an unaccountable impulse to laugh. But she kept her face a stony mask, and did not release the prince's gaze.

"I do not blame her for being afraid," he said with a self-deprecating smile as he slowly withdrew his hand. A ripple of surprised mirth moved through the crowd behind her; she could almost feel them releasing held breaths. "Have it your way, Sigyn Eiriksdottir," said Loki in a tone of theatrical defeat, and repeated the gesture he had made for more than ten score women, an elegant sweep of his arm to the left and a gracious inclination of his head. No one but Sigyn and the guards heard the words he growled toward the floor.

"Lock her in the dungeon," he said, his voice dripping venom.

When he looked up, his smile for the crowd was radiant.