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Prodigals (IC)

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The pale, statuesque young woman floated, relaxed and aimless, several hundred miles above the surface of the Earth.  Her arms, legs, and long golden braids drifted limply in seemingly random directions around her as the shining pale blue world spun beneath her.  Her eyes remained closed as she quietly inhaled the crisp, cool air of the winter storm (with just a hint of ozone) which always filled her lungs, regardless of her surroundings.  Of late, Thrude, Daughter of Storms, Princess of Asgard, found peace only in orbit, far above the crowded palaces of Midgard where the mortals seemed never to sleep anymore, where their electric torches were never extinguished and day never truly gave way to night anymore.  Even here, in the silent void, the night sky below her was a sparkling spider's web woven over every land, from coast to coast.


I swore to protect this world and all its peoples.  But I feel less connected to it every day.  I thought I had earned the trust of one mortal, but the Archeville was no comrade to me or his fellow mortals.  He welcomed me with open arms, then stabbed me in the back as soon as I turned it.  A deceiver and traitor every bit as vile as Loki, a beast as bloodthirsty as any jotun or dragon.  Empires rose and fell, and in all that time, the people of Midgard saw only two so-called "champions" from the Aesir.  Both promised to defend them, and both were revealed as the pawns of monsters.  How can they ever trust us again?  How can they see us as heroes and not demons?  The blasphemous mortal who claimed the Fenrir's name for his own saw little difference between me and the Winter Wulf, and he was but one voice in a choir.  Even the Messenger from the slave-god of the eastern deserts looked upon me as his followers do, with two shares of terror in their eyes for every one of hope or relief.  And why would they be anything but afraid, when my sister of shield and spear shepherds their warriors to their doom even when there is no war to fight, no enemy at their gates?  No enemy but us.


Sparks sputtered from the corner's of the goddess's closed eyes.  When she opened them, cerulean bolts danced back and forth between the pupils.  I will never truly be their champion if I remain apart from them.  I cannot be as kelp drifting from one wave to another.  The sapling must take root in the land before it can grow into a mighty tree, and until it does, those who toil beneath it will have no shield from the unforgiving rays of the summer sun.  I cannot be trusted to protect this world unless I have a stake in it.

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Thrude tensed and twisted, spinning herself around so that the Earth was at her back. Mist erupted from the massive battle axe holstered at her back. The mists gathered beneath her, first as a formless blob. In seconds, the impossible cloud stretched and shaved itself into the vague shape of an enormous horse. A Clydesdale would appear as a pony before the eight-legged monstrosity with lightning for eyes which now bore the goddess aloft. She pointed her outstretched fist toward the Moon, and her steed needed no further instruction. It galloped through the void as though it were upon the smoothest brick road, covering a distance ten times the circumference of the Earth in the blink of an eye.

The stallion collapsed and evaporated as her boots touched down upon the Lunar surface. She reached over her shoulder and slid her immense axe from its holster. Gripping the smooth ebony haft tightly with both hands, she raised it above her head, and then slammed it down upon the desolate rock beneath her feet. The impact of the pommel sent a spider's web of cracks racing through the stone. Thrude glared into the double-headed axe blade she held in front of her face, and slammed the haft down upon the rock again. Lightning writhed along the shaft, pooled at the blade, and then burst upward, a pillar of brilliant cyan and violet surging toward the heavens.

Thrude knelt down upon the scorched, broken Lunar stone, motionless save for the gleaming golden locks of her hair floating around her. For a few moments, all was darkness once more. Then, from some invisible point in space far beyond the orbits of Sol, a wave of blinding light descended upon her. The colossal ribbon of white snapped down, and then straightened, solidifying into a wall of color. Thrude inhaled deeply and gulped hard enough to dry out the inside of her mouth. She took one hesitant step, like a baby deer standing for the first time, half expecting her foot to push right through the glowing rainbow. Instead, her boot rested as firmly against it as the rock below her other foot. Her shoulders sagged and she exhaled a sigh. She lifted her axe, shifted her grip to bring the haft resting against the back of her arm, and trailed it behind her as she jogged up the Bifrost, the Rainbow Bridge leading to Asgard. After a few steps, the rainbow retracted from the surface of the Moon, loosening once more from a stiff ramp to a waving banner, before soaring off into the distance, and finally vanishing in a single flash.

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The rainbow bridge sloped down to a narrow path between a pair of steep cliff faces which stretched so far above Thrude's head they seemed to touch the sky. Thrude summoned a steed of mist and fog to attend her once more. The cloud-horse's hooves did not quite touch the ground as it raced through the canyon. A horn roared in the distance, followed by another, then another, until the howls of an entire pack echoed back and forth across the mountains above her.

The canyon terminated at the gates of a colossal fortress seemingly carved from the very mountains themselves. Round towers carved from white stone sparkled and gleamed in the mid-day sun. Thrude could not help but smile at the sight of Himinbjorg, the castle through which all who would set foot in Asgard must first pass. As she approached, she could just barely spot the shining steel helms of the guards poking out from the parapets. Their horns flared to life again. Metal and stone scraped against one another as the tremendous ironwrought gate, each crossbar larger than a tree trunk, started to rise.

A score of mortal warriors emerged from the gate, clad in steel plates overlapping tunics of fur and leather. The faint golden aura surrounding each one marked him or her as a member of the Einherjar, the slain warriors chosen by Thrude's fellow Valkyrie for the highest honor of fighting alongside Odin and the Aesir in defense of the Nine Worlds. The warriors surrounded a mountain of a man. Not a single one of them even rose to his shoulder. Three meters tall at least, he wore no armor, just pearl-white tunic and breeches trimmed with silver, in stark contrast to his coal-black skin. The gargantuan sword strapped to his back was almost as long as he was tall, with a blade at least a foot wide.

The einherjar ceased their march several feet from Thrude, and parted before the giant in their midst. He continued to advance until within arms reach of Thrude.

No, not a "giant." For this was not one of the Jotnar, but rather, the first line of Asgard's defense against their ilk. He offered his arm to Thrude, and she clasped his inner forearm. He returned the grip and shook her arm. She pulled him into an embrace, and he laughed. "Uncle!" she cried.

"Many an age has passed since the Daughter of Storms has set foot upon the Rainbow Bridge. I bid thee welcome, Thrude Thorsdottir."

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  • 2 weeks later...

Thrude and Heimdall sat alone at a modest table, carved from the same shining white stone as the rest of the fortress.  Most of the table space was taken up with a roasted avian larger than Thrude herself.


"Have you sent word of my arrival to Valhalla?" Thrude asked as she bit into a drumstick the size of a baseball bat.


"Aye," nodded Heimdall, before raising a horn of mead to his lips.  He wiped a few stray drops from his chin.  "My oaths to Father would demand nothing less.  Though I would be surprised if his ravens had not already brought him the news.  He will be pleased.  The All-Father has missed you terribly, as have...others."


A weak smile escaped Thrude's lips.  "As a child, I spent many an eve on Grandfather's lap, hearing his tales while gnawing on a chunk of dried sweetmeat.  Those memories kept me warm on many a cold night of late.  If only he were the one I was here to see."


"I would counsel you not to judge him so harshly, but as one of Freyja's shieldmaidens, judgement is your very mission."


"Will you be accompanying me to Valhalla?"


"Nay.  I would gladly ride with you, but my duties demand my presence here.  But I will provide you with a fresh horse in the morning.  I'll not insult you by offering you an honor guard."

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Thrude laid awake in her guest chamber until halfway through the night, after her uncle had resumed his watchpost and many of his soldiers and retainers slept.  Then she hurriedly dressed and sprinted down to the stables.  She was seen by several of the einherjar, but by then news of her identity had spread throughout Himinbjorg, and none barred her passing.  Though she knew Heimdall would have offered her his finest steed, she chose a mare whose nose fur was white with age.  I'll not have his fastest horse bear me home when news of marauding giants or rabid dragons could come at any moment.


The goddess rode off into the night.  If I arrive during the day, the All-Father will no doubt insist on a hero's welcome.  And I am in no mood for trumpets and banners this day.


High atop the parapets of his gleaming white citadel, Heimdall, son of Odin and nine mothers, chuckled and shook his head.

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The sky was still dark when Thrude arrived at the gates of Valhalla.  So massive was Odin's palace that it dominated the entire horizon.  Thrude could turn her head from one side to another and still not take it all in with one glance.  Towers carve from stone of every color in the rainbow, reinforced with golden orichalcum, sparkled and shone even in the starlight.  Having already been advised of her impending arrival, the night sentries needed only to see Thrude raise Hridgandr above her head to verify her identity.  They hesitated when she demanded that they not wake the All-Father from his slumber, but one glare from her lightning-filled eyes silenced their objections.


As she stalked the halls of her grandfather's keep, she cringed at the sound of a familiar voice behind her.  "Welcome home, Daughter."

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The goddess gritted her teeth and whirled around, sending her golden braids swinging about her, to glare at her father.  "You..."


She saw a face she had not seen since before she joined the Valkyries.  There were a few more lines on that face than there were last she had seen it, but most of it was still covered with a beard the color of fire.  His eyes were sad, but hopeful.  Thor Odinson, Thor The Terrible, God of Thunder and Crown Prince of Asgard, spread his arms wide open, with his palms raised.


Thrude's hands, meanwhile, clenched into fists.  She smashed the back of her knuckles against her father's nose.  His head was jerked back, but he kept his footing.  A drop of blood trickled down to his mouth.

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Thor, sucked in his upper lip to lick away the blood soaking into his fire-colored beard.  He sighed, and nodded slightly to his only daughter.  "I let you have that one, because you think I deserved it, and I know I did."


Thrude lunged at Thor again.  He caught her fist in his hand.  She aimed her other fist low, at his stomach, but he caught her forearm between his meaty fingers and wrenched her arm upward.  Lifting her up off of her feet, Thor pulled Thrude's face in close to his own.  "I said ONE," he growled.  "My patience is not infinite, even for you.  Do not test it further.  Someday your might may rival my own, but not today."


Thrude head-butted her father between the eyes.

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Thor and Thrude both staggered back from the impact.  Thor snarled as he wiped blood and tears from his eyes.  When he opened them, Thrude already had already slid Hridgandr from its harness on her back.  The ebony haft retracted down to about a meter and a half (to accomodate the close quarters), while the block of metal at the top rippled and stretched into a massive double-bladed battle axe over a meter wide.  The blade edges glowed a soft blue the color of a summer sky as they frosted over.  Sparks erupted from the runes etched into the blade.


Thrude swung her axe at Thor in an upward arc.  He ducked into a forward roll, barely avoiding decapitation.

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When Thor seamlessly rose to his feet at the end of the roll, his warhammer Mjolnir was already in hand.  Lightning danced back and forth between his clenched fist and the solid metal brick which had smashed mountains into powder.  Thrude gripped Hridgandr with both hands as she tried to cleave Thor in half at the waist.  He threw up Mjolnir to parry the blow, driving Hridgandr's blade into the wall.


"MILLIONS of people!" Thrude screamed as she swung her axe at Thor again and again, chopping divots out of the stone walls of the corridor as Mjolnir batted it aside.  "I spent an EON fighting monsters in your name!"


"We never stopped searching for you!" Thor spat back.  "For all we knew, you were still throwing a tantrum over that disgusting dwarf!"

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Thrude's axe collided with Thor's hammer.  He slid the hammer up the haft of her axe, until its head was locked against her blades.  She jerked against it, but could not pull her weapon free.  "I SAVED you from the WORST mistake you EVER would have made!" Thor pleaded.


Thrude spit in her father's face.


"He was a GREAT MAN!  An ARTIST!  A VISIONARY!  Your so-called 'LOVE' for me, for your family, for your people, was worth NOTHING next to your FOOLISH PRIDE!  You DESTROYED the All-Father's treaty with the Dvergur, and MURDERED the ONLY man I've EVER loved, just so you wouldn't have a DWARF for a grandchild!  You don't CARE about ME!  You NEVER cared for ANYONE but yourself!"

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Thrude stomped on Thor's foot, then leaned in and elbowed his jaw.  She finally managed to pull her axe free while he stumbled.  "And when I am FINALLY freed, do the peoples of Midgard sing SONGS of your DARING, Oh Storm-Lord?  NO, instead, the mortals had to create NEW NUMBERS just to COUNT all the innocent people YOU HELPED SLAUGHTER!"


"I didn't BUILD the gas chambers, damn you!  I was FORCED to fight for Hitler!  You're right, I WAS just a FOOL!  Not a monster!"


"Yes, I HEARD!  I heard how THOR, MIGHTIEST of all the gods, was yoked by MERE MORTALS!"


"You've lived alongside those 'mere mortals!' You fought with AND against them.  YOU, better than ANYONE, should know they are to be underestimated only at your peril.  Humans forgot their gods, and then made themselves into new ones."


"I didn't have to KILL INNOCENT PEOPLE to learn that lesson!  I didn't have to get my entire pantheon EXILED from the very world we swore to PROTECT!"


"And for that, I envy you."

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"ENOUGH!" Thor yelled.  He swatted Thrude's massive axe aside.  While she struggled to regain her grip on her weapon, Thor wound up his arm, and smashed his hammer into Thrude's solar plexus.  The goddess was thrown against the wall.  The impact shattered the foot-thick stone almost from floor to ceiling.


Thor's shoulders slumped.  He the short haft of Mjolnir fall from his grip, catching it by the leather thong at the end before it hit the ground.  It swung idly forward and backward as he trudged over to his daughter, who lay on her back, spread-eagled and half-buried in rubble.  He stood over her, glaring out from under his substantial eyebrow ridge.  "Enough?" he whispered.


Thrude locked eyes with her father for a few moments.  Then Hridgandr's haft shrank down to a little less than a meter, and she threw it handle-first to Thor.

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Thor reflexively caught the ebony haft of Hridgandr in mid-air.  The moment he closed his fingers around it, the great battle axe pulled him down to the ground.  His feet slipped out from under him as the haft pressed down against his chest.  His back slammed against the floor.  He dropped his hammer and pushed up against the haft with both hands, but it wouldn't budge.


"HAH!" Thrude laughed as she gripped the edge of the hole in the wall and pulled herself up to her feet.  "Oh Mighty Thor, meet Hridgandr, the greatest work of the greatest runesmith to EVER walk the Nine Worlds.  Alvis engraved it with a special rune, a rune which allows 'only THE WORTHY' to wield it!  He judges you from beyond the grave, and he finds you LACKING."  She laughed as Thor strained against the weapon which pinned him to the ground.  "Where is your strength NOW?  Where was it when the humans NEEDED it?  Your swordarm is mighty, Father, but your soul is WEAK."

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Thor's face reddened.  His eyes bulged at his daughter's taunts.  "You think you know 'STRENGTH,' Child?!"  In a lightning-fast motion, he swept Mjolnir up off the floor and tossed it at Thrude.  She caught it without thinking, and her eyes widened as she realized her mistake a half-second too late.  She collapsed backward beneath the hammer's weight.  She wrapped one hand around the haft, and her other hand around that one, and pulled and pushed with all her might, but the hammer wouldn't budge even a micron from its perch atop her sternum.  She tried to twist her entire body to either side, but her efforts were futile.


Thor chuckled.  "You fancy yourself a GOD OF THUNDER, Little One?  You are a babe, swinging her rattle in a clumsy imitation of her father's sword."

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"WHO," Thor boasted, "but THOR is MIGHTY enough to lift Mjolnir, the TRUE scepter of lordship over the lightning and the thunder, the wind and the rain?"


A large, hairy, weathered hand reached down from the corner of Thrude's vision.  The fingers wrapped around the haft of her father's hammer, and pulled it up off her chest.  She gasped.  The man's other hand took hers and pulled her up to a sitting position.  She rubbed her eyes, and her blurred vision started to clear, revealing the long black mane trailing down the man's back.  He then bent down over Thor and snatched Hridgandr.  Thor rolled over onto his side, then pushed himself up to his knees.


"Who indeed?" asked Magni Thorsson as he shook his head.  He dropped Mjolnir at his feet, where it landed with a *THUNK* an inch from his Thor's nose.  Then he turned back to Thrude, and pulled her up into a bear hug with his bulging arms that completely enveloped her.  "Welcome home, Sister."

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Thrude enthusiastically returned her half-brother's embrace, then winced at the new pain in her arms and chest.  Magni took a step back and brushed a raven-colored lock behind his ear.  "We had heard of your arrival in Asgard, but you were not expected here until the morrow.  Grandfather has ordered a feast in your honor."


Thrude looked away.  "I am unworthy of such honors.  My presence is not cause for celebration."


"I beg to differ."  A gravelly voice emerged from the shadows down the hall.  A man in simple grey robes leaned upon a great spear.  His long white hair and beard reached down almost to his waist.  One of his eyes was covered with a leather patch, but the other seemed to bore holes in the three gods who stood before him.  "If you persist in such opinions, then consider it an indulgence on behalf of an old man happy to see his grandchildren."

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"All-Father!" Thrude exclaimed.  She fell to her knees before Odin, as did Thor and Magni.


Odin One-Eye limped toward the kneeling gods he called "family."  "Rise, my kin."  He let his great spear Grugnir rest against what was left of the wall and clasped both hands on Thrude's biceps.  "You look well, Granddaughter."  He cupped her cheek in one hand and rubbed his thumb under her eyepatch.  "Though I daresay this looks better on me than you.  I'll send a healer in the morning to see to this."


Thrude swallowed.  "I beg thy pardon, My King, but I chose to leave my eye as it is.  I wear the scars of battle proudly for all to see, and I can see the reminder of my failures every time I look into a mirror."


"Nonsense!" Odin scowled.  "My ravens have brought me Thought and Memory of your time on Midgard.  You do your people proud!"


"But Grandfather, I would gladly sacrifice life and limb for the Nine Worlds, as you did before me!  I am HONORED to follow in your glorious footsteps!"


Odin shook his head.  "Parents only make sacrifices so that their children won't have to."  He then lifted Thrude's chin with a finger and smiled warmly.  "If nothing else, again, be generous enough to indulge an old man who wants to look into both of his granddaughter's eyes again."  Thrude smiled weakly.  Odin pulled her into a hug.


"Now, if you are all done brawling like children fighting over a toy, I would suggest we all try to get some sleep before the dawn.  Magni, please show your sister to the guest chamber that was prepared for her."

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  • 1 month later...

Thrude awoke to a knocking at her chamber door.  Still in her dressing gown, she heaved open the solid oak to reveal her grandfather's wife, the Queen of Asgard.  Frigga wore a simple but elegant forest-green dress, contrasting the fiery curls, streaked with white, which fell about her shoulders and down her back.  A broadsword rested in an ornate scabbard belted around her waist.  When she locked eyes with Thrude, an easy smile smoothed the wrinkles of her face.


"Grandmother!"  Thrude wrapped her arms around Frigga and pulled her close.  Frigga stroked Thrude's hair with one hand while returning her embrace with the other.  "I've always loved it when you called me that, Child."  Thrude's grandmother by blood, the birth-mother of Thor, was commonly known to be Fjorgynn, the great jotunn of the Earth.  But it was Frigga's knee upon which the young Thrude had bounced, Frigga's cloth which had helped wipe the spittle from her mouth.


"The All-Father has invited you to break your night's fast with us.  Your mother will be joining us as well."  Frigga left the rest unspoken, but Thrude took her meaning.  And my father will not.

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Odin, King of Asgard, and his Queen, Frigga, dined at a circular table in a private garden within the walls of Valhalla, with their daughter-in-law and Crown Princess, Sif.  Warriors of the Einherjar, distinguishable from mortal Scandinavian warriors of a millenia ago only by the slight golden glow that always emanated from their flesh, poured mead into tankards and served plates overflowing with fresh fruit and roast venison.  When Thrude entered the garden, Sif rose from her chair and took her daughter's hands into her own.  "Thrude!"  She stroked her daughter's cheek, then pulled her close and kissed her forehead.


"Mother!"  Thrude's mouth hung open in astonishment.  "Your...your hair!"  Thrude's mother had once possessed golden locks which shined like the sun and flowed down to her feet.  But now, her hair was black as coal, tied into a single simple braid which ended at the small of her back.  Thrude lifted that braid from her mother's shoulder and stared at it.  "What happened...?"


Sif, Lady of the Harvest, sighed.  "Loki."  She spit upon the soil after saying the name of Odin's blood-brother.  "Loki happened.  It is not a tale worth repeating, but it is one you can hear from a thousand different tongues.  Please, sit with us."

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  • 1 year later...

Thrude took a seat next to her mother at the table.  "It seems no member of our family stands beyond the reach of 'Uncle's' betrayal."


Odin raised a single white eyebrow.  "Betrayer he may be, but he is also kin.  Ours is a bond sealed in blood.  Curse his name and his deeds, but respect ye my oaths."


Thrude swallowed and cleared her throat.  "Apologies, Grandfather."


"Pay it no further mind, Granddaughter.  Had I spent the whole of an age imprisoned by his tricks and his treachery, I too would speak with a loose tongue on the matter."

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Odin emptied his goblet of mead and stroked his snow-colored beard.  "I have oft reflected upon my blood-brother's actions of late.  I wonder if malice was truly his intent, or if he merely sacrificed your well-being for what he saw as a greater good."  The mouths of all three women sitting at the table hung open, their eyes bulging so wide they almost popped out of their sockets.  Sif gripped the edge of the table so hard her knuckles turned white as bone.  "'Tis indeed mayhap a more terrible thought than if he meant simply to sow more chaos.  But he has heard the prophecies, as we all have.  He knows what his children will do when the time comes.  I wonder if it was dear Thrude he sought to imprison, or his own wayward child, the Winter Wulf?"  He straighted up in his chair.  "We will not suffer his mischief regardless, and the loss of my beloved granddaughter is nay a price I would ever pay."  He reached out and squeezed Thrude's hand.

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"Indeed," Sif almost hissed as she wrapped an arm around her daughter's shoulder.  "I would see all the Nine Worlds burn before burying my own daughter in an abyss.  What happened to ye in there, Child?  Couldst thou feel the time pass?  Was it some infernal slumber?  Was there pain?"


"Mother, please.  I am no more a child than thou art.  I am a blooded warrior, and I was..."  Thrude looked away momentarily, then steeled herself.  "...And I was to be a bride."


Sif stroked Thrude's cheek.  "Warrior, wife, and one day queen you may be, Thrude, but thou shalt always be the child who grew in my belly and nursed at my bosom."


Thrude sighed.  "There was no pain, nor sleep.  The Fenris Wulf and I were locked in constant battle.  No quarter was asked, nor given.  Time had little meaning.  There was no day or night, no sun nor moon.  We fought to many a standstill, fought until we could not even stand.  We rested, but there was no sleep, only hateful glares exchanged when we had not the strength for more.  We would take up arms again as soon as we were able, and our melee would continue.  Until our prison was broken, neither could gain advantage over the other.  In time, I almost forgot the taste of mead, or even the word for it."  She raised her goblet to her lips and savored her drink with a contented sigh.


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Odin stroked his beard thoughtfully.  "So banishment was Loki's intent, not destruction.  Curious."


Sif relaxed back into her chair, but still stroked her daughter's arm.  "What is thy intent now that thou art free?  Will you stay?  Rejoin Freyja's sisterhood?  Or has an eon in Loki's foul dungeon afflicted thee with a new wanderlust?"


Frigga paused between bites to interject.  "With thy return to Asgard, The Pact is once again in effect.  Thou cannot tread upon Midgard again without a mortal invitation, if the other powers will even allow an Aesir to honor one."

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Thrude shook her head.  "Nay.  I will always hold my spear-sisters close to my heart, but the Valkyries have no need of me.  It is Midgard and all its peoples I have sworn to protect, they who need us now more than ever."  She stood up from her chair, kissed her mother, then her grandmother upon the crowns of their heads, then walked around the table to kneel before her grandfather.  She pulled Hridgandr, her massive battle axe, from her back, and presented it to Odin.  "All-Father, in times past, thou didst tie my father's essence to Mjolnir.  By wielding his hammer, a mortal could be a vessel for the Thunder-King's power, could channel his very essence.  I beseech thee to do the same for me.  If I am to protect Midgard, then it must be as much my home as this place.  I cannot rule them from on high.  I must be able to extend my hand in friendship, and they must be able to take it."

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