Serpent's Coils

Chapter One

"This is the last of them," Balder said to Thor as they watched the Norn prisoners being marched into the bifrost site.

"You fought very well in this battle, little brother. You've grown into a mighty warrior." Thor laid a hand on Balder's shoulder, but his heart weighed heavily.

Shortly after Odin's murder, and the subsequent killing of Austmadr, the man who killed him, Karnilla announced a war on Asgard in vengeance of her brother's death. She had attacked Alfheim the same day, and word quickly spread through the nine realms; the fire demons were now closely allied to the Norns, and it was thought that the dwarves were supplying their weapons. Loki and Angrboda were offering Asgard what help they could, but Jotunheim had still not recovered from its war with Asgard, millennia ago.

"We are very fortunate that Queen Gullveig is willing to hold our prisoners," Balder mentioned, subdued. "We would never have room in Asgard for them all."

"Yes. But the battle here is done, brother. Go home. Nanna will be anxious for you."

Balder nodded absently, but Thor could see that he wasn't listening.

"Balder."

He looked up.

"Go home, brother. Your wife needs to know you are alright."

"Thor, I'm not a child. I can stay and do my duty here."

"The battle is done here. Besides, Mother needs a report of the happenings. I may not be king or crown prince now, little brother, but I am your commanding officer and this is an order. Go home."

Balder nodded once. "Thank you."

He joined those soldiers with superficial injuries waiting to be taken back to Asgard. Moments later, Sif joined Thor, slipping her hand into his.

"He's become a mighty warrior."

"I would he was not. I wish that he could have been my naive little brother for a few years more. This is not a path that will sit well with him."

"Everyone must grow up at some stage, Thor, however much we might wish otherwise." Sif gazed out into the distance, her eyes bleak. "I cannot believe my own mother instigated all this."

Thor shook his head. "Karnilla is the woman who birthed you, Sif, she is not your mother. Parents are the ones who raise us and love us. And since we are on the subject, how is Lady Alti? She is in her sixth month of her pregnancy now, I believe?"

Sif smiled, grateful for the introduction of a lighter topic. "Yes. She and the child do well. But now is hardly the time to discuss such matters." Her expression became more serious. "What remains to be done here before we return to Asgard?"

"We must number the dead," Thor said grimly. "And arrange for the fallen Norns to return to their home world, for their final rest."

Sif nodded. "I will take the Warriors Three and a few others to do a sweep of the surrounding area, to make sure that none of our prisoners were able to sneak away."

Thor nodded. Though it had been done already, it never hurt to check again. He gazed sadly at the destruction of the battle; buildings were burning, dead soldiers lay about everywhere, some younger even than Balder. I miss you, Father, he thought. You would know what to do.

Sif squeezed Thor's hand. "Thinking about Odin again?"

He nodded, eyes on the ground. "Always. He would have ended all this by now."

Sif's heart grew heavier, as it had ever since Odin's passing. Whether Thor would ever admit it or not, it was her family that were responsible for all this- Austmadr for carrying out Odin's regicide, and Karnilla for descending the Realms into war. She could never voice that to Thor though, he had enough concerns now without listening to her self-recrimination.

She squared her shoulders, knowing she had to stay strong for him, for as long as it took to end this. Calling to the Warriors Three, she led them on a final patrol through the battlefield, all their senses on high alert.

Thor stood waiting for a moment before making sure everything was as it should be. Then with a heavy heart he headed to the gathered dead. He knew many of the soldiers that he fought with; identifying the bodies was a necessity, better start now. He found Lord Frey, his older half-brother, already laying out the dead.

"Frey," he greeted. "How many of our number have fallen?"

"We have not gathered them all yet, but already over a hundred warriors." Frey pulled a shroud over the face of the man he had just identified.

"Ander," Thor murmured, his heart growing even heavier.

"He was a fine soldier and a good man."

"And an expectant father..." Thor sighed. He would have Sif inform Alti that her lover had perished. "Is this war?"

"Yes."

"There is nothing glorious about it."

Frey grimaced. "Did you think there would be?"

"Stories told in my youth lead me to believe so."

"Those stories were no doubt embellished and edited. War is never glorious or great." Frey kicked at the ground savagely. "Another thing you should remember, half-brother, is that the tales of war in history are generally written by the victors." He shook his head. "I must go and aid the other soldiers. No doubt there are more bodies to retrieve." He stomped away, shoulders slumped.

Thor stood there dejectedly. Already more than a hundred fallen, and still we're not done... when will this end?

.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.

Balder arrived in Asgard wearily. Nanna was in Heimdall's observatory, a healer's bag near her knees as she bent over a wounded solider, murmuring a healing incantation. She looked up hopefully as the lights faded and seeing Balder there she let out a cry of joy and ran to his arms. Balder hugged her tightly, but his gaze drifted up and his eyes locked with Heimdall's.

He knowsss what hisss job isss, little prince, the ever-present sound of Set's voice came into Balder's mind. Now kissss your beloved and report to your mother assss Thor ordered you.

When will you be satisfied? Balder asked with a sinking heart.

When the nine realmsss are gone.

.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.

Sigyn turned over in bed, coming into contact with something unexpectedly cold. She jolted awake at once, looking to see the huge blue man lying, still asleep, beside her. For an instant her heart pounded, but then she remembered. Helbindi. My lover. It sounded strange, even in her mind. She stretched out as she remembered how it had happened; she had accidently transported herself to Jotunheim in the middle of a storm. Helblindi had stumbled upon her and taken her back to his hunting lodge; once there, they had shared a kiss that quickly grew into something else. She grimaced as she remembered what had happened next...

"My mother always told me I was worthless and that I'd amount to nothing," Helblindi murmured. "Everybody has always called me slush, a melting man or a liquid boy. I suppose they're right. I am weak."

Sigyn traced his chest muscles with her fingers. "There are different types of strength in the universe."

"Perhaps... But I have never done what I wanted, really. I have always put duty first. Duty to Jotunheim. Duty to my mother. People laughed at me for not standing against her, but it is a child's responsibility to support their mother, isn't it? I want to be a good, responsible person."

"I have always felt that way, too. My mother always called me her little rebel because I never really rebelled."

"My mother's dead. I know I shouldn't be glad, but I am. It means I'm free. But it also means I don't really have a purpose anymore... just duty to Jotunheim. And Jotunheim has no need of me."

Sigyn pushed herself up onto her elbow . "Until tonight I have never done anything that I haven't thought about. And you know what? I like it. Acting impulsively."

Helblindi smiled and kissed her. "I like you acting impulsively, too."

"So let's do it."

"What?"

"Act impulsively. Let's forget about duty, and society, and rebelling or thinking or being responsible. Let's just get a ship, you and me. Let's travel the stars and visits worlds that have no names. Let's break away and just leave!"

Helblindi's eyes widened. "You and me?"

Sigyn nodded.

"Just leave? Just like that?"

"Why not? I know where the deep-space ships are kept in Asgard, they're easy to fly-"

"Steal a ship?"

Sigyn laughed. "Why not?"

"We don't even know each other!"

"That's what makes it so brilliant." Sigyn sat up. "We don't know each other, we don't have to be ourselves. We can be anybody we want. I could call myself Amora and you could call yourself Skurge."

Helblindi laughed. "What sort of names are those?"

"Untested names. Names that we can create as we go." Her eyes were shining with possibility, a smile breaking across her face.

He tangled his fingers into her golden hair and kissed her. "That sounds..."

Sigyn bit her lip.

"Why not?" Helblindi laughed. "Let's do it!"

It was then that the door flew open. A flurry of wind and snow rushed in, making the fire flicker. Sigyn shivered and dove beneath the furs, peaking up over Helblindi's chest to see who just entered. Her heart froze. Loki cast back his hood, shaking snow from his hair as Angrboda did the same.

"Forgive us, cousin, but we got caught in the snow, and this was the closest-" Angrboda stopped as she realised what she was seeing.

Loki turned to see what had caused her to fall silent, and his eyes widened. His gaze flickered to Sigyn's dress, and back to her face. Sigyn gulped, pulling the furs up to her neck. Helblindi sat up, doing the same.

"Hello, Lady Sigyn," Angrboda greeted, her voice harsh and cold. "I didn't imagine seeing you here!"

Sigyn gulped again... Now what?

Loki stared at them, his expression as cruel as Atum's. He spoke through gritted teeth. "I know the storm is horrific, Helblindi, but I did not expect you to persuade my s- cousin to stay warm in this fashion!"

Helblindi paled.

"What makes you think he was the one doing the persuading?" Sigyn replied defiantly, holding the furs up around her neck. "Turn your backs so we can dress!"

"What are you even doing on Jotunheim?" Angrboda demanded of her.

"And how did she get here?" Loki growled at Helbindi.

"It was an accident, Loki," Sigyn retorted hotly before Helblindi could speak. "A side effect of...the new ability I recently found out about transported me here. I would have died in the storm if Helblindi had not brought me here!" She smiled warmly at her newfound lover.

Loki's hands were clenched at his sides. Sigyn thought it was likely that Helblindi firmly believed that there was a good chance he was going to die in short order. Angrboda's face was an impassive mask. She put a hand on Loki's shoulder, causing him to look at her. Together they retreated to a corner and turned their backs, head huddled together as they murmured.

Sigyn and Helblindi gave each other despairing glances. They shrugged and both hurried to dress before the king and queen of Jotunheim turned back round. Sigyn took Helblindi's hand for reassurance and comfort (both ways) while they waited for someone to break the silence.

Loki was the one who spoke first. "Let me see if I have this straight, Helblindi," he said coldly. "You happen across Sigyn in the middle of a storm, bring her here and then seduce her?"

"It was mutual seduction, if any seducing happened!" Sigyn snapped. "Not that it's any of your business!"

"It's our business when a deep-storm dalliance threatens our world!" Angrboda snapped back. "Do you have any idea how your people will react to know that their precious Lady Sigyn was found with a Jot√ľnn? They will assume-"

"They'll assume I'm following my mother's path!" Sigyn interrupted.

Loki winced.

"I expected better behavior from you, Helblindi!" Angrboda interrupted, glaring now at him.

"We hardly expected you to come barging into my lodge!" he retorted.

"Yes, Ymir forbid we should seek shelter from a storm!"

"I thought that you were smarter than to be caught out in a storm. Why not head to your own hunting lodge?"

Sigyn hung her head in her hands. This was getting out of control! Before she could speak, though, Loki did.

"I thought that I sensed Sigyn in danger. Obviously I was... mistaken."

Sigyn blinked. "In danger? Only while I was out in the storm alone... but that was hours ago!"

Loki still glared suspiciously. Helblindi met his gaze steadily.

Angrboda shook her head. "What did I just say about people jumping to conclusions?"

There was a collective moment of silence.

Helblindi sighed. "So what happens now?"

"Well I'm exhausted, " Sigyn said. "I'm going to try to sleep."

"Maybe you should have been doing that already. " Loki still didn't look happy.

Sigyn ignored him, tugging Helblindi to come and lie down with her. Loki started to say something else, but Angrboda gripped his arm in warning. The king and queen shed their frozen outer layers, and lay down on the other side of the fire. Loki turned his back and put his arms around Angrboda. Sigyn curled up against Helblindi. He kisses her forehead gently and then whispered in her ear.

"You think they knew we were trying to forget them?"

Sigyn twisted so Loki and Angrboda couldn't see her, and whispered back, equally quietly. "Doesn't matter. Did you mean what you said, would you really leave with me?"

Helblindi glanced at his royal guests and nodded. "Yes."

A smile burst over Sigyn's face and she had to stop herself from planting another hot kiss to his lips. "Good," she murmured. "Good night."

"Good night."

Helblindi turned over, yawning widely. He smiled when he saw that Sigyn was awake. "Morning, Beautiful."

"Same to you," Sigyn rested her chin on his chest. "So what shall we do today?"

"We're out of the nine realms, aren't we?"

Sigyn nodded.

"Then I guess we should do something that we never would have done before."

"Like what?"

"Maybe rob a bank." Helblindi grinned. "Or see how many people will believe us if we claim to be the king and queen of... Jotungard."

Sigyn snorted. "Love it! Shall we land, than, King Skurge?"

"Of course, lovely Queen Amora."

They laughed as they bounded out of bed and raced to the cockpit to land the ship.