Brooding 51

Gløggrsyn led Clint to the Herǫr Drengr barracks for a much-needed shower after his workout. Since the Human was now officially accepted into the unit, the others left him in the Captain’s care and returned to their usual duties – Queen Frigga to have a word with Odin at his earliest convenience, for she was more determined than ever to persuade him to treat Loki with lenience.

Thor had not been joking about having ballads written of Clint’s exploits, either, and he sought out the court musicians to commission some songs in the Asgardian tradition of praising their warriors. While the god of thunder was not at all jealous of the Human’s prowess, being the acknowledged mightiest hero of the realm himself, it cost him a great effort to avoid dwelling on how Loki must admire Clint’s skills. Realizing that Clint had supplanted his own position in his brother’s heart (which Thor had occupied not so long ago in proportion to their lifespan) bothered him more than he cared to admit, but Thor was generous enough to follow through on his promise to laud the Human’s talents.

Of course that was the furthest thing from Clint’s mind as he stepped out of the shower, wearing only a towel, to find a tailor waiting to adjust his new uniform. Whereas the regular Einherjar fighters were outfitted in seamless armor from head to toe, the Herǫr Drengr had lighter protective gear made from a more flexible material to give their shoulders free range of motion; since they were not as likely to engage the enemy in hand-to-hand combat, there was less priority placed on the heavy plated armor. However, in the event of a serious assault, they would have to move quickly into position behind the lancers, abandoning their posts high above, so mobility was a greater concern. Clint was glad to find that the lightweight uniform would not obstruct his movements in any way as he jumped, bended, and stretched to test its fit.

“Good, good,” Gløggrsyn said, nodding his approval. His gaze lingered on Clint’s exposed forearms as though assessing their capability in battle. “I will have you practice with our standard-issue bow later, but first I will introduce you to your unit since they will be coming off duty soon for their daily debriefing.”

Clint followed the Captain up to one of the Herǫr Drengr’s assembly rooms, located on an upper floor of the palace with a window overlooking the city. Clint admired the spectacular view as they waited for his unit – the Fjǫðr Lið – to arrive. Gløggrsyn pointed out some areas of interest, such as the testing and training facility they had just left, the main market of the city, and several buildings that housed mead halls frequented by the Herǫr Drengr.

“It helps to be able to see where things are like this,” Clint admitted. “I like to have a map in my head so I can find my way around.”

“Yes, seeing from a vantage point allows one to orient oneself better even when down in the street,” Gløggrsyn agreed.

“Is that the Void?” Clint asked, pointing at a tiny disc of darkness in the sky.

“No, that is a space vessel blocking our view; it is preparing to land after traversing to a nearby star system to harvest mineral ores. The Void disappeared without a trace after the Bifröst was destroyed. We had assumed, since it had vanished and not even Heimdall could find Prince Loki, that he had been… obliterated with it.”

“Well, I guess that’s not surprising, since Loki ended up on the other side of the galaxy somewhere,” Clint remarked. “It must have acted like a wormhole.”

Gløggrsyn shook his head. “That is not all. If he had been anywhere in the known universe – on any of the realms or on any planet habitable by our kind – Heimdall should have been able to see him. Wherever he had been taken by the Void was shielded, deliberately, from our view.”

Startled, Clint turned to his new commanding officer. “Oh! So… Thanos, the guy who captured him, must have been hiding from you guys all along.”

“Thanos?” Gløggrsyn echoed, piercing the Human with a shrewd gaze. “I have not heard how Prince Loki escaped from his fate, only of his actions on Midgard. It seems he has confided more to you… or perhaps the King has simply not seen fit to make that information common knowledge.”

Clint mulled this over for a moment. “Loki did say that he hadn’t told Odin about Thanos, but he promised me that he’d at least tell his mother – the Queen, I mean – about him. Of course he hasn’t had the chance to yet since we were pretty busy on Earth and we only just got here. But from what he told me about Thanos, the guy’s incredibly powerful – even by your standards – and will probably attack again. Loki claims he doesn’t know anything that would be tactically useful, but I sure would like to know everything I can about him.”

“Thanos…” Gløggrsyn looked thoughtful. “If my memory serves, there was a Titan by the name of Thanos… They were an ancient, powerful race, but they have all long since died out…”

His musings were interrupted by the Fjǫðr Lið unit bursting into the room, laughing and talking as men relieved of a long day’s duty would. Their chatter died down when they saw Clint standing next to the Captain.

“And who is this?” asked one of them, a younger-looking man with dark blond hair and a neat but full beard.

“His name is Clint Barton,” Gløggrsyn enunciated carefully. “He is joining your unit. Aldinn, distribute the new positions before your shift tomorrow and show him to his post.”

“At last!” said another man, with brown hair and a clean-shaven face. He approached to clasp Clint’s forearm. “We have been stretched thin over the ramparts for far too long. Not that we could not defend them, of course,” he hastily added.

“But we are still two men short,” said an older man sporting a braided rust-red beard. “We can and will hold our posts if need be, but it is always better to be well manned. I take it you performed admirably in the tests to be assigned to the Fjǫðr Lið?”

“As well or better than any of you,” the Captain informed them. “He only missed one target.”

“Wait – I missed one?” Clint said, turning to Gløggrsyn in surprise.

“You did not see a hare in the first test,” he answered.

Nobody sees the hare,” the un-bearded man put in reassuringly. “It darts past after the bilgesnipe starts charging. I don’t know why it’s even part of the test – you’re not likely to be thinking about dinner when you’re about to be trampled by a bilgesnipe!”

There were grunts of agreement and then the members started introducing themselves to Clint. The man who had spoken up first was Aldinn, the unit leader and second-in-command to Captain Gløggrsyn. The friendly, clean-shaven one was Ellri, whom everyone called “Ell” for short. The older man with the red beard was Gamall. The rest of the names were somewhat jumbled for Clint, with many that he was not sure he could pronounce, let alone spell.

“Sorry if I get it wrong,” he apologized up front.

“Your own name is a mouthful, Klintbardn,” Gamall replied, struggling.

“My full name is even worse,” Clint admitted with a rueful laugh. “I mean, who names their kid ‘Clinton Barton,’ anyway? And my middle name is Francis. My mother must’ve had a perverted sense of humor!”

“Middle name?” Ell said, looking puzzled.

“Um, yeah – but you can just call me ‘Clint.’ Or my codename was ‘Hawkeye’ if you like that better.” Seeing all of their bemused expressions, Clint turned to Gløggrsyn and asked, “Don’t they know… where I’m from?”

“No. I had thought to leave that to you, should you wish to reveal it.”

“Why wouldn’t I?” Clint wondered out loud, then immediately realized the reason. “What, you thought it would… prejudice them against me?” He did not need the Captain to answer; it had been a rhetorical question. “Well, I’ve got nothing to hide. Besides, you all would have figured it out pretty quickly, anyway. I’m from Earth – the planet you call Midgard.”

A collective gasp of amazement went up from the men.

“You’re Midgardian?” Ell asked, his jaw hanging slack.

“And he passed the tests?” Aldinn demanded of the Captain.

“He did, as I have already told you,” Gløggrsyn answered. “In fact he slew the second bilgesnipe with only two arrows – far fewer than most of you.”

There was an awkward pause as the news sank in. Clint was glad to find out that he had done better than most of the team on that particular test, but he could not really enjoy the moment since the Asgardian archers were still staring at him in shock.

“So… the rumors are true?” Gamall finally spoke up.

“What rumors?” Gløggrsyn asked, furrowing his brow.

Gamall cleared his throat nervously before explaining. “I, uh… I heard from my friend Fengil, the prison guard, that, uh… well, of course I dismissed it as a tall tale, spun out of drink and some cause to spite the Prince, but… well, I’ve heard it from other guards also, even those who would have no reason to slander Prince Loki–”

“So have I,” Aldinn interrupted. “They speak tales of Prince Loki being… with child. And that the father of his child is… Midgardian. Hence the sudden trip to Midgard with Prince Thor and the Queen.”

“Oh. Wow. Um…” Clint felt he could cut the tension in the room with a knife. “I’m sorry – I thought you all knew already. But yeah, it’s true. I’m the ‘baby daddy’ as we say on Midgard.”

Now all of the Asgardians, including Gløggrsyn, were left slack-jawed.

“But… how is that even possible?” Ell asked.

“Damned if I know,” Clint responded, scratching his head. “Even Loki didn’t know he could get pregnant until it actually happened. When he started feeling sick, he thought he’d been poisoned, but then the doctors figured out what was going on. I guess Loki’s body is just… wired differently or something. The kid seems to be doing okay so far. The Queen says they’ll be able to help him carry the baby to full term and everything, so I’m… I’m looking forward to it.”

“Well… congratulations,” Ell said, clasping Clint’s hand again with a half-incredulous smile. “I am sure you will find your child to be a source of great joy in your life, as mine are for me.”

“You got kids?” Clint asked, brightening.

“Three. Two daughters and a son. They are the light of my eyes.”

“Yeah, I’ll bet! I can’t wait to hold mine and see what he looks like,” Clint said with a grin.

“But… Prince Loki…” Gamall was muttering, looking utterly perplexed, “How can he be with child? He was a… a normal boy… Not, perhaps, as strong as Prince Thor, but… still, I do not understand…”

“Perhaps he had a mishap with all the tricks he did with seiðr,” Aldinn suggested. “Perhaps he turned himself into a woman by mistake.”

Clint heard the sharpness in Aldinn’s voice and bristled. “I would have noticed if he’d had female parts, trust me, and it wouldn’t have caught him by surprise when he did get pregnant,” he pointed out. “The way the Queen explained it, his body was capable of developing both sexes at once, but the female side didn’t kick in until after the baby started to grow. He’s been so sick because his body’s trying to make all the female organs now while also carrying the baby. Even your doctors have no idea what exactly is going to happen since he’s the first case like this.”

“Well… I suppose he always was… unique,” Aldinn replied with the barest hint of a sneer.

“Mind your tongue!” Gamall growled. “He may have been disgraced, but he is still a prince of Asgard. And regardless of the circumstances, this is our King’s first grandchild! It may well be the next heir to the throne.”

Gamall’s observation sent another shockwave through the assembled group and also informed Clint that they did not know about Loki’s true parentage.

Ell regarded Clint with new respect, even reverence, but could not stop a grin from forming on his face. “First Prince Thor, and now Prince Loki, seem to have chosen Midgardian mates,” he remarked. “There must be something about your people, Clint Barton, that mesmerizes Asgardian princes!”

Clint grinned back and demurely replied, “Must be our good looks and charm.”

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