There was little more that the healer could do. She had stabilized Thor as much as possible before he had been moved to his bedchambers to rest in his own bed to heal or to await what she feared...no, what she knew if a miracle of some sort did not occur was inevitable. She could not, however, bring herself to voice her prognosis to her king and queen. She had been wrong in the past, though only a scant handful of times over the millennia. There was good reason why Odin had appointed her to her position as personal healer to the royal family and those who served him.
The wound itself should have been relatively quick and easy to repair and with Thor’s own Asgardian physiology to assist, and his strength and resilience surpassing even other Asgardians, he should have already been on the road to a relatively speedy recovery. Yet the wound had not responded to treatment which should have closed it within minutes under normal circumstances and showed absolutely no signs of natural healing. In fact, the tissue surrounding it appeared to be necrotizing.
Ragna, the healer to the royal family and those who served Asgard’s king, had always found Midgard to be a fascinating realm and had received permission from Odin to spend time there in the past incognito, learning of their methods of dealing with human illness and trauma. Though their methods were primitive and their knowledge paled in comparison to her own, they did manage to achieve positive results in many cases which she found astounding. She had finally resorted to sending one of her assistants to her chambers to fetch for her a Midgardian surgical kit that she had acquired as a sort of artifact and memento of her time there and had used the supplies and tools it contained to stitch closed the hemorrhaging vessels and the entrance and exit wound as if repairing a seam with a needle and thread. Yet if Thor’s own body did not begin to mend, to knit his damaged flesh, vessels and organs back together, it would make no difference.
She was stymied. She could find no residue of any kind around or within the wound or evidence in Thor’s blood of any sort of toxin that would provide an explanation. There were only a few known substances in the universe that had that sort of effect and of those, fewer still that affected Asgardians. The only other explanation was magic. She of course was no practitioner of the art (though she knew that the people of Midgard would consider her methods of healing magical) though she was familiar with some of the potentially lethal effects of different types. It was only those who practiced the blackest of magic, that drew energies from the darkest of dimensions to do their work, that would dare use it to cause suffering and death, though there were of course exceptions for purposes of self defense. Of course magic left no residue, nothing that she could test in order to identify it or its source. All Ragna could do at this juncture was relieve Thor’s pain and also hope for that miracle she knew must come if he were to survive.
Frigga sat vigil at Thor’s bedside, watching his chest rise and fall with each breath, willing that there be another after it. He had yet to regain consciousness. Loki, still sporting the hunting clothes he’d been wearing upon his return to the palace with his injured brother and Heimdall, stood beside his mother. Frigga had placed her right hand on top of Thor’s, her left arm crossed over her chest to rest her other hand atop Loki’s that he had placed on her right shoulder.
The scene reminded Loki somewhat of when his father entered the Odinsleep, Frigga during those times dutifully keeping watch over her husband, though that was generally not a life and death situation unless he were to put it off too long, though as Odin grew more aged the time between those necessary rests had grown shorter. There was more danger of him doing so as he was loath to leave Asgard under the auspices of another, concerned that the moment he lay himself down for an extended slumber that would be when a cataclysm of some sort would befall the realm.
Sif sat on the other side of the bed also looking upon Thor with anxiety and anguish. Though she had never voiced it openly, Loki was well aware (it baffled him that no one else appeared to be, it was quite obvious to him) that Sif’s feelings for his brother went deeper than friendship, though to his knowledge Thor had never given her reason to believe that he returned the sentiment, that he viewed her as more than a close friend and comrade in arms, perhaps at best the sister he never had.
Sif had continued to glance at Loki every so often with the same look in her eyes and expression as previously. Of course she would blame him for what happened. He was always the one to blame for everything since he was a child it seemed. She could believe what she wanted. He cared little what she thought. He knew the truth and that was all that mattered. It’s not as if she had ever thought all that highly of him anyway. From the days of their childhood she had looked upon him and treated him with disdain.
There had been times he had pulled pranks on Thor not just to get under his brother’s skin or even primarily for that reason in some instances, but for the satisfaction of getting under hers as well, sort of a two for the price of one deal. As a child he would usually suffer a pummeling at her hands for doing so, but it had almost always been worth it. It was proof that he had succeeded in vexing her which had been his aim. The looks she was giving him now led him to wish to do the same as retaliation for them.
“Loki, Sif...” Hogun’s voice said from the doorway to Thor’s bedchambers, “I’ve been sent to summon you to speak with Odin in his study.”
“Go,” Frigga said to Loki, sensing that he was reluctant to leave her side, patting his hand before removing hers from his own, now placing both of her hands over Thor’s own.
Sif stood, walking around the bed towards the door at the same time Loki was making his way there.
“After you,” Loki said to Sif, gesturing for her to go before him.
He would have done so anyway, he was a gentleman after all as any Prince of Asgard should be, but her current demeanor towards him left him sure that the last thing he wanted at the moment was to expose to her his back.
“The bodies of the assailants felled by Thor have been searched and examined. They were of Midgard,” Heimdall stated as he stood beside Odin in the King of Asgard’s study, looking upon Loki, Sif and the Warriors Three with his piercing golden eyes.
“Midgard? Mortals?” Loki asked, aghast.
“How is that possible?” Fandral questioned, bewildered.
“They have no ships capable of interstellar travel or anything akin to the Bifrost. They are not even aware of our existence, nor that of any life outside their own realm,” Hogun pointed out.
“Obviously there are at least a few that are,” Sif replied.
“But why would mortals want Thor’s death? It makes no sense,” said Volstagg.
“We were children when you agreed to allow them to go their own way, to no longer be involved in their affairs,” Loki said to Odin, equally baffled at Heimdall’s revelation, “They had to have been in league with someone from elsewhere, most likely promised something in exchange, someone who would have reason to wish my brother dead.”
“Exactly,” Sif said, looking over at Loki with vitriol though she had spoken in agreement with him.
“But why seek out the assistance of mortals? They would be no match for any of us. My grandmother could take them on with one hand tied behind her back. What of those of Asgard exiled to Midgard? Could one of them be seeking revenge for their banishment?” Fandral inquired of Odin, though it was Sif that responded to his query.
“They would have motive but would lack the means,” Sif replied as she stared straight at Loki as if he were the only other in the room.
Loki met her gaze, neither wishing to be the first to concede and look away from the other. Odin, who had remained silent throughout the discussion, finally spoke.
“I have pondered these same possibilities, these same questions, and I have arrived at the same conclusion. An attempt to assassinate the-” Odin paused as if reconsidering his words, looking to Loki before continuing, “my son, a prince of Asgard is an act of war. I have not sought it out but it appears we must now be prepared for it.”
“War? With Midgard?” Volstagg asked before chuckling, “That would be little different than crushing ants under our boots. Even the frost giants in their sorry state would be more of a challenge.”
“I would advise that you do not underestimate the mortals of Midgard. Many fought by my side during the war with Jotunheim. I do not believe this attack was carried out on behalf of their realm. Midgard as a whole is most likely ignorant of it,” Odin responded to Volstagg.
“Who then?” asked Fandral.
“That is the question that remains to be answered,” Odin replied.
“This was all that was found on the bodies,” Heimdall said, holding out to the others what looked like a business card.
Loki took it from him, examining it.
“Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement, and Logistics Division? Phil Coulson?” Loki read from the card aloud, “What does it mean? Who is this son of Coul? Is he an Asgardian in exile?” Loki asked, passing the card back to Heimdall.
“No Asgardian by the name of Coul or a son of Coul has ever been exiled to Midgard. I believe he is likely mortal, his ancestors from the lands on Midgard where we once held sway, that for a time adopted many of our ways and were under my protection,” Odin answered.
Loki thought back to his childhood when his father had taken him and Thor to Midgard for the first time. He and Thor had played with the mortal children of those lands. He had also played his fair share of tricks on both those children and adults alike. It had not posed much of a challenge, Loki finding them rather simple minded and easy to fool.
“We must go to Midgard and find this son of Coul and learn from him who would be foolish enough to court war with Asgard,” Volstagg said.
Thinking of Thor lying in his bed near death, his mother’s grief, and reflecting on the helplessness he had felt while immobilized and that this Coulson could be responsible for it all, Loki felt the anger he had bottled up in his mother’s presence and that had initially been displaced by shock and anxiety for his brother rising within him.
It was true he was jealous of his brother, that he had in the past injured Thor himself, intentionally and unintentionally while playing various pranks or simply out of that jealousy and anger, a few times even stabbing into Thor’s flesh with his own daggers though the wounds were never too serious. He knew they would heal quickly even without the intervention of a healer, but it was no one else’s place to do so. He had been forced to stand frozen in place to witness the attack as if he were an impotent, cowardly fool, which he was sure was what Sif believed him to be, likely doubting his explanation. Perhaps Fandral and the others believed the same and were merely far better at obfuscating it than Sif as the object of her affection fought for his life.
Loki agreed with Volstagg’s assessment that this Coulson must be found, yet at the same time envisioned Sif and the Warriors Three bumbling their way along the modern streets of Midgard. It would have been humorous if not for the seriousness of the situation and how imperative it was to track down the man.
“We would not want to risk attracting attention by sending a group of us. Such a task should be simple enough for one and this Coulson more easily taken unaware. I’ve visited Migard rather recently, I should be the one–” Loki began.
“I have not yet decided our course of action,” Odin interrupted, “If Thor…” Odin’s voice slightly quavered upon uttering Thor’s name, pausing to gather himself before continuing, “I have only two sons. I will consider our next move carefully. I will call you together again when I have made my decision,” Odin told those gathered, dismissing them.
The Warriors Three and Sif bowed their heads before making their way towards the door, Loki following.
“I return to my watch,” Heimdall informed his King, following the others.
The Warriors Three along with Sif progressed down the corridor after exiting Odin’s study, Loki trailing them.
“My prince...Loki...a word, if I may,” Heimdall said from behind them.
Loki came to a halt, turning to Asgard’s gatekeeper as the others continued on their way.
“I agree with you. Someone must go to Midgard and locate this Coulson. A warrior would not be best suited for the task. With your skills in magic and illusion you would be the one most likely to succeed in the endeavor. I wish to know how those responsible were able to slip by my watch. I will do all I can to convince your father.”
“Thank you, good Heimdall,” Loki responded, gobsmacked by Heimdall’s vote of confidence.
Heimdall walked past Loki as Loki watched him go. That same feeling that Loki had experienced in the forest just prior to the attack descended on him once again, that something was not as it should be, that something had changed, shifted. It was somewhat similar to the feeling a mortal of Midgard would experience if they boarded the same bus they took each day only to realize after a minute or two that unbeknownst to them, the bus routes had been changed.
Loki entered his own chambers, past the Einherjar standing sentry outside the door who bowed his head at his Prince’s approach. He wished to change out of his hunting clothes and into something more suitable before rejoining his mother at Thor’s bedside. The moment he stepped through the door he sensed another presence within. Examining the room he saw her dressed in the gown of a palace servant seated on the cushioned chaise. Rising quickly, she started towards him with an expression of concern mixed with relief.
“Loki! Are you alright?”
“I was unharmed. Thor appears to have been their lone target. Verda...what are you doing here?” Loki said, irritated.
“After I heard what had happened I had to see you,” Verda said as she extended her arms to embrace him before lowering them as he stared at her icily.
“You’ve seen me. You can go. I’m sure you have duties to attend to,” Loki told the fair skinned woman with coppery brunette hair.
Verda looked down at her feet, her shoulders slumping.
“Why have you not visited me? You said that you would.”
“I don’t have the time nor the desire to discuss it. I only returned to change before I rejoin my mother at my brother’s bedside, a matter I’m afraid takes precedence over the mewling of a guileless chambermaid,” Loki told her harshly, clearly annoyed by her presence.
Verda was silent for a moment, stung by his words and his cold demeanor.
“It was you. You asked that I be reassigned.”
“Of course it was me. It took you this long to reason it out?”
“Why….?” Verda asked, her voice reflecting her confusing and pain at the revelation.
“I thought it was for the best.”
“You were afraid-” Verda began, Loki quickly interrupting her before she could finish.
“I fear nothing. I said I don’t wish to speak of it. My brother is dying. Leave me.”
“I was worried about you. Forgive me. I will trouble you no more. I was not aware you hated me so,” Verda said, her head hanging as she started past him towards the door.
Loki reached out, taking hold of her arm.
“I don’t hate you,” he said, his own head now hanging, “I suppose I should be grateful that someone bothered to worry over the brother of Thor.”
“I was not concerned for the brother of Thor. I was concerned for Loki Odinson,” Verda said.
“Once all of this is over, I’ll visit you. We’ll talk then,” Loki told her.
Verda smiled as she quickly kissed Loki’s cheek before exiting his chambers.
“It’s madness! You can’t truly believe….his own brother?” Volstagg sputtered, speaking to Sif.
He, Hogun, Fandral and Sif sat around a large burning cauldron in what appeared to be a common room of the palace.
“Loki is certainly one for mischief, but not of that sort. That’s something altogether different,” said Fandral, though Sif could tell from his expression he wasn’t entirely convinced by his own words.
“Fandral is right. It would not only be fratricide but treason against the throne,” Hogun added.
“Who else would stand to benefit? The timing itself is suspicious. Odin was to announce the heir in a week’s time. Loki has to know that it’s unlikely to be him. Loki has always been jealous of Thor! He’s always coveted the throne! Why would they have left him alive, not run him through as well?” said Sif.
“What you’re saying could be considered treason. You could find yourself thrown in the dungeon...or exiled,” Fandral warned.
“It’s not treason if it’s the truth,” Sif replied.