ByAlia Sauthor, writer at Creators.co

Chapter 12: Challenges and Confusion

Callum smiled a slow, evil grin. He turned to one of his friends. “Fetch me my axe.” He turned back to me. “You wish to fight? Then we will fight. Here in this hall. I call for a challenge!”

Callum informed the hall of our fight. There were a few chuckles, and some worried murmurs. No one really took this seriously. Or they didn’t take me seriously. Either way, it made me angrier. As the middle of the room, usually used for dancing, cleared, I heard my name being called. I turned to see my friends coming towards me, worry in their eyes.

“What do you think you’re doing?” Loki asked me in a low voice.

“I am ensuring he never insults me again.” Replied. That didn’t ease the worry in Loki’s voice.

“Are you sure you want to do this?” He asked me.

“Yes.” I was going to do this. If I kept letting Callum disrespect me in front of everyone, it would only tell everyone I couldn’t stand up for myself.

“Then we wish you good luck.” Sif cut in before Loki could say anything else. Which I was glad for, because I needed their support. I knew that a very, very large part of nobles who were watching didn’t think I stood a chance. Callum was a lot taller than me, a lot stronger than me and had more practice. But that wasn’t really running through my mind. I was focusing on his weak spots: he was slower than me, and I could reach his back faster than he could catch me.

I walked to the center on the room, facing Callum. I glanced at my friends, who gave me reassuring smiles. Or were trying to. “The first one to disarm their opponent will be the victor. Agreed?” Callum asked me. I nodded. I was ready for this. I could feel it.

One of Callum’s friends stood between us. The room was quiet, and everyone was watching us with baited breath. I could feel all eyes on us. I could see Callum’s smug face. “Begin.” His friend said, moving aside.

We circled each other, waiting for who would make the first move. I locked my gaze with him, waiting for him to flinch. Finally, after what seemed like ages, Callum made the first move. He was a bit quicker than I predicted him to be. He came at me with his axe swinging to the side, trying to catch me off guard. I shifted back and to the side, out of his reach, springing forward to catch his exposed side. I wasn’t going to stab him; I wasn’t allowed to seriously injure him, from what I understood of challenge rules. I could give him a light wound, but the angle wasn’t right. My plan was to annoy him to the point where he messed up, and to tire him out. Just as he caught his axe to keep it from swinging farther, I shifted forward enough to punch him in the side.

He grunted a bit, before moving to catch me with his axe in the legs. I crossed my blades together to make an X, and blocked his axe long enough to move out of the way and aim a kick at Callum’s head. Unfortunately it wasn’t a fast enough kick, because he caught my shin with the handle of his axe, pushing it back. I stumbled a bit, unbalanced, and my shin stung. Callum smirked, lunging towards me while I was testing weight on my shin.

I slid to the side again, aiming a kick at his back with my injured shin. I was smarter this time, and moved quicker. He stumbled forward and I took the opportunity to kick his knees in. He fell forward and I wrapped my arm around his neck, one blade to his throat and the other aimed at his side. Again, I wouldn’t actually kill him, but I would make him nervous. I was so pleased with myself that I missed him elbowing me in the side. I took the first blow and toughed it out. The multiple shots that came after were hard to bear, and Callum escaped the trapped position he was in, swinging round to fight me. I backed up, and he missed, coming at me at me again.

This went on a few more times, where Callum would charge at me, miss, I would go for something, miss or hold it for a few seconds. We were surprisingly evenly matched. I was sure that the court would be getting bored after seeing this multiple times. I didn’t know though. I was too focused on Callum, too focused on what he was doing, to know that the crowd was captivated.

I didn’t hear my friends cheering me on, yelling tips. I also didn’t know that the favour of the court had shifted. Before the match, Callum had the majority betting on him to win. More and more of the hall was now leaning towards me winning, and the more we fought, the more came to my side.

I was moving a little faster now, having focused on conserving my energy at the beginning, and Callum was getting sluggish. I was wearing him down, whether he know it or not. And after not focusing on the noise of the hall, I heard something that changed my whole strategy: Callum’s friends shouting to him.

“End the match Callum!”

“Do it now!”

“Come on Callum, finish this!” I saw the glint in Callum’s eye and knew he was going to use everything he had to make the next few minutes the last of the fight. He grinned evilly at me, and he went a lot harder. His blows were stronger, and quicker. He was determined to win. But luckily I was more stubborn than he was.

I moved quicker, focusing on his back, dancing around him, tiring him out. I wanted him to use up all of his strength, and to tire out.

I was getting more confident, moving quicker, when Callum swung his axe, and just brushed my upper arm. I felt a flash of discomfort. I glanced down to see he had grazed me and I now had a slash going down my arm. He let out a cry of triumph, thinking I was near defeat. My friends were trying to get a look to see how bad it was. Callum’s friends were cheering him on, while the crowd in the hall was talking amongst themselves, wondering if this was it.

And it was. For Callum. Because while his overconfidence boosted him to charge at me once more, I stopped thinking and strategizing, and I just moved, charging for him. He had his axe held over his head, bringing it down to finish me while I crossed my blades, wide enough to meet with his axe. I slid onto my knees, pushing my blades up to resist Callum’s axe for a split second, then swinging my foot out to catch his right ankle. Callum was on the balls of his feet, so unbalanced that he lost his footing once my foot collided with his ankle. He tumbled forward and I kicked a foot into his stomach to push him over to the side, and using my foot to kick his axe out of his loose grip. Callum fell next to me and I swung up, sitting on his back, one leg on each side. He tried to reach for his axe, but it was out of reach. I gently put the tips of my blades into his shoulder blades, to keep him still.

We sat like that for a few seconds, the crowd silent. Finally, Callum’s friend, the same one who started the battle, spoke, his voice shocked.

“The Lady Halfling is victorious.” He said softly, but the hall was so silent it could be heard anyways. I got off of Callum, who scurried around to get his axe and stand. At first I thought he was going to attack me, but was caught off guard when he bowed to me, before leaving the middle of the room. He was red in the face, but he didn’t look mad. I couldn’t tell what he was feeling. When he left, my friends and the crowd supporting me cheered.

I could hear them yelling my name, or things like “Glory to the Lady Halfling!” and I could even hear some of the crowd supporting Callum talking aloud, repeating over and over “She is more Asgardian than we thought.” I raised my arm like they did in UFC fights, so overwhelmed by the support I had. I was in so much shock and awe, so caught up in the moment, that I didn’t see Volstag and Fandral approach me until they were behind me, lifting my legs up to sit me in between them, on their shoulders.

I laughed and Volstag and Fandral cheered me on again. They carried me all the way to our usual table, spinning me around while I giggled and laughed. I felt like a little kid again. When they finally let me down, Sif grasped my wrist, and I grasped hers, seeing her do this all the time while training. “You did well.” She said.

“She did more than well.” Loki appeared, next to Sif. “She was brilliant.” My heart fluttered. Oh, that’s right. Before the fight I was thinking about those kinds of reactions.

All I could say to them was: “I have excellent teachers.” I felt a hand clap my shoulder and turned to see Thor grinning at me, from ear to ear.

“You did well, Noelle.” He praised me.

“I must agree.” I heard the low, yet booming voice behind Thor, and my eyes widened. Odin stood behind his son, a soft smile on his face. “You are becoming skilled in your training my dear. A fine warrior shall be made of you.” I nodded, because no words were forming in my mind. Odin had just praised me. Something, I never expected nor wanted. But to actually get it felt great.

And after that fight, it wasn’t just Odin who praised me. All the while through dinner, people came up to me, congratulating me. It was the first time the nobles actually came up to talk to me. The Asgardian women mostly greeted me, or congratulated me on my match. It was the men who were interested in knowing who my father was. It was funny to watch their eyebrows go up when I said my father was Tyr Fetson. Apparently a lot of them claimed to be my father’s friend, offering me help in various areas.

Whenever I would get tired of their questioning, Loki would politely tell them I’d had enough, which I appreciated, since I wanted to sit and enjoy my friend’s company, not tell my life story.

It wasn’t until later when Loki reminded me of the cut on my arm. I had been so busy talking and laughing to have noticed, until I felt pressure on my upper arm. I winced, looking over to see Loki holding my arm, and pulling it away from my side.

“What are you doing? That hurts!” Was he crazy? I was fine until he started poking and pulling at my arm.

“You are injured.” He pointed out, his face serious.

“Which is why you should stop pulling on my arm. It hurts.” I said defensively. I tried to pry my arm out of Loki’s grasp, but it just hurt more. He finally used both hands to steady my arm so I could stop struggling.

“It only hurts because you have not tended to it. Now stop fighting.” Loki was feeling around now to try and see how far the cut went down my arm, while I winced and cringed in pain. I watched him feel down from my upper arm to just above my elbow. “Hm. I wonder how deep it is.” I was wearing a shirt with three quarter inch sleeves, which Loki started rolling up. At that point I pulled my arm away.

“What are you doing?” Not that I didn’t mind Loki trying to help me, but if the Asgardian court had a problem with him holding my hand, then what would they say to this?

“I am attempting to help you. You seem to not want me to.” He acted like I was the one with the problem.

“Well, I don’t need the whole Asgardian court making assumptions.”

He seemed to remember the hand holding incident. “Then we shall go outside.” He got up, motioning me to follow him. I was at a loss for words. What in the world was up with Loki? I know we were becoming close friends, but I also figured being touchy-feely amongst friends was a big no-no on Asgard. Now he was holding my hand, feeling my arm. I didn’t understand what was going on. When I saw he wasn’t going to wait for me, I got up and followed him out.

When I got out to the balcony, I felt my heart pound faster. Loki was leaning against the balcony, his elbows supporting him, looking out to the night sky and the lit up city. The wind was blowing gently. It was like a movie scene. And that terrified me and excited me at the same time. I was still getting over the fact that I was almost killed by the only guy I ever actually thought to go out with. And now whenever I was around Loki my heart rate sped up. Was I developing feelings for Loki?

“Are you going to let me help you now?” Loki interrupted my thoughts, giving me an impatient look. I nodded, and rolled up my sleeve with his help. He spent time examining the long cut, poking at it. Finally, he let go and said it was fine, and had already started healing.

I was still caught up in my thoughts. I was trying to figure out how I felt. Having a crush on Loki could make things weird. But maybe it would eventually go away?

“Much on your mind?” Loki said, leaning his back against the balcony.

“Yeah…”I trailed off. “Loki…you’ve been acting strange lately.”

“Strange?” I moved to lean against the balcony, looking out towards the city, all lit up and beautiful. The city outside of the palace was like New York, always lit.

“Yes. Why are you being so…” I tried to think of the proper word. “You’re acting like a Midgardian.” I chuckled a bit at how I put it. But it was all I could think of to describe his behaviour. If a good friend acted like that on earth, it wouldn’t be that big of a deal.

He actually broke out laughing. Tears running down his face laughing. “It seems you are influencing me far more than I thought possible.” I waited a few minutes for him to stop laughing at me. “Perhaps I simply enjoy the way Midgardians interact as friends.”

“Hm.” Was all I said. “Speaking of Midgard, I wonder what time of year it is.” It was probably getting close to Christmas time, since I left around mid-November. I hadn’t thought of home since I talked to my mom about leaving. But now, I was wondering how she was doing.

“You could always ask Heimdall.” Loki suggested. He shifted closer to me.

“I think I shall. Perhaps I could spend Christmas with my mother.” I didn’t think they celebrated Christmas here. But I didn’t want my mom to be alone for it, even if she said she would be okay with it.

“What is Christmas?” Loki asked.

“It’s a tradition on earth. On that specific day, you spend time with your family and friends, and give each other gifts.” I didn’t want to get into the whole religious aspect of it, since it wasn’t really important to Loki, or me. Having grown up knowing about Asgard, I didn’t think about Christianity.

“Midgard has traditions? I was not aware of it. How interesting.” At first I thought Loki was mocking me, but when I looked at him I realised he was being serious. He then looked at me, and I couldn’t help but look back. Whoa, whoa. What is happening here?

“Loki, why are you acting this way?” The words just came out of my mouth, and I couldn’t help it.

“I do not know.” His answer surprised me. How did he not know what he was doing? “I have yet to understand why.” He started to move closer to me. “I will find out eventually. But until then.” He gestured to me. “I am as clueless as you are.” I felt happy to hear him say those words. I felt like we were having a moment. A weird, confusing, out of nowhere moment. And it terrified me.

And just as quickly as it happened, it was over. Loki moved away, and we just watched the sky.

“I think I am going back to my chambers to rest. I will need to see Heimdall tomorrow.” After a while of staring and thinking I needed to go back to my room and think about what Loki just told me. I was confused, like any other girl would be.

“Would you like an escort?” He offered.

“I…I think I will be fine.” As much as I wanted him to escort me, I was getting whip lash from Loki’s on and off flirty moves.

“Then I bid you goodnight Noelle.”

“Goodnight Loki.” I said, walking away.

I needed to sort all this out in the peace and quiet on my rooms.

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