Valkyrie felt sick in the stomach.
I’m the King of Asgard. I’m the King of Asgard.
The thought seemed unreal. Thor had literally handed her the means to rule an entire people. People who had regarded the Odinsons as the rightful rulers of Asgard as long as they could remember. And then here she was, a failed leader of the powerful Valkyrie who was massacred by the Odinson’s oldest child, the Goddess of Death, Hela. Would her fellow Asgardians truly embrace her as their King?
Towards the bottom of the trail, her gaze rose from the dirt path lined with stones to focus on New Asgard that lied before her on the beautiful shore. It was a peaceful village filled with hardworking Asgardians going about their daily business, dressed in the casual clothing of this planet, Earth.
She immediately spotted Grail standing on the pier fishing, as he did every day. Grail had become one of her greatest friends in the last few years.
He was an elderly Asgardian with a long white mane, a full white beard, and muscles to spare which he had no qualm in showing with the sleeveless denim vests he always wore. He was as gruff as he appeared and that’s why Valkyrie loved him.
She headed straight toward him and without even looking at her he said, “What happened?”
She was a bit taken aback by his quick perception. “Um…I can’t say exactly but…could you get everyone to the town hall? It’s an emergency.”
He gave her a sidelong glance. “Emergency?”
“Just trust me,” she said a little snappier than she wanted to.
He shrugged. “Sounds serious. I’ll see what I can do.”
With that, he pulled his fishing pole out of the water and headed off of the pier, calling out to everyone in range.
“Valkyrie’s called a town hall meeting. It’s an emergency. Repeat, emergency.”
Valkyrie slapped a hand to her forehead. The way he was relaying her message made it sound like Thanos had returned. Or worse.
She hurried through town, his deep voice echoing the same message repeatedly through the streets. People were hurrying past, rushing to the town hall with fearful expressions. Approaching her through the mayhem was Hilda, a beautiful red-haired broad who was quite fond of axes and arm wrestling challenges.
“Valkyrie, what’s going on?” Hilda asked as she fell into step alongside her.
Valkyrie didn’t even look at her. “You’ll find out soon enough.”
Hilda stepped in front of her, bringing her to a halt as she grabbed Valkyrie’s shoulders. “Invasion?”
Valkyrie shook her head. “No. There is no invasion.”
This surprised Hilda as she stepped back. “Then what’s the emergency?”
Valkyrie stormed past her. “I said I’ll tell you.”
“Valkyrie,” Hilda called after her.
But she didn’t stop. She just B-lined her way to the town hall, her palms sweating and her heart rate increasing with every step.
I am the King of Asgard. I am the King of Asgard. I am the freaking King of Asgard.
The thought was stunning.
She could hear the fearful murmurs surrounding her as she approached the town hall which sat on the village’s highest hill, overlooking New Asgard like a humble castle. Everyone thought they were preparing for another catastrophic attack. The true news was most likely going to be even more shocking. She could only hope the response was positive.
She entered the Town Hall, squeezing past the throng of Asgardians that had started to gather in the building and stood by the stage where she would tell everyone the news. The door remained open, allowing Grail’s voice to linger on the air as he continued relaying the message to all who would hear it. And, as she waited along with everyone else, she watched relieved as Asgardian after Asgardian filed into the building expecting quite the announcement.
Finally, after several minutes increased her self-induced anxiety, the gathering of Asgardians ended as Grail entered the hall with the last round of townsfolk, shutting the large door behind him. Valkyrie took a deep breath before stepping onto the stage where every pair of eyes turned to her expectantly.
She was thankful that over the past five years she had already established a tight relationship with the Asgardians she had sworn to protect. They had all faced Thanos and survived. She had taken the initiative to lead her people to a new life. One that resulted in a peaceful life here in Scotland. Thor hadn’t done that. He chose to hide away in a shack and drink himself to oblivion if he could. In a way, she was already King of Asgard.
She smiled to herself.
I guess that’s why he made me King.
“Everybody, may I have your attention?” she said.
It was a stupid question considering that everyone was already looking at her.
“Thor Odinson has left us and he’s not sure when he’ll return,” she began.
She heard someone murmur in the crowd, “Why am I not surprised?”
She threw a glare at the individual who had spoken out before continuing.
“He left me with an announcement. An announcement that I wasn’t sure how to handle at first but eventually accepted.”
She could see Hilda in her peripheral vision with her arms crossed and her expression wracked with suspicion. Valkyrie focused her attention forward, refusing to let anyone waver her concentration.
“I’m not one for speeches so let me get this over with.” She straightened her posture and raised her chin. “Thor appointed me King of Asgard.”
There were no immediate reactions. Just awkward silence as everyone in the Town Hall tried to comprehend what she had just told them. The first reaction she got was a question.
“Why did Thor make you King?” a male Asgardian asked. “You’re not even a man.”
“He determined that I was best suited to lead Asgard,” she responded.
“How can you lead Asgard if you couldn’t even keep the Valkyrie alive?” a second male Asgardian stated.
“Yeah,” someone else butted in. “What makes you qualified?”
“And how can you prove that Thor made you the king?” a fourth Asgardian interjected.
“What if we don’t want you to be our King?” another Asgardian said.
Valkyrie was overwhelmed by accusatory and derogatory questions that bombarded her paired with the praises of others who believed she would be a great ruler of Asgard. The commotion was stunning.
“Look,” she yelled loud enough for everyone to hear. The Asgardians’ attention focused on her once more.
“I understand your distrust and I know the mistakes I’ve made in the past but Thor made a decision and I am going to uphold his decision. He believed in me.” She pointed at everyone in the crowd. “All of you believed in me when I led you through those portals to battle Thanos and his army. You followed me then? Why won’t you follow me now?”
“Enough with the nonsense,” a man said in the crowd.
Valkyrie’s gaze turned to see who had spoken and her jaw clenched. Forging through the crowd slowly and with clear intent to intimidate was a gargantuan man known simply as Grunt.
Grunt was as formidable an Asgardian as Valkyrie had ever laid eyes on. Seemingly cut from pure muscle, he had a wild mane of locks and a braided beard that jutted from his chin ringed with golden loops. Despite the cold weather outside, he always wore a fur vest made of bear fur with no shirt underneath, revealing every bit of his powerful physique. His feet were clad in heavy brown boots and he wore thick black pants. His weapon of choice; his hands.
Grunt was a common troublemaker. He always caused a ruckus on the weekends in the bars as he got into scuffles with other Asgardians, often wrecking the places and causing a whole lot of unnecessary grief. Valkyrie had to end a lot of fights involving him but it wasn’t easy considering the man’s uncommon, even for an Asgardian, strength. Now, he was trying to challenge her. She didn’t have time for this.
“Valkyrie is a known leader,” Grunt began as he started making his way onto the stage. “I’ll give her that. But she isn’t a king.” He turned to look at the crowd. “I’m your king. I’m the one who will restore our former glory and I’m the one who will lead you with a mighty army against the weaklings of this land and Earth will be ours.”
“What the hell are you talking about?” Valkyrie demanded. “We Asgardians are allies of the people of Earth. Not their enemies.”
“And that is why you can’t be king,” he said, turning to her. “Your vision is weak. My vision is grand and Asgard is grand.”
“Thor would not approve.”
He stepped toward her. She hated how she was forced to stare up into his smoldering dark eyes.
“Thor isn’t here anymore.”
Her jaw set in an expression of fierce determination. He snarled back, practically asking her to challenge him, and she felt like it too.
“Wait a minute. Wait a minute,” spoke Volmas, an elder who was well respected among her fellow Asgardians, as she walked onto the stage.
She was one of the oldest Asgardians, having lived for thousands and thousands of years. She was around when Hela had just been born. She saw Asgard’s rise and Odin’s bloodcurdling reign across the universe. She had seen him turn against Hela and change Asgard’s brand, becoming a benevolent king and bringing peace to his people. She had helped watch over Thor and Loki and had participated in her fair share of wars and smaller conflicts. Through it all, she had survived, and now her wisdom would be called on yet again.
“This is a rather sticky situation it seems Thor has left for us,” she said to the crowd, receiving quite the laugh in response. “He always did have his humorous side.”
This isn’t funny, Valkyrie thought to herself.
Volmas turned to Valkyrie and Grunt, looking them up and down. “There’s only one thing that’ll solve this little problem. The Test of Valor.”
Valkyrie wanted to scream a string of curses to the sky. She managed to contain her composure. Grunt, on the other hand, grinned.
Volmas turned to the Asgardians. “If you’re not familiar with archaic Asgardian customs, the Test of Valor is essentially a battle to the death. Whoever wins between these two will be crowned King of Asgard.”
“Make that ‘these three’,” Hilda announced, walking onto the stage as well.
Valkyrie’s eyes narrowed as she looked at the woman who she had considered a friend for the last couple of years. So much for that.
“Make that ‘these four’,” another Asgardian said. He was lean and had dark hair tied back into a long ponytail. His eyes were slanted and his shaved face was young. But she wasn’t fooled by his youthful appearance.
Valkyrie knew him well. His name was Maan.
Maan was quite handy with weaponry but his weapons of choice were a pair of swords. She had seen him do quite some damage with swords of his during the battle against Thanos. She hadn’t ever wanted to be on the receiving end of his deadly focus.
As he stepped onto the stage he smiled apologetically at Valkyrie. She rolled her eyes. This wasn’t the time for politeness.
Volmas looked at the crowd. “Anyone else want to come up here?”
There wasn’t a response. She shrugged. “Well, it looks like these four Asgardians will be challenging each other for the chance to be the King of Asgard? And like we did in the archaic days, the Test of Valor takes place on the day the challenge is brought forth. It will transpire tonight in the Southern Cliffs.”
Valkyrie’s eyes widened. “Tonight? Isn’t that too quick?”
Volmas smiled. “Each of you is skilled warriors. Several hours should be enough time to get prepared.”
As the crowd erupted into excited commotion Valkyrie tipped her head back in despair, staring at the ceiling.
Thor, I told you this was a bad idea!
And yet, she could see in her mind’s eye, Thor’s smile, the belief in his gaze that she could live up to the challenges ahead, and she knew she would do whatever it took to live up to his trust in her.