“Skál!" Balder said, raising his mug.
Thor smiled and knocked his cup against his brother's. The mead splashed over the lip, trickling between his fingers. "Skál!"
He quaffed his drink in one long draught and slammed it back to the tabletop just a moment before Balder. A cheer went up from the men around them, golden coins raining against the wood and stone. If there was any god in Asgard capable of out drinking him, Balder stood the fairest chance, though even then, only if Thor was already well into his cups. But in the relief after battle, no one had noted who had begun drinking first and the wagering had been fierce.
"More mead!" Balder called, and Thor laughed.
"Brave of you Balder."
"Bravery has little to do with it, brother. Mead!" He called again, and pulled one of the Valkyries into his lap.
Kára shoved him backward off the bench before filling their mugs, winking at Thor. "Your wife sends word you must be sober enough to walk yourself to your hall, Thor, or she will find another god to take to her bed."
Thor grinned. "Balder will be drunk beneath the table long before my limbs are affected by my own mead. She need not go looking for any other."
"Ha!" Loki said. "And what other god can give her so grand a skáli as Thor!"
The gods roared with laughter, banging their fists and mugs on the table.
"When will you build a proper hall, Thor?" Bragi asked.
While the other gods had built immense halls, shining with gold and silver roofs, Thor had not improved upon the small cottage he shared with Sif since he had built it for shelter while he and Odin had raised Asgard from the earth. It had only two rooms, and a single hearth. Not that Thor had spent two days together at home since the war had begun. He grimaced.
"Surely you can not keep Sif in that hovel for an entire cycle!"
"Tomorrow Odin can send you to fight frost giants, and I will build a proper skáli for my bride." Thor raised his cup over the laughter of the gods. Bragi was god of poetry, and served better as messenger than warrior. "To victory!"
"To victory!" Balder called, struggling up and back to his seat. "And its rewards!"
"Skál!" the other gods shouted.
Thor drank, and drank again. And the third time that Kára came to refill their cups, Balder did not rise from the floor where she had knocked him for his cheek. The others would see that he found his bed, as they had every night their champions had returned from the fighting. Thor rose and made his way back home to his cottage on feet still steady, pleased to find his wife waiting at the door.
He took her in his arms, staring into her honeyed eyes, more brilliant than any amber. She laughed and framed his face in her hands, pressing her forehead to his. "Home at last. Though I suppose I should be angry that you only come to me after you've had your toasts and your wine."
"That I might come to you with nothing else on my mind, the grimness of battle left behind," he said, winding his fingers through her golden hair. She smelled of sunlight and fields of wheat, her skin beneath his calloused fingers smoother than water.
"I promise you, I am better than mead for forgetting."
"Skál," he murmured against her lips.
And then he drank deep.