Descent-(The Path)

10

Voices outside the tent roused her from sleep. She had turned to her side in the night and now was facing into the tent interior, Loki's arm wrapped tightly around her waist, his forehead pressed against the nape of her neck. She made to push his arm from her but he clung tighter to her.

“Milord, let me go,” she whispered, frantic, “There are people outside.”

She made another push and felt his arm let loose. She threw the blankets from her, pulling them over him as she darted away, reaching the side of her cot just as the tent flap opened and Odin trained his good eye on her.

“My son lives still?”

“Yes, Sire. He had a quiet night.”

Odin nodded, strode to the side of Loki's cot, drawing his cloak tighter around him.

“Loki.”

Loki's eyes opened and he struggled to sit up as Eidra rushed over to help him.

“Father.”

“Will you be well enough to attend the negotiations this morning?”

Loki nodded, “Yes Father.”

Odin's steel gaze passed over Eidra who stood beside the cot ready to attend. “We will meet in the Great Hall of the castle when the sun is halfway to its zenith.”

Odin glanced again at her, then at Loki and without another word, he exited the tent in a swirl of red, his armor clinking as he pushed through the tent flap.

Eidra's irritation was at it's peak.

“Lives still,”she mumbled as she walked to her cot to draw on her boots, “If I didn't know any better I'd say he sounded disappointed.”

“Eidra,” came Loki's sharp reply, “Hold your tongue.”

She winced, embarrassed to have been heard but still angry, “Forgive me, Milord, It is just that I would have expected more warmth for a son who nearly crossed over into Valhalla this eve past.”

“Woman!” Loki was now sitting up at the side of his cot, a grimace of pain upon his face as he put his hand to the linen tied at his chest. She realized he'd bled more during the night, going through his fresh tunic and both the tunic and dressing would have to be changed before he could go anywhere. “Do not pass judgment on my father. He is king and as such is beyond reproach. He has more on his mind than a minor wound.”

“I am sorry, Milord,” She bowed low, “I will say no more.”

As she started to help him off with his tunic, his tone softened, “Eidra, he is not a man to give succor. I have never known comfort from him in all my years. This he saves for the heir. All encouragement, all energy has been spent on the blond oaf.”

She had returned with a fresh tunic and laid it on the cot beside him, then reaching around behind his back, she started to undo the linen binding when she felt his hand on her arm, “You are my comfort, Eidra. Mark this and remember it.”

She knelt on the ground before him, her hand at his chest ready to remove the dressing.

“I am here to serve you, Milord,”

When she started to pull the dressing away, he winced, put his hand on her shoulder and squeezed.

“Some of it is stuck.” She prised the dressing away as gently as she could, dropping it to the ground beside her, managing at last to remove it all. The stitches stuck out like angry black spiders feeding along a line of red gore. She took a piece of linen dipped in the water bucket and wiped away the blood from around the wound, drawing a hiss from him.

“Gods but that water is cold!”

She noticed him staring at his armor on the ground beside the writing desk, the heavy leather carved in the front from the sword stroke that had felled him.

“You were near death, Milord.”

“I know not how I survived. Tell me.”

She pressed the fresh dressing gingerly across the wound, and tore a longer strip to reach around his back to hold it in place.

“King Freyr came to you with his elixir. He has a ready supply to their poison.”

“But how did he know I had need of it?”

“I had my brother, Danar fetch him. He helped carry you to your tent when you were wounded.”

She could feel Loki's stare as she reached around to tie the strip at his back.

“So it is in your debt that I am.”

Eidra sat back on her heels, “Danar would have recognized the poison as well given time, my grandmother was a master alchemist. I watched her many times, read her tomes and I knew what you had been poisoned with the moment I saw you but Danar did the running, the debt lies in his expedition.”

Loki put his hand beneath her chin, “And it lies in your knowledge.”

She smiled, leaned behind him, “The ends need trimming, hold there.”

She knelt down and drew the dagger from beneath his cot, “Do not move, I will trim it close.” She reached behind him just as Thor walked through the tent flap. He was on her at once, his hand closing on her arm, pulling her backwards.

“Wench, drop the knife!” He roared, “You see brother, see what you have brought into your chamber?”

Loki was on his feet, “Thor, let her go, you fool! I gave her the dagger for protection. I knew it was in her hand! She was tending to my dressing!”

Thor stared at Eidra who opened her hand, letting the dagger drop where it stuck in the ground, barely missing Thor's boot. When his grip loosened, Eidra tore her arm away, chin jutting out in defiance as she bent down and recovered the dagger, handing it to Loki who took it and lay it on the cot beside him.

“Milord, the linen.”

“Leave it be for now. I will dress and go with Thor.”

As he was picking up the tunic from the bed, Eidra locked eyes with Thor while she backed from him, seeing his hands clench to fists at her stare.

“Brother, I will wait outside for you. I much prefer the company of the troops to the company in here.”

Loki looked after him then to Eidra who was helping straighten his tunic, pulling the ends of the linen beneath to hide them. “Be mindful, do not defy him outwardly so. Keep close to the tent and I will return when negotiations are finished.”

Eidra nodded as he strode through the tent flap out to where Thor was waiting, arms crossed. She heard him start upbraiding Loki as soon as he had his ear. She sighed then and started to clean the tent of the dirty linen and buckets.

Loki had set at the long table beside Thor in the Great Hall listening to Freyr and Jagen discuss terms of agreement. Thor was in the thick of the whole affair, shouting, slamming his fists on the oaken surface but all Loki could concentrate on was the throbbing ache in his chest. At one point he closed his eyes and put his head in his hand until Thor put his hand hard on his shoulder in the process of making a statement and he hissed with pain at being jostled so.

The Dökkálfar's prime argument was that they wished to expand their borders but their request for such a consideration had been systematically ignored. Loki looked up at Thor and calmly questioned why they must expand into Alfheim, why Asgard could give no quarter to them as well. It had been an honest question, and given the fact that Loki had been doing his level best to ignore the entire proceedings, one asked out of curiosity in an effort to play the middle ground but Thor had threatened him with a look fit to kill. It was at this juncture that Loki stood from the table, bowed to the High Court and begged their indulgence in tending to his wound.

He slipped into the crowd gathered around the table and looked about the immense room that was the Great Hall of Castle Alfheim. He had circulated around the table, watching the proceedings when he heard a voice beside him that was familiar. He turned to see Danar stooping to speak to an older distinguished looking man seated at the table. The man was dressed in the robes of the High Court, a brilliant green caftan embroidered with leaves of all shapes and sizes and colors, cinched at the waist with gold cord, a silver circlet around his long dark brown hair. Loki stopped to listen to them speak, finding they had switched to Gaelic in an effort to talk privately among the Dökkálfar and Asgardians milling about the room. He was grateful for the rudimentary grasp of the language Eidra had given him.

“An Prionsa Dark labhair an t-athair, fhírinne.” Danar had his hand ón the man's shoulder.

'This must be Eldan Denari,' Loki thought to himself, recognizing the words Father and Dark Prince. They were surely talking about him. He clenched his hands in frustration at his inability to decipher more. He vowed to ask Eidra for more lessons when they arrived back in Asgard.

It was then that Danar stood upright and scanned the crowd around him, catching sight of Loki. He colored, nodded and if Loki had been in doubt that they had been speaking of him, he had his answer in Danar's reaction.

Danar's hand returned to his father's shoulder. The elder man turned his head and followed Danar's gaze to Loki. Eldan nodded curtly to him and returned his attention to the proceedings. Loki moved closer to Danar then, touching his arm,

“Might I have a word with you?”

Danar looked about him, “Now?”

Loki smiled graciously, “I will be but a moment.”

Danar glanced at his father who was speaking now to a white haired man sitting beside him then moved away from the table, following Loki to an open space a few feet beyond the edge of the crowd.

“First, I must thank you for your assistance this evening past. I would have surely seen Valhalla had it not been for you.”

Danar bowed slightly, “And we would have been overrun by the Dökkálfar had it not been for your forces coming to our aid.”

Loki returned the bow, “And now I must beg of you a favor. I desire an audience with your father when the proceedings are over.”

Danar tilted his head, “An audience with my father? To what purpose?”

Loki heard another shout, this time it was Freyr who'd spoken above everyone else.

“My business with your father is of a private nature. I only ask that you tell him of my wish to speak with him.”

Danar snorted, “I will tell him, only know this, he is unaware that my sister serves you now.”

Loki glared at him, “You presume too much.”

Danar shrugged, cast a glance at the crowd Odin was now standing, addressing the Alfari Court, “What other business would you have with my father?”

“That is between your father and I. Will you ask him? It is imperative that I speak with him before we leave this realm.”

Danar nodded, “I will tell him, then the decision is his. Remain here.”

He watched Danar weave his way through the crowd back to the table and lean over at his father's side. Presently Eldan cast Loki a glance through the throng and spoke to Danar. As Danar made his way back to Loki, Eldan kept watch.

“My father has consented to grant you an audience when the proceedings here are finished. His manor lies not far distant, he will receive you there, now if you will forgive me, I must attend to the matter at hand.”

Loki bowed, “You have my thanks.”

Danar turned without another word and Loki drifted away from the table, further into the castle where guest and attendant alike roamed the halls, presently finding an arched window that looked far down into the encampment. He could just make out his field tent far to the right down the camp road near a copse of trees. He sighed, winced at the stab of pain the movement brought and put his hand to the bandage beneath his tunic, wondering if she had managed to procure her morning meal.

It was well past the evening meal when the proceedings adjourned for the night. Loki had drawn his cloak around his shoulders and now stood apart from the Aesir filing from the Great Hall, watching Thor and Odin, their heads together in animated speech, when Danar approached him.

“My father waits at the West gate with his horse, come with me.”

A horse was waiting for him when he reached the gate leading from the castle into the Western Woods. He grimaced at the sharp pain as he pulled himself up to mount the hourse. A pole had been affixed to the horse's bridle and Danar handed a lantern up to him. Then mounting his own horse, they proceeded down the road before them a few hundred feet to where Eldan sat on a bay which was stamping the ground, impatient to be off and running.

“Lord Loki,” Eldan nodded, “Follow me, my home is down the road but one league. We will speak there.”

They trotted away from the castle, riding in silence, weaving in amongst the trees until the castle was no longer visible through the foliage, their hoofprints muffled by the new fallen snow, Finally, after some time, turning down a wider lane, deep rutted, well worn. The lane widened further until it became a courtyard to a large cottage with candles blazing in each window, the thatched roof glittering with the snow fall.

As they dismounted before the door, it opened and a young Alfari boy ran outside to take the reins from them. Eldan gestured for Loki to enter the house where he encountered a tall beautiful woman in a flowing yellow gown with long hair the color of raw honey. She'd been about to rush into his arms. He backed into Eldan who had just made the threshold, the woman stumbling to a halt, her hand at her belt where was sheathed a small dagger much like his own..

“Eldan?” The woman cried, “Who is this?”

“Suram, mind your manners.” Eldan looked embarrassmed, “This is Prince Loki of Asgard.”

“Brother of Thor?” She stepped back a bit from him, “The Dark Prince.”

Loki rolled his eyes to the ceiling, “At your service, Milady.”

Danar followed them inside, closing the door behind them. Loki looked about the cottage. It was well furnished, Eldan was a wealthy Alfari. The front door had opened into a buff colored sitting room complete with two rocking chairs and a divan set before a tall fireplace in which a fire was blazing and suddenly he wished fervently to be back in his chambers with Eidra. Beside the fireplace was a set of plank stairs leading up to a second floor. Off to their right was another doorway through which he could see a large kitchen with a long dining table dominating the center. The largest chair he surmised was Eldan's, seated at the head of the table with its back to the wide fireplace around which hung pots and pans of various shapes and sizes. It was into this room that Eldan directed Loki,

Suram following behind. The servant that had been sitting beside the fireplace, a tome in one hand, the other stirring a pot over the fire, jumped from her chair, slapping the book shut.

“You are welcome to join us for the evening meal.”

Suram gestured to the servant, “Set the table, Tia.” The young girl moved to a tall hutch to fetch the pewter plates lined up along its base.

Loki thought of Eidra alone in the tent and shook his head, “I cannot stay long, I must speak with your husband about an important matter.”

Suram looked to Eldan who nodded and Suram, waving the servant girl from the kitchen, followed her back into the sitting room where Danar stood warming himself before the fire.

“Lord Loki, my son says that you have business with me that you need to discuss but I fail to recall any dealings I have had with you directly save my tribute earlier this year. Is there a problem?”

Eldan had set in his chair before the fireplace and he waved his hand for Loki to sit as well.

“I wish to speak with you about Eidra.”

Eldan sat forward in his chair, “What of her? Is she hurt, sick?”

Loki templed his hands before him on the table, “No, she is well. I have seen to it she is taken care of.”

“You? She was to be a servant in the household of the Crown Prince.”

“And so she was until..,” He hesitated, it would be in poor taste to insult the oaf in front of commoners but it was he who had acted rashly, why should he not bear the brunt of shame? “My brother challenged me to a contest with her as the prize.”

“So he gambled and used her as a chit?”

Loki put a hand up, “I assure you, when I entered into the contest, my sole thought was to best my brother. I did not need another servant in my household but she has become part of it now.”

Eldan sat back in his chair, “And this was the matter you wished to talk to me about?”

“No, soon after she joined my household, she was installed in my chambers as my hand maid and in a drunken fit one evening, I took her against her will.”

He could see Eldan's hands grip the armrests of his chair.

“I wish to restore her honor.”

“She was to remain pure and you raped her.”

Loki stared at the wood grain of the table, unable to raise his eyes to Eldan's.

“I did,”

“And now you wish to restore her honor because you took her without ritual, without right?”

“Yes,”

Eldan paused, staring fixedly at the table before him.

“How do you expect to restore her honor then?”

“In whatever way you see fit. If it be coin you desire, land, livestock, you have but to name it.”

Eldan stood from the chair and began to pace, “You would put a price on something so important, so dear to a girl that it is decided from birth who will deflower her?”

Loki stood as well, “If she was to remain pure then there was no provision such as this for her.”

“No, there was not.”

Loki put his hands out, “But why?”

Eldan bowed his head, “She is of mixed race. There are different sets of rules for half breeds and that is one, that they are to remain pure so as not to dilute the bloodline.”

Loki drew his fingers through his hair and winced again at the tug in his chest, he was becoming tired, anxious.

“She serves you, correct?”

Loki nodded, “She does. What of it?”

Eldan fixed him with a stare, “I would think that a servant in the house of Odin had no honor to restore.”

“Then to restore the honor of the House Denari”

Eldan crossed his arms before him, “Under normal circumstances, if this occurred, the penance would be paid to the man who was originally to do the deflowering but since there was never any such provision, I must think upon it. There is much to consider. Each family has an item for the rite of passage, When the girl becomes a woman in this fashion, she receives this item and in turn will give it to the man she chooses for her mate, thus it passes from generation to generation. Since she is my only daughter, by rights, even though this was never to happen, it would go to her. Give me the night to consider what would be fair and just. I will send you my answer by morning.”

Loki fought to swallow his frustration, “I do not know when we shall break camp. I must see if there will be more negotiation on the morrow.”

Eldan shook his head, “I have heard tell that the Aesir and their army will break camp tomorrow by midday, leaving a small contingent behind, but I cannot say for certain. You will have my answer well before then.”

Loki bowed to Eldan, “Then I take my leave of you. The night grows old.”

He made to start for the sitting room but Eldan stopped him, “One question, Lord Loki.”

Loki didn't turn around, faced the doorway, “Yes?”

“Do you seek to restore her honor, or her faith in yourself?”

Loki closed his eyes, “Perhaps both. I will wait for your answer.”

He drew aside the tent flap and walked inside. Eidra was lying on her cot, her legs over the side as if she'd fallen asleep sitting up. When Loki touched her cheek she started awake, rubbing her eyes. “Milord, I have been so worried about you. Where have you been?”

He brushed the line of her jaw with his thumb, “It is of no concern to you. Did you eat?”

She nodded, standing to assist him with removing his great coat, noticing his obvious grimace of pain.

“Should I fetch Clotho, Milord?”

He shook his head, “No Eidra, I will be fine, return to your cot and go back to sleep.”

“Did you eat, Milord?”

He knew that she would be out of the tent like a shot if he told her that he hadn't so he said that he had. Satisfied, she returned to her cot, burrowing beneath the heavy coverlet.

“You should rest, Milord.”

Loki gave her a benevolent smile, “I will, Eidra, now go to sleep.”

When she finally drifted off, he lay down, unable to join her, the pain fluctuating as he tried to find a comfortable position. He decided he would speak with Clotho in the morning. He sat up, blew out the candle on the writing desk and lay back down to try getting some sleep.


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