The young Alfari boy poked his head through the tent flap and peered inside, on his face a look of sheer terror. Loki gestured for him to enter and he bolted through the flap bowing deep as he reached him and held out a tied parcel. Eidra watched Loki take the parcel from him, walk to the writing desk and lift the lid. He took out his pouch, opened it and dropped a couple coin into the boy's hand. The boy smiled, bowed again and ran from the tent.
Loki looked at the parcel in his hand, “I shall return shortly, I would like to read this correspondence in private.”
Eidra nodded, “I will go outside, Milord.”
Loki held her shoulder, “No, you stay inside and continue to pack. I will leave.”
He lifted the tent flap, walked around the side of the tent to the tree line behind him where he untied the parcel. A round stone disc on a leather cord slid out into his hand. It was highly polished, with a hole in the middle through which the cord passed and it looked to be made of opal so that whichever way it was held, the play of color changed with the light. It was as beautiful as the woman who would wear it. He peered into the parcel, finding a letter had been included. He drew it out, unfolded it and began to read.
I have considered your request in good conscience. I have also explored my shortcomings as a father to Eidra for I have had to abide by the directives of the High Court of the Alfari, thus were my hands tied as I hold a high position within the court. I have no need for material things, however, as I am lacking for little, so then, I entreat you, as the price for restoring her honor, you allow her to remain in your household, safe, such as it is, that you do not turn her out of Asgard but keep her under your care for the remainder of her days in this realm. If she be as valuable to you as I have inferred, then you will have restored her honor. This disc is her deflowering gift, you must give it to her, she knows what it is and what it is for, she always has. I remain respectfully yours,
Holder of the Sacred Cup of Volundr
Loki refolded the letter and put the disc inside a pocket of his great coat, then returned to the tent where Eidra knelt on the ground, rolling up the rugs.
“I am nearly finished, Milord.” Eidra grunted as she pushed the roll to the side.
Loki bent over and picked the rug up, heading outside with it to the sledge while Eidra called out in protest, “Milord, I can do that, please.”
When he returned to lift the next rug, she pushed it down on the ground.
“You should not be lifting things thus with your wound. It will bleed again and I must change the dressing before we break camp for the trip home. Now sit,” She pointed to the chair beside the writing desk, adding, “Please, Milord.”
Loki sat in the chair, putting the parcel in his saddlebag at the end of his cot, which she was in the process of folding. He saw her steal a glance at the saddlebag but he ignored her obvious curiosity, instead disobeying her orders, so restless was he to be on his way back home. He picked up the chair he was sitting on and carried it outside to the sledge, returning her glare with equal intensity. She couldn't help but laugh.
The sound of hoofbeats behind her caused her to step back towards the sledge. Thor reined his horse in and jumped down. “Where is my brother?”
“In the tent, Sire.”
He strode past her into the tent where she followed to fetch the cots.
“It needs attention brother,” She heard him admonish Loki. He was leaning over, peaking beneath the bandage under his tunic. He turned to Eidra, “Fetch Clotho, the wound is looking angry.”
She raced out of the tent and alongside the road, this time avoiding the muddy middle as much as was possible until she reached the physician's tent where he was busy packing up his trunks. “Lord Loki's wound needs tending, Lord Thor says it looks unwell.”
Clotho nodded, opened one of his trunks, pulled out a vial and a fresh roll of linen. “Come child, let us tend this quickly. I am most eager to be home by my warm fire.”
Loki grimaced, holding Eidra's hand tightly as Clotho removed the bandages and examined the stitches.
“My son, this is but a quick fix, when we arrive home, I will cut your stitches and excise the wound. The poison, though it seems neutralized, must still be working upon you. The wound needs be properly cleaned and not in a field hospital.”
“I shall need more than the usual amount of wine for such an endeavor.” Loki breathed.
Clotho tore another strip of linen, soaked it with the contents of the bottle and pressed it to the wound.
“Gods but it stings.” Loki cried.
“That means it is working.” Clotho added another strip and then secured them round with another long strip tied at his back.
“Now may we go home?” He stood back, surveying his work, looked at Eidra, “Keep him idle, I see he has pulled a stitch or two.”
“I have been trying.”
Thor nodded, satisfied, “The men wait outside to break down the tent. Come.”
Thor picked up the writing desk and strode outside with it, then returned for the cots, garnering surprised looks from Loki and Eidra which caught Thor's attention.
“Can I not be eager for the return home as well?”
Eidra watched the forests of Alfheim slip past the sledge. She had stared at the castle until it disappeared below the hills as they climbed out of the valley. She had hoped that Danar would return to visit with her before they left the realm, perhaps bring father with him though she had not wanted him to find out her current situation but it was not to be. She pushed herself farther back into the sledge, it had started to snow lightly. She put her head back to the rugs and closed her eyes.
The jolt of the wagon rattled her teeth and bounced her spine hard, nearly bouncing her off the end into the road. She sat up in time to see the wagon behind her rein in tightly. The drover jumped down and pushed the hood back from his round face. “It seems we broke a runner!”
Eidra jumped from the sledge and stepped back from the crowd of men who surrounded it
She looked up the line and saw Loki trotting towards them. He dismounted beside her. “It would have to happen now. Father intends to continue all the way through until we reach Asgard. I have called a short rest. We will have to load one of the other sledges and leave this one here in the field. There will be no time to repair it. Better to retrieve it later at our convenience.”
He reached into his cloak and handed her goodly chunk of bread and a piece of cheese wrapped in a cloth. “A meager meal but it serves its purpose. Are you keeping warm?”
She nodded, “I would that we were warm before the fireplace.”
He smiled, “Soon, Eidra.”
It was some time before the household goods were fastened securely to another sledge and they were able to be on their way. She was cramped for room with the extra cargo but nonetheless managed to find a comfortable spot. Darkness was fast approaching and the drover lit the lanterns hanging at the front of the sledges. The light snow earlier in the day had ceased to fall and now the stars glittered in the ink of the canopy far above them. She lay her head back to enjoy the view, smiling as a riding crop tapped her on the forehead.
“What do you see when you look to the stars?”
Eidra grinned though Loki could barely make her out, “Jewels, other worlds, perhaps.”
“You are a dreamer, Eidra.”
spurred his horse forward to catch up with the head of the caravan as she continued her study.
The morning was halfway finished when the skyline of Asgard soared into view. Eidra knelt in the sledge and leaned forward on the writing desk, watching it loom closer. She had never thought to be happy to see the palace again but she trembled like an excited pup eager to return to its master. When, a short time later, the gates rolled open for them, she jumped from the sledge and ran on ahead. Through the crowd, she could see Helgi pushing forward to meet her but instead of the hug she expected, Helgi grabbed her by the arms and shook her hard.
“I have been worried to death about you! When Silas told me that you had bribed him so that you could go in his stead, I was prostrate with fear. Into battle, the Gods wept!”
Finally, Helgi pulled her into a fierce hug, “Thank Odin you are back safe. You left me with so much to do for Winternight. The hunt is in two days and the wood piles have been rising all around the edge of the city. I have baking and cooking to do, glogg to make.”
Eidra felt herself being pulled from the crowd. She looked behind her, trying to spot Loki but he was engulfed in the throng surrounding the caravan.
“I should help them unload the sledges.” She tried to stop Helgi from bringing her into the castle, “I need to attend Lord Loki.”
“He will wait, there will be much talk and drink now that the army is back. You have a little time to yourself.”
Helgi had been more than right.
The Great Hall resounded with the roar of laughter and cheers as Thor stood at the head of the table, holding up a chalice.
“...And to Loki who fought with a ferocity unmatched even by Ulris!” They toasted together, Loki immersed in a rare feeling of camaraderie as he raised his own chalice.
Thor nodded approvingly, “You did, brother. You fought like a man possessed, if that troll's mother Jagen had not blind sided you, I daresay you would have won the battle single handedly!”
Loki tipped his head to Thor cautiously. He refused to let his guard down completely but he allowed himself to relish the speech Thor was making on his behalf.
“In two days time, we will begin the hunt and light the fires to dispel the evil spirits and the demons that will visit us.”
More cheers. Loki fingered the pendant in the pouch tied at his waist. When to give it to her? It must be on a special night. Perhaps on Winternight itself? He set down the chalice on the long table before him, suddenly eager to leave the proceedings, hoping Thor would allow him to leave so early without questioning his reason. He took a good-natured ribbing from Sif in an equally rare mood. Thor would surely celebrate his victory with her later that evening.
Loki edged towards the archway into the hall to the private quarters, watching Thor, thinking he would indeed be able to slip away but Thor's bellow stopped his feet. “Loki, there is still more celebrating to do, stay with us!”
Loki pasted a smile upon his face, turned and joined the group of warriors gathered around Thor, yet again. “Do you ever tire, Thor?”
Thor laughed, “Never, ever my beloved brother!”
Loki retrieved his chalice and sighed. The fireplace would have to wait.
Eidra was fast asleep in her cot by the time Loki retired to his chambers. He walked to her cot, his gait slightly unsteady, his head abuzz with the wine. She lay on her side, facing the wall beside the fireplace. He reached down and pushed a stray wisp of hair from her face, felt it damp. She must have taken a bath. His heart seemed about fair to burst as he stood and watched her for a minute, recalling the danger she had put herself in when she hid away to follow him into battle. Would he ever be as brave in the name of one soul as she had been?
He sat down on his bed and pulled off his boots, untied the pouch, put it on the high shelf in his wardrobe, then flopped into bed knowing nothing more until the next morning when Eidra set a tray of food beside him on the bed.
“Milord, come wake up. The day is started. I have already eaten and I have been conscripted to work in the kitchen with Helgi and Artra. Am I allowed?”
Loki sat up, “If you will draw me a bath, you may leave afterward. They will be readying for the hunt today,” he put a hand to his temple, “My head aches near as much as my chest.”
Eidra put a hand to his arm suddenly, “Gods, I forgot. The physician will be here soon to excise your wound. I will stay with you if you wish. Milord.”
Loki groaned, “It must be done, I feel the ache as strong as when I was first struck.”
“And you look flushed as well,” she put her hand to his cheek, “The wound must be cleaned before infection sets in.”
“I am flushed with drink, woman. Do not make me out to be upon my deathbed yet again.”
Eidra stood by the bed, hands clasped together. “The good physician will not allow you a bath yet. I will get you a basin to clean up in and then I will go see what keeps him.”
“Will you stay with me. Eidra? While the butcher cleans my wound?”
Eidra smiled then, “Of course I will, Milord. I will tell Helgi I will be a bit late.”
While Loki picked at his morning meal, Eidra drew water into a large wooden basin, grabbed a cloth and left it beside the bed for him with a promise to hurry back.
She found Helgi in the laundry room with Artra and explained to them that she had to attend Lord Loki but that she would be back to help as soon as possible. On the way back to the chambers, she met with Clotho, a packet wrapped in linen under his arm.
“How does the young prince fair this morning?”
“He is eating, I gave him a basin of water to wash in.”
“When we get to his room, I will need more cloths, fresh water, you may tear the linen strips for me, and I have a leather strap for him to bite upon.”
Eidra shuddered, “Will it be so painful for him?”
“My child, when you cut yourself does it not hurt?”
Clotho pushed the parcel further under his arm. “And then you bump it against something and it hurts again? Yes, it will hurt. I wonder that I should not get Thor to hold him down.”
Eidra opened the chamber door for him. Loki was standing in front of the fire, stripped to the waist.
“Sit in the chair, Loki, and bend forward so that I may cut the old strip.”
Loki sat forward, his elbows on his knees. He caught Eidra's eyes once and she could see the distress there. She wanted to touch his shoulder, stroke his hair but she dared not with Clotho right beside him.
“There now, sit back. Eidra dear, get fresh water while I remove the bandages.”
Eidra took the basin into the bath room and emptied it, drawing fresh water. Over the sound of the water flowing into the basin, she could hear Loki yelp. As she returned with the water, she could see Clotho had pulled a stool next to the chair and was now sitting on it.
She carried the water, set it on the floor beside the chair and stood out of Clotho's way. Loki was looking up at the ceiling, his jaw set. The wound was exposed and it looked angrier than the day before.
“There is dead tissue that we must remove. I suspect it is the poison which continues to work its evil. The scar will be wider than I expected but it must be done. Give me a wet cloth, dear.”
Clotho wiped the stitches, then handed a folded leather strap to Loki. “Here my boy, bite on this.” Loki put the strap between his teeth and fastened his hands atop the arms of the chair as Clotho started to snip the stitches and pull them out. Loki closed his eyes, wincing at each tug. The wound began to gape open.
“Eidra, you will assist me by sopping up the blood with clean linen as I work so that I may see what I am doing.”
Eidra bent down and picked up a cloth, waiting until Clotho began to work at the wound. Loki gripped the arms of the chair harder, she could see the sinew stand out in his neck as he bit down on the leather strap.
She dabbed at the blood oozing out of the wound. He started to growl with each exhalation as Clotho started to snip away the necrotic tissue at the edge and started moving further into the dermis. She would wipe up the blood as more would come to the surface.
Loki's groans had increased in volume. A couple of times he had slapped the arm of the chair in agony. The color had drained away from his face long ago, his eyes screwed shut, body trembling with the exertion.
“Eidra, take the blade from my packet, careful now, wrap the handle in linen. Now hold it into the fire as near as you can stand it. We must cauterize some of the bleeding to stop it.”
She chanced a glance behind her and saw Loki watching her. She was suddenly sure he was going to pitch forward from the chair. She stood with the knife and handed it to Clotho.
“Brace him, my child.”
She crossed her arm over his chest, just below his chin, wrapped her fingers around the back of the chair and looked into his eyes as Clotho touched the hot knife to the wound. Loki stiffened once, his eyes rolled back and his head fell forward onto her arm as his body went limp.
“Blessed be,” Clotho said as he dabbed at more blood and snipped a bit more of the dead tissue away. “I was hoping he would faint away soon enough. Perhaps we can finish before he wakes up again.”
She held her arm tight to him, keeping him up in the chair, pushing his hair away from the wound as the doctor worked.
After a while, Clotho sat back on the stool and pulled sinew out of the packet, stringing it on a needle. Fifteen stitches later, the wound was closed back up, looking much better than it had. He replaced the linen covering and tied it around his back.
“Now we must wake him up.” Clotho put a hand to his face and patted it a couple times, “Loki, waken.” A couple more pats, “Lord Loki.”
He gave his shoulder a hard shake, garnering a slight response, once more and Loki's eyes fluttered open. Clotho already had the basin up to him when he leaned forward and heaved the contents of his morning meal into the water.
“It is normal.” Clotho put the basin on the floor, heard a creak as the door to the chamber slowly opened and Silas poked his head into the room.
“Ah boy, come empty this basin in the washroom.” Clotho waved him in. Eidra saw Loki glare at the young boy as he lifted the basin and headed to the bath room.
“Loki, come, rest for a bit.” Clotho took his arm and pulled him from the chair.
“If you insist.” Loki stood, sat back in the chair, then stood again.
“You are still recovering. The hunt is tomorrow, you may not be able to draw a bow with that wound.”
Loki waved him away as he lay down on the bed, “I must join the hunt. It is tradition. I shall manage.”
“Stubborn boy, always have been.” Clotho patted Eidra's back, “You have your work cut out for you, child.”
Clotho wrapped up his instruments in his packet and tied them securely, then returned to the side of the bed. “The linen must be changed every day. Eidra, see that you come to my rooms later and I will supply you with fresh strips. The wound must be kept dry and covered for two days, then you can leave it to air.”
Silas came out of the bath room and sidled up to Eidra. “Is there anything else you need, Milord?”
Clotho rolled his eyes, “I have to go.” As the door shut behind him, Loki sat up and gestured for Silas to approach him.
Eidra frowned at Loki but he was watching Silas inch up to the edge of the bed.
“What have you to say?”
“About what, Milord?”
Loki pointed behind him to Eidra.
“She begged me, Milord, she promised that she would help with chores if I let her go in my stead. Forgive me.”
Loki looked up at Eidra, “Chores?”
“And you allowed her to risk her life to be freed from your chores?”
Silas's bottom lip started to tremble, “I did not think on it so....” And he wrapped his arms around Eidra's waist, burying his face in her side.
Eidra put her hand atop Silas's head, “Everyone makes mistakes, Silas, even us.”
“Silas, I will overlook this indiscretion seeing as we have returned safely,” Loki shot Eidra a look that she returned, “but from this moment on, you will not question my orders.”
Silas nodded vigorously and Loki waved at him, “Now off with you.”
He scrambled to the door and slipped through it as Loki lay back against the pillows, “I indulge you far too much, woman.”
“He is a boy. Can you tell me you always did as you were told when you were young?”
Eidra picked up the tray from the morning meal. “I will leave you to rest while I work with Helgi. Have me fetched when you need me again.”
She was at the door when he spoke, “Tomorrow is the hunt, the night of fire. It will be a special day.”
“Yes, Milord, now that we are returned home.”