Loki was up and gone well before Eidra awoke for the day. She went to the kitchen where she found Helgi making bread. Eidra sat down at the long table beside her.
“I heard them leave, the whole hunting party. Did you not get up to assist Lord Loki?”
Eidra shook her head, “He rarely wakes me up early, in fact, he often fetches his own robes, dresses himself. He would get his meals if I were indisposed.”
Helgi glanced at Eidra, “What purpose do you serve, then, if not to wait upon him?”
Eidra kept her attention on Helgi's movements as she kneaded the dough for the Pulla on a cutting board, “As a companion? As an amusement?”
“He mistreats you no longer?”
Eidra took one of the hunks of dough Helgi had separated and started to divide it into three to roll into long ropes. She then began to braid them together into a loaf.
“He gets angry sometimes but he does not hurt me, he merely chides me.” She thought of the kisses and shivered.
Helgi was quiet while they braided the loaves of bread. When they were finished, she slid them onto a big bread paddle to stick into the brick oven at the rear of the fireplace.
“Malek has been talking with the servants of the way Lord Loki treated him. He said it was all because of you and I told him that it was because of you that he still had a hand to work with.”
“He was so forward with me, I was frightened. Loki was simply defending me.”
Helgi put her hands on her hips, “Listen to you, being so familiar with him that you forget to use his title.”
Eidra's hands flew to her mouth, “Gods, do not say anything.”
“See that you do not forget in front of someone much more important than I,” Helgi reached into the large bowl at her side, trying to distract Eidra with a change of subject,“We have to make the glogg for the bonfire ceremony soon.”
Helgi took another hunk of dough, divided it, handed a hunk to Eidra and they began to make more Pulla.
Eidra began to roll the dough into a long rope,“Malek should take a care with his talk. He does not want to sound treasonous.”
Helgi's gaze shot to Eidra, “Lord Loki should not be so quick to lash out.”
“He has not done so since. He did not lash out at Silas last evening. I made sure of it. He only warned Silas not to be so pliant the next time I begged him for something.” Eidra grinned.
Helgi put another loaf on the bread paddle, “Make sure to use your influence over him wisely lest you make enemies.”
Eidra slid her loaf onto the bread paddle beside Helgi's, “I have no influence over him.”
“Yes you do, my child. See that you take care.” Helgi glanced up to see Artra walk out of the laundry room and she made sure Eidra did as well.
“Your dress is ready for this evening, child.” Artra sat on the bench beside Eidra who leaned over and hugged Artra.
“Thank you for finishing it! I cannot wait to wear it to the bonfire.”
Artra regarded her, “You should try it on to make certain it fits well, go on, it hangs in the staff wardrobe.”
Eidra leaped up and trotted down the corridor to the laundry room and in two minutes was back in the kitchen, “Artra will you help me with the bodice laces?”
Artra tied the bodice tight, giving her breasts just enough lift to accentuate her cleavage, the full dark blue velvet skirt reached down nearly to the floor and reflected the light with varying shades of blue. She twirled around for them, hardly able to contain her glee.
“Oh child, you look a vision.” Helgi sighed, “Pile your hair up, pinch your cheeks for color and the boys will fall at your feet.”
Eidra giggled, “Oh Helgi, I do not want the boys to fall at my feet.”
Helgi wagged a finger at her, “Go take it off until tonight so you do not soil it.”
Eidra returned in her staff dress and they continued to make the Pulla, chatting amiably until the loaves were all finished and in the oven. By that time, the first loaves were coming out and the day had reached its zenith when Silas ran down the spiral stairs and shouted, “The hunt has returned! They are in the south courtyard near the stables!” He disappeared back up the stairs.
Eidra peeked at Helgi who shook her head, “Go on.”
She ran up the stairs and down the corridor, past their chambers, past the arboretum and down another staircase at the far end of the corridor to a heavy door, pushing open in time to see Loki, Thor, Odin, Ulris, Magnus and several dozen more men gathered about a number of wagons piled with carcasses. The men began tying their kill up to iron rings in the outer walls of the palace courtyard. She noted Thor had lifted a deer for Loki and knew at once his wound was troubling him.
There were deer in various stages of preparation, some likely taken on their return home as they hadn't yet been gutted. The men were hollering, cheering, brandishing their daggers. Loki had his hand to the chest of the buck before him. He made a careful but swift slice downward to spill its innards on the ground before him, reaching into the cavity to clean it out. She clucked her tongue, the stains on his tunic and breeches would be horrendous. Still the scene, all the men involved in it, was visceral and she began to ken the blood lust that they gave themselves over to on occasion.
Loki turned then and spotted her across the courtyard. He smiled, his hands, his tunic covered in blood. She was concerned about the bandages, they would have to be changed later. She saw then, he was striding across the courtyard towards her. When he reached her he crooked his finger to her silently while he opened the door she'd just come through.
She followed him inside the staircase, heard the door shut behind her and they were alone, the shouts outside muted, the sputter of the torch in the wall throwing dancing shadows on the stones. He looked up the staircase once, then taking her face in his blood covered hands, he pressed her to the wall of the staircase and claimed her mouth in a kiss, ferocious, intense. Her knees threatened to buckle beneath her as he explored the soft underside of her bottom lip, the exchange of breath stirring him to deepen his exploration, sucking softly on her tongue, running his own along the pearl of her teeth. She had put her hands flat to the wall but finally brought them up to cup his face in return, a moan escaping her throat as the touch only intensified his ardor. When finally they broke away, they were both panting, eyes bright with passion.
“When I saw you, I had to kiss you, I could not stop myself.” Loki's voice came, low, husky.
She could smell the copper of the blood on her face, nodded. “I have yearned for your kiss again, Milord,” put her hand up, looking at the blood on her fingers, “But I cannot go back out there like this, I must wash my face lest they know who touched me.”
His response was to lean in again for one more deep surge, tugging her lip with his teeth, playful.
“My...Lord.” She gasped, “We must stop.”
She felt him smile. He turned with a backward glance, opened the door as she pressed herself back into the shadows, and trotted back out into the courtyard. Before the door closed, she spied Thor staring across the courtyard at him. She raced up the stairway, hoping no one would see her like this and at the same time, not caring. She could have run to the moon and back just then. He had craved her, needed her kiss as fervently as she had wanted his. She stopped at the top of the stairs. But what if he had just felt the excitement of the hunt? What if it had been a hasty reaction? Was the kiss merely another way of serving him, just as Thor used his maidservants while he courted Sif?
She put her hand to her face, her lips, frustrated. She wanted to shout the words from the spires of the palace, let the world know that she loved him, but she could not, dared not tell anyone, not even Loki himself lest he laugh at her and tell her to be gone from his sight, or worse.
She ducked into the arboretum, running to the fountain where she rubbed the blood from her face and hands as best she could, then raced through the corridor back to the kitchen. She wanted to finish with her chores, take a bath and dress for the bonfires. He had said it was going to be a special day and he had already been right.
The haunches of venison that had been hauled into the palace kitchens that day had gone into hunter's stew, kettles of which were boiling in the main courtyard far back from the immense pile of wood which would be the main bonfire from which to light the others around the palace. They would be a beacon for the other villages to see as a signal to light their own fires. Eidra had not seen Loki since that morning in the courtyard, he had not returned to his chambers or if he had, he had not called for her. She surmised that he was still with the rest of the men.
The sun was getting low on the horizon when she stood in the staff bath house pulling the blue dress over her head with Artra's help.
“We best hurry, the ceremony will be starting soon. We want to be out there to see them light the big bonfire, and get our cup of glogg to toast with.”
Eidra slipped on her leather boots, grabbed her green cloak and followed Artra down the corridors. They hurried through the palace, past the Great Hall where the Aesir were milling about talking, eating from the feast table, sauntering into the central courtyard. As the last rays of the sun dipped below the horizon, they stepped out into the cold winter air.
Eidra stood on tiptoe to see over the heads of the crowd but was too short to accomplish much. She pushed through the throng standing around the large pyre. A servant with a tray of mugs over his head, came sliding through the crowd. Artra stopped the man, reached up and grabbed two hot mugs for herself and Eidra.
“Where is Helgi, she said she would be out here waiting for us?” Eidra scanned the people about her, “We need Silas to lift over our heads.”
Artra sipped her glogg and wrinkled her nose, “It could stand to be a bit less sweet but there is no accounting for different tastes.”
A great din arose then as the crowd began to part. Eidra was shoved back a bit but held her ground as best she could. Through the great arched doors that led into the palace inner courtyard and then into the Throne room, came Odin and Frigga arm in arm, the crowd chanting “O-din, O-din”
until they reached the base of the pyre. Next to exit the palace was Thor, in his battle armor, a large deer skin draped over his back in lieu of his cape, his face painted with dried blood in streaks upon his cheeks. The crowd chanted his name as well as he raised his war hammer over his head and shook it. Finally Loki stepped from the palace doors, similarly attired as his brother, his face also streaked with blood. The crowd chanted his name as he walked to the bottom of the pyre, following his brother, but she was sure none chanted louder than she this time.
Odin held up his hands then and the crowd quieted, waiting for him to speak.
”Winter is upon us now. The harvest is taken in and stored and it has been a plentiful year for our kingdoms, there is meat in our storehouse and more to come from the hunting season. Now come the dark times, when winter's days are short and the nights are long.” A wink brought rumbles of laughter from the crowd, “We thank the ancestors for their protection, their guidance, their forbearance throughout the coming year. We ask their blessings upon our houses, their open arms for our warriors who make their way to Valhalla, their wisdom as we grapple with our daily lives.”
Odin held a torch high in the air now, and the crowd retreated in anticipation. “With this light, this bonfire, we dispel the darkness, we repel the evil spirits that roam the earth this night.
He touched the torch to the bottom of the pyre and the flames took hold of the tinder, rushing along the wood, upwards as a thunderous cheer arose from the crowd. Eidra took another sip from her mug and continued to search for Helgi, a bit sad that she couldn't expect to be included in the celebration that Loki was involved in. The mulled wine was warming her stomach and she wrapped her cloak tighter around her, watched the bonfire start to roar, driving the people further back from its edge. People were climbing up the stone steps to the parapets to see the other bonfires now being lit around the city. She followed suit wanting to look as well, trotting up the set of stone steps to her right that lined the courtyard walls. She was rewarded with a commanding view of the landscape, the bonfires blazing in response to the one Odin had touched off.
She finally found Helgi when she turned to look down into the courtyard from the wall. Helgi was speaking to other servants, she wasn't looking where Eidra was standing.
Eidra sighed, She would have to go back down stairs soon enough. She turned back to look out over the city a bit longer.
Loki scanned the crowd. He too, had located Helgi, expecting Eidra to be with her but she was nowhere to be seen. He touched the pouch at his belt to reassure himself it was there. Thor and Sif had wandered off to be alone somewhere. Odin was speaking with one of his warriors, Magnus. If there was a time for relative covertness, it would be now. Loki began to break through the crowd reaching Helgi.
“Helgi, have you seen Eidra?”
Helgi looked about, “No Milord, why what can I get for you?”
Loki waved his hand, “It is nothing I need. I wish to speak to her.”
Helgi gave him a curious glance, “I have not seen her, I was looking for her as well.”
“If you see her, tell her that I am searching for her.”
He stalked off towards the southern wall and started up the steps to try a higher perspective. As he reached the top of the wall and looked along its length, he caught the flash of dark blue velvet beneath a green cloak. He moved to one side, spying Eidra who was leaning on the wall staring out into the night. He walked up behind her and whispered in her ear, “You look so happy, I fear I will break the spell.”
Eidra jumped forward spun about, “Milord, if you wished me to jump over the wall, you nearly succeeded.”
“I did not mean to frighten you.” He stood beside her, gazing out over the city. “I have been so busy today that I have had little time to see you.”
“Only once, Milord,” she murmured, smiling as she heard him chuckle to himself.
“Eidra, I wish to talk to you.” Loki had his hands before him, fidgeting.
“Of course, Milord. I am listening.”
He shifted, stood, leaned over again and sighed.
“Milord, what troubles you?” Eidra turned to face him but he kept looking out over the city.
“Eidra, when first you came here to Asgard, I did you a terrible wrong. It is all the more terrible because try as I might, I cannot remember it, though I know it happened. I was angry, enraged that I'd done such a thing.”
“You were drunk, Milord.”
He snorted, “Ah yes, you would remember.”
“I do not believe you meant to hurt me, Milord.” Eidra traced patterns on the stone beside her.
“I do not know if I did or did not. I only know that I took you and in doing so wronged you, robbed you of that which you had a right to, your ritual deflowering ceremony, your inheritance.”
“I was to remain pure. My father has told me since I was old enough to ken. He said I should never feel what it was like to become a woman.”
“I know,” Loki took the pouch from his belt, “Turn around.”
She did so, curious.
“Close your eyes,”
She felt something heavy nestle at the cleft between her breasts, his hands at the back of her neck. She opened her eyes, glanced downward, saw the opal around her throat and nearly yanked it from her.
“Milord!” She cried, “Oh, what did you do?”
Loki had been smiling but her reaction furrowed his brow, “I spoke with your father. I told him of what had happened.”
“He knows I have been deflowered?” She put her hands to her face.
“Yes, I told him I wished to restore your honor.”
“What?” Her head was swimming.
“And I asked him what I must do to attain such a thing. He told me, gave me the necklace, said it was yours by right. He said you would know what it was and what to do with it.”
Her heart had been hammering in her chest but now it began to slow as she picked up the disc and rubbed the smooth surface, watching it glisten even in the faint torchlight. Her father had said that he would give the gateway to Danar when he finally married and had daughters, and now it was here around her neck.
“And this you did for me? To restore my honor? To pay the price for my deflowering?”
Loki nodded, “Are you happy?”
She stared at the disc, “I am confused. I am happy and confused.”
He took the disc from her fingers, let it lay on his palm, “You are now a woman. You are no longer unclean, sullied. This is my gift to you.”
She curtsied then, “I will tell you about the disc tonight, Milord. That will be my gift to you.”
He kissed his fingertips and touched them to her lips “Until tonight.”
She watched him take the steps down to the courtyard, clasped the disc in her hand, feeling the energy running through it. Her father had given it to Loki to give to her. Loki had wanted to restore her honor. She stood at the edge of the walkway turning over these thoughts in her head as Loki walked over to Thor and Sif. So intent was she on watching them that she failed to notice the pair of eyes observing her from the other side of the parapet along the northern wall.