The disc twirled about on the leather thong as she spun it, the colors in the opal reflecting the firelight.
Loki, dressed in his robes, sat on the floor before the fireplace, leaning back on his hands. Eidra sat facing him, her back to the fire.
“Each family has a deflowering gift that is passed down through the female generations. It is always an item of power and prestige. Women are revered as the givers of life and therefore are deemed worthy of such honor. I had looked on this many times. My father would take it out and show me what to do with it. I do not know why, he knew I would never be able to pass it on to a daughter. Perhaps he felt guilty.”
She put the disc between her thumb and forefinger. “And now here is my gift to you.” She turned the disc and said, “Alfheim”
The disc started to shimmer, losing its color until it was transparent, only the distortion between her fingers gave an indication that it was still there. The fireplace before them began to fade, collapse upon itself, a dark spot swirling in the center, expanding wider and wider until it filled the spot where the fireplace had been. The firelight still glowed around the edges but the hole was large enough to walk through. Loki could see the fields, the road, the full moon glittering off the snow cover and most prominently, the castle of Freyr, a few lights burning in its windows.
“If I were to walk through that hole, it would close behind me,” Eidra looked at Loki who was now sitting upright legs crossed staring open mouthed into the heart of Alfheim, “Because I was wearing the necklace. You could walk through there and return because the necklace would still be here.”
She reached up, felt for the edges of the disc, then turned it again, “Midgard”
The hole wavered as if a stone had been dropped into water, the ripples flowing outward until an alien landscape appeared before their eyes, of tall poles, lights on top of them that used no candles, a hard road, strange curved wagons on either side, pale squares upon which a group of four people walked. They were talking, laughing and they wore strange, frightening outfits, their faces made up to resemble demons. They could have fit right into Helheim. Suddenly Eidra realized this was the night her father had told her he had met her mother, All Hallow's Eve. They were wearing costumes.
She smiled as they walked up to a strange cottage and knocked on the door. Very faintly she could hear them call out, “Trick or Treat!”
She reached up and turned the disc again, “Return.” The image faded, the hole collapsed in on itself, the firelight once again returning to the room, bathing it in yellow light.
“It is a gateway to the realms. It has a name, Uruz. Father said it is as ancient as time itself.”
Loki gazed at the disc in her fingers, then at her.
“And now it is yours. Never tell anyone what it is, Eidra, especially our enemies. Do you ken?”
“I do, Milord, what did you have to promise my father in return for this?”
He paused. A piece of firewood snapped and crackled, “He asked me never to cast you out of the house of Odin, out of Asgard. To keep you under my care for the rest of your days.”
“And you were willing to do this?” Eidra stroked the rim of the pendant, it felt cool against her skin.
“I was, and I am,” He yawned, “It is time to retire, It has been a very long day.”
He stood up and stretched, offered her his hand and pulled her up.
“I will be helping put the meat by in the smokehouse with Helgi and the palace kitchen staff tomorrow. I have to get up very early. Will that be alright, Milord?”
He nodded, “Yes, as long as you are here for the evening meal. I may ride tomorrow for a bit. You must join me soon, you need more lessons to be able to ride proficiently.”
She lay there in her cot for a long time, listening to Loki's even breathing, staring at the Uruz, spinning it on its thong, watching the iridescent play of color on its surface.
Nearly every day for two weeks, Loki would be gone with the hunt early, rarely waking her to assist him. In the evenings, he would come home, caked with dirt and sweat, soaked through to the skin from trudging through the snow with the party. She would already have a bath drawn for him and a fresh robe set out, having charged Silas to watch for the hunt to return so that she could be ready. She would bring him his evening meal, sometimes he would eat, more often he would drop into bed to sleep until morning when he would be up before dawn.
One morning, his preparations woke her up and she rose to help, fetching a fresh tunic and breeches from the wardrobe. She stood before him as he pulled on his boots.
“The wound heals well, Milord.”
Loki gave a tight smile and nodded. “It still pains me, Clotho was not gentle when he removed the stitches.”
He raised his head as he snugged up one boot, “Yes?”
“Will you be late returning tonight?”
He grabbed the other boot and shoved his foot inside. “If this hunt is as successful as the one the day before, we shall be going further afield to look for game. We needs must stock the storehouses to last through the winter. I will likely be late.” He paused, “Why?”
She clasped her hands behind her back, “It has been many a night since you sat before the fire with me. I.....miss it.”
He sat up, “It will be a long lean winter without a successful hunting season. Even with the game we kill, the end of winter is often meatless when the herds shift. A few more days, and we shall rest, then there will be a delegation from Alfheim coming which we are to entertain. I wish you to be wine steward again at the feasting. It will be in the Throne room instead of the Great Hall.”
She felt her face flush, “Milord, I did not do well the last time I served wine.”
He put his hand on her shoulder, “I have faith in you. Now Thor shall be chomping at the bit lest I hurry.”
She bit her lip. He had not touched her, kissed her, shown her any sign of affection since Winternights and she certainly could not ask for it. He squeezed her shoulder, smiled, and was gone.
She so craved his attention, she could have cried. Instead she swallowed her disappointment, made up her cot and headed for the kitchen to help Helgi and Artra.
That evening, having brought the remains of his evening meal back to the kitchen, she returned to his chambers to find him in his chair before the fireplace.
She dropped down on the bear skin rug at his feet and laughed as he produced her set of dice and tossed them to her. They played dice for nearly an hour, he regaling her with stories of the hunt.
“I have had to use my crossbow this season, the wound causes me such pain I cannot draw my bow.” He tossed the dice, scooped them up, tossed them again.
“Perhaps in time, if you continue to try, the wound shall give.”
He shrugged, handed the dice to her, “I am proficient in both. The job is done either way.”
She kept him abreast of the current palace intrigues and he answered her with some of his own, but all too soon he put his head down upon his bent knees, “Eidra, the hunt saps my strength, I must rest.”
She nodded as he rose from the floor, following him to turn down the sheets of his bed. He lay down and pulled the covers up to his chest, “I promise, we will have our nights to us soon enough.”
“This night will hold me a bit longer, Milord.”
“And I will continue your riding lessons as I have promised.”
“I look forward to it, Milord.”
He never heard her response.
The Alfari delegation had arrived while the party was still in the fields and the staff were busy seeing them to the guest quarters. Eidra was saddened that her father had not come with them this time, seeing as Freyr and a number of High Court members were present and it was so close to Yule. She had wanted to thank him for his acceptance, his consideration.
She decided to wear her green dress while she served that evening. She had arrived at Loki's chambers to help him dress for the fete but found he had long ago done so. She picked up his dirty clothes, brought them to the laundry room and headed for the palace kitchen to start serving.
She walked into the Throne room with the rest of the servers. Tables from the Great Hall had been assembled in a U-shape before the steps leading up to the Throne of Odin, though Odin, Frigga, Loki, Thor and Sif sat at the head table with Freyr and his wife, Gerðr.
She started along one side of the table, dodging the food servers, pouring as she went, returning to the kitchen for more wine as needed, continuing along the tables until she reached Thor and Loki seated side by side. Thor held up his chalice, eying her carefully as she poured the wine. She eased behind Thor to Loki who gazed up at her with a gentle smile and a nod. She returned the smile and moved to the next chalice.
She had reached the other side of the room when she heard Freyr's booming voice ring out in the hall.
“You have regaled us with a grand feast, we shall supply you with the entertainment.” The clap of his hands brought out a troupe of ethereally lovely Alfari women, dressed in a rainbow of silk scarves, metal beads in bands at their wrists and ankles glittering in the torchlight, tinkling merrily with each step they made. As they reached the middle of the floor and began to dance, the catcalls and shouts of the men, pounding their fists on the table, were punctuated by three large leather clad men who had tall drums strapped to their waists, their tempo slow and sultry.
One red head dressed in gold silks, with flashing green eyes, broke from the troupe and started to flit along behind the tables, another white-blond woman in dark blue silks to match her eyes, started up the opposite side of the room. Eidra glanced up at the head table to where Loki sat, smiling and talking to Thor. He looked to her, holding her gaze a little too long when Thor turned his head and she caught his eye. She quickly looked away, continuing along the tables, missing Thor's wave to the red head who bent down beside him as he whispered in her ear, smiling with him as she listened.
When Eidra heard the crowd grow louder, she looked up. To her horror, the red head had dragged Loki out into the middle of the room and was starting to dance around him, drawing her silk scarf around him as he stood there smiling...smiling...She gripped the handle of the ewer tightly, wanting to knock it repeatedly against the woman's skull.
When she put her hands against his chest and drew them down slowly to his thighs, Eidra thought better of knocking her in the head, preferring then to take said head by the red hair and bash it on the marble floor. The tempo of the drums increased as her movements took a frenzied, erotic trip around Loki's body. She felt unable to turn away, watching his face as he watched the woman, mouth open. She could see his breathing change from across the room, he did not even flinch when the red headed slut pulled his sword from its scabbard and started to dance with it, drawing the flat between his legs and laughing as his head tipped backwards to the ceiling while the men at the tables got louder. The drums had reached a fever pitch then, when in a final stroke, the red head threw the blade of the sword behind his head, drawing him to her and catching him in an intense kiss, his hands coming from his sides to her shoulders, lingering momentarily before gently pushing her away.
Thor was standing up by then, his chalice raised as he whooped and the red head bowed to Loki who bowed in return, flushed with color. He made his way back to his chair beside Thor, the latter clapping him heartily on the back.
Eidra sat at the staff kitchen table, alone, trembling with rage. He had been smiling...had even touched the little whore. She could not have been full Alfari, they were better than that, they would not have danced like such harlots. She banged her fist on the table, making the ewer rattle on the wood. Maybe she had been right, maybe he had been indulging his own whim with her. She was simply his servant as Helgi had warned her all along. She stood from the table, her slippers slapping the flagstone steps as she mounted them on her way to his chambers to wait for him to retire.
Loki had searched for Eidra. He had even left the table to wander into the palace kitchens, scaring the wait staff senseless as he strode through their midst, they trying to make room to bow as he passed.
He had returned to the Throne room, perplexed, concerned., wondering if she had taken ill of a sudden. He informed Thor that he was going to retire for the evening but Thor insisted he stay longer until eventually the midnight hour was close at hand. Loki kissed Frigga on the cheek with a whispered, “Good evening, Mother,” and slipped away from the crowd now socializing at the center of the room between tables.
Eidra was in her cot, face to the wall when she heard the door slide open and close gently with a click. Eidra turned over and rose from the cot to assist him with his dress clothes. As she stood there, quiet, her arms outstretched for his garments, he glanced at her face, “Where were you?”
“When, Milord?” Her voice sounded flat to her and she frowned.
“During the fete, I could not find you after the entertainment.”
She bit her lip, a bit harder and she was sure she would have drawn blood. “I did not know you were looking for me, Milord.”
He had paused, his inner vestment open at his chest, “You were supposed to be serving the wine, am I correct?”
She nodded, thrust her arms out farther so he would see she was waiting but he did not make to remove another piece of clothing. “So where were you?”
“I was in the staff kitchen, Milord.” It was not a lie.
He had tilted his head to look at her, “What troubles you?”
She gave a loud sigh and put his great coat on the bed beside her, putting her hands up to draw his inner vestment off for him but he shrugged her away, “I asked you a question.”
He took a step back, “You lie! And to me of all people.”
She gritted her teeth, “I do not, Milord.”
His eyes narrowed, he scanned the room, his mind tumbling through the events of the day until, like a clap of thunder, he knew, “You are jealous.” a slow smile spread across his face.
She shot him a look filled with anger, “What have I to be jealous of?”
He leaned towards her, his finger pointed at her chest, “You are jealous of that dancer, the red head who kissed me!” He was positively giddy.
She put her hands on her hips, “And this amuses you.”
He nodded, chuckling as he crossed his arms.
“Were you so amused when Malek kissed my hand and you nearly broke his for it?”
His smile slipped away, “You are too bold, woman.”
“Am I?” She backed away from him as he started to pace.
“He was rude, uncouth. To approach a woman before being properly introduced, then to deny it before me. He deserved much more than was given him but once again I heeded your plea.”
Eidra began to walk back and forth to keep in step. “The way you treated him, demeaned him. I would have thought it was more than just a warning to mind his manners. I do not think you would have done what you did if he had approached someone else in such a way.”
A sneer crept to Loki's face, “And you believe that it was jealousy made me do such a thing?” He was suddenly angry at himself for baring his feelings to a servant, angry that even then she had known his heart. Angrier still that she would not concede, wanting to shake her until she confessed a desire to strangle the red headed siren with her own silks.
He waved a hand at her, “I grow weary of this game, fetch my robe.”
Eidra now had her hands down at her sides, balled into fists as she turned and headed for the door.
Loki took a couple steps forward, “Eidra, did you hear me?”
She opened up the bedchamber door.
“Where are you going?!”
She glanced back at him stepped out into the corridor, and started walking at a fast clip towards the staircase. Behind her, she heard him roar, “Eidra!”
She kept her pace, expecting him at any minute to come running up behind her. She was able to reach the top of the staircase before the door to his chambers swung open. She started to run down the spiral staircase. She reached the bottom as she heard his footsteps at the top. Helgi leapt from the bench at the table, startled as she watched Eidra scramble around the opposite side towards the fireplace and plant herself squarely, her hands on the table. Loki hit the bottom step and strode to the table, slamming his hands down inches from hers.
“How dare you defy me!” He shouted at her, his face was flushed, the muscles straining at his neck.
“You called me a liar!” She cried, “And you lie in return.”
He leaned in closer, his eyes afire with rage, “Hold your tongue, wench.”
The word stabbed at her heart like a dagger, “I refuse, you will not make me.”
She stared into his eyes, sure he would strike her now.
He remained leaning over the table, however, fingernails scratching the wood, trembling. Finally he stood, straightened his tunic. “If this is your answer, so be it. Stay here in the kitchen this night, sit at the table, see how unforgiving hard wood becomes. You will soon miss your warm bed, your place by the fire.”
He glanced at Helgi, and without another word, strode back up the staircase. A minute later, they heard the door to his chamber slam so hard, she thought it would surely rock from its hinges.
Helgi stood, frozen, her hands at her cheeks, “What in Odin's silver beard has happened?”
Eidra sat down at the bench, put her head down to her arms.
“He called me jealous.” She moaned.
“Of who, what?” Helgi sat down beside her and put her hand on her back.
“Of that Alfari dancer who had her hands all over him this night.”
Eidra shook her head, “You were not up there at the fete, the delegation from Alfheim brought dancers with them and one of the little whores kissed him.”
“Eidra, such talk. Then what happened?”
She put her head up and stared at the ceiling as if she could see him, “Then he came to his chambers and asked me what was wrong, I told him nothing. We started to spar a bit, I challenged him with his treatment of Malek, I told him he was jealous too and he just waved me off. So when he told me to fetch his robe, I refused and then came down here.”
Helgi still had one hand to her cheek, “But Eidra, he is the prince, that is your chore, to assist him, is it not?”
Eidra nodded, she could feel her throat start to sting as the tears finally started their relentless track down her face. “Oh Helgi, I love him! I love him so much.”
Helgi grabbed her by the shoulders, “No you do not. He is a prince, you are a servant. You are infatuated with him. It is nothing more than that. Look at all he has done to you since you arrived here!”
Eidra touched the Uruz sitting at her cleavage and a fresh spate of tears threatened. “But he has done much more for me.”
“Child, I will not ask what has gone on behind those chamber doors but, faith, I have warned you about becoming too familiar with him.”
“So your master has banished you now has he?” Helgi and Eidra swiveled around on the bench to stare down the corridor where Malek was standing, leaning against the archway into the kitchen.
“Malek, what are you doing here?” Helgi stood from the bench, hoping Malek had come late to the conversation.
Malek bowed to Helgi, “I was fetching Silas for my mother, she does not like him to walk the palace corridors alone at night and he is finishing up in the palace kitchen, so I wait for him.”
Helgi waved her hands at him, “Well then wait in the kitchens unless you wish for Lord Loki to find you here.”
Malek laughed, walking to the bench, sitting down and sliding towards Eidra who put her hands out and stopped him from coming closer to her. “He is in his rooms, I heard him leave the kitchen, without his hand maid, I must take pains to notice.”
“Malek, it is high time you left and I shall take pains to show you the way out.” Helgi picked up the bread paddle, brandishing it like a sword.
Malek stood from the bench with his hands in the air, laughing harder now, “I think you are correct, if you will excuse me. Eidra, I do hope you find another master soon.”
The crack of the bread paddle against the table put wings to Malek's feet and he ran down the corridor the way he had come, giggling, his glee edged with sarcasm.
Helgi shook her head, “That boy will get himself into so much trouble one day, he will not be able to get out of it, mark my words.” She put her hand on Eidra's shoulder, “Come child, to my room, you can sleep on a pallet there for the evening. A night's sleep always puts things in a different light.”
Slamming the door once was not enough, Loki wanted to slam it again and again until it splintered into firewood. He walked to her cot and with a roar, overturned it against the wall. He started pacing back and forth, muttering to himself, “If she prefers to keep company with the staff, so be it. She will not defy me. I will not allow it.”
He took his tunic off and threw it across the room to the braziers where it lay looking as if it wanted to crawl up one leg and sacrifice itself to the heavens. He tossed his breeches on the floor beside his bed, threw on his robe, and sat on the edge of the bed, trembling, angry tears dropping to the floor below.
He looked over to where her cot lay upended then stood, walked to the door, opened it, stopped, slammed it closed again. He walked over to her cot, stooped down and pulled her blanket from the pile on the floor. He sat down in the chair before the fireplace, hugging the blanket, burying his face into it. He breathed in her scent, seeing her before him, her mahogany brown hair curling around her face, her soft lips in a wide smile, her eyes alit with an inner fire. He groaned, pulled the blanket closer to him, watching the fire, listening to the crackle and sputter fill the lonely silence of the room.