Winter's grip was tight, ham-fisted, the days short as the landscape was steadily buried beneath a blanket of snow, but what were short days and long nights to two young lovers who could hardly be bothered about the world outside, so wrapped up were they in each other.
Loki had convinced Eidra to return to the stables yet again and they would, on pleasant days, bundle up and ride through the countryside. They would stop at villages along the way and she would act the servant gladly. They had more than once made it as far as the village of Rialo where he would treat her to more bolts of cloth from the seamstresses shop to make dresses with. She would protest, he would distract, the bolts would be there on her cot in the morning, it serving for little else most of the evening as they clung to each other in blissful slumber upon his bed.
The seamstress, whose name was Ren, would often invite them in by the fireplace in the kitchen for a mug of mulled cider or mead and they would exchange gossip about the kingdom. Ren, like Eidra, was also half breed, though she was half Alfari, half Asgardian and the two women made fast friends.
Other days, Loki would take Eidra to his most cherished locations, the places where he came to think, to hide from palace life.
One such place had for many years been his and Thor's hiding place though Thor cared little for it now. Hidden down a long forgotten, overgrown road was a large waterfall spanning a wide cliff that rose many feet, the water falling into a large shallow pool though winter had stopped the torrent in a great sheet of blue-green ice.
There was a clearing half a league beyond the city limits, on a high bluff, where the whole of the city lay before them, the sun glinting off its buildings, fountains, gilded statues, the palace rising over all, commanding the skyline. They would stand and drink in the sight, she wrapped within his cloak. One day, he had pointed to a spot on the palace midway to the top, “There lies our chamber. If you squint, you can just make out the railing of the balcony.”
The ride back to the palace was always a bit sad, knowing they would have to be servant and master when they stepped through the gates into the courtyard. She would dismount and follow him through the stables, out into the arena and up into the south courtyard where she would wait for him to get a few steps ahead of her. Only then would they enter the palace.
The cold nights had changed little for them, though now they were more often spent on the bed, playing games like hnefatafl. Loki, brought up in a military household, was a practiced strategist but once Eidra caught on to the game, she would often trap his king, leaving him to sit there, legs crossed, head tilted to one side as he replayed his moves in his head while she laughed. Backgammon, however, afforded his chance to return the favor and she was more often than not, the loser.
Other nights, they would sit in their chairs before the fire, she with her lap loom across the arms as she wove the shuttle in and out while Loki watched, mesmerized. He would often read or write correspondence.
Then there were the nights they would spend beneath the coverlet in each others arms, Eidra as eager to learn his body as he was hers, the touches he craved, the words that brought his desire to greatest heights. The kisses that excited her, how she loved to be held, tight, skin to skin with him. She would drive him mad with her deliberate, slow caresses across the surface of his skin, whisper soft. Soon after their first coupling, she had lain her head on his stomach and held him in her hand, driving him to distraction with her strokes, strong and firm, stopping to giggle as he would moan, tap her on the back of the head as she teased him.
“Tell me?” She had purred, “Would you call this your rod?”
“For want of a better....gods......word.”
She had risen up on one arm, the other hand still preoccupied, “What say you to staff?” Another squeeze that had him shuddering into her hand while she smiled down at him.
“Perhaps, your scepter, ha! A scepter for a prince!” She stood him upright, her thumb stuttering across the tip while he gripped the sheets, desperate for release.
“Call it what you will, rod, staff, scepter, dagger, only woman, do not stop!”
She would stay with him in bed, rising early most mornings to tend the fire, returning to her cot as Silas was often there early in the morning to collect the chamber pots and deliver firewood.
One night, however, she had been particularly tired, failing to rise before dawn. Her heart had thundered her awake as she heard the door open and footsteps across the floor that stopped before the door to the bath. She opened her eyes to see Silas who had been standing there, his mouth open in a round O. She touched her finger to her lips then, and after a moment, he had nodded, continuing on to his chore. Forever after, he would arrive a little later in the morning, giving her time to rise from Loki's bed.
Helgi was happy at the change in Eidra, the beatific expression upon her face, the laughter in her voice. Even Malek, who would join them on occasion in the staff kitchen for the morning meal, could seldom shake her. Once, however, he had come close.
She'd bent over the table to gather the bowls to carry to Artra for washing. Malek, sitting on the opposite side of the table, was given a view of the depth of her cleavage, noticing in particular, the love bite Loki had left on the swell of one breast.
“Eidra, who has been courting you?”
She flushed bright red, “No one courts me.”
Malek pursed his lips, nodded, “Of course not.” He crooked his finger towards her and as she leaned towards him, cautious.
“What of your love bite?” He whispered.
She stood up, adjusting her dress, “I burnt myself helping Helgi one day.”
Malek laughed, raised an eyebrow. “An unusual place for such an injury.”
Helgi, hearing her name, raised her head from the pot of porridge on the fire, “What say you?”
“Eidra said she burnt herself helping you one day, perhaps you should put some unguent on it as it looks rather angry.” Malek waved at Eidra, “Show her.”
Helgi straightened up and strode over to Eidra who was glaring at Malek. “Let me see, child, you never told me about any burns.”
Eidra pulled the neckline of her dress away from her body, her eyes wide as Helgi looked at the love bite for a long minute, then met her eyes. “I shall get something for it.”
“Oh Odin's beard.” Malek cried, slamming his hands on the table. They watched him stalk off down the corridor and only then did Helgi turn to her with her hands on her hips. “Would you care to sit down and talk to me, Eidra?”
Eidra shook her head, “What is there to talk about?”
Helgi put her hand on Eidra's shoulder, “About him.”
“Malek?” Eidra stared at the floor, “He is a pest, it is as simple as that.”
Helgi turned Eidra towards her, lifting her chin up to look into her eyes, “You know fair well who I speak of. Child, give up this dangerous game you play.”
Eidra put her hands up to Helgi's round cheeks, “I cannot, it is far too late. Please will you keep our secret.”
Helgi put a hand to her forehead, “You ask so much of me, poppet. You know I shall.”
She pulled Eidra's head to her breast, stroking her hair, “What am I going to do with you?”
Thor was perplexed in particular at the seeming loss of his ability to pester his brother to madness as he had in the past. Loki was near unflappable, even when Thor chided him about his absence as of late, riding out with him in the morning. Loki had even been civil to Sif, much to her surprise.
Thor chose to confront him about his behavior one evening after a meeting of the High Council. Outside the Great Hall in the corridor, the Council members had gathered, Odin with Frigga's hand on his arm, speaking to Magnus. At a lull in conversation,Thor elbowed Loki.
“Brother, you have been uncharacteristically happy as of late. Tell me, what miracle has occurred to break you out of your perpetual dark mood?”
Loki smiled tensely, “Must I have a reason to be pleasant?”
Thor returned the smile, “Why yes. You are not yourself.”
Loki's smile faded a bit, “If you give me a reason to be cross, I am sure I can accommodate you.”
Odin watched the exchange between them, “My son, do not goad your brother. If his reason be enough for him, then it should be enough for you.”
Thor frowned, “Perhaps you should ask him then, father. He may answer you more readily.”
They had begun to wander down the corridor. Loki cast Thor a look that would have melted steel.
“Perhaps, Father, Loki has found himself a woman. Is that your secret? Are you in love, dear brother?”
Sif, who was at Thor's side, laughed, a melodious sound that raised Loki's hackles.
“Oh Thor I see him, he roams the halls alone. If it be a woman, she is invisible.”
Loki fought the sudden all-consuming urge to slam both of their heads together, “It is no woman.”
Thor put a hand to his shoulder. “Is it a man then?”
Loki sighed deep. “It is neither man nor woman,” He rankled inwardly at the need to lie, “It is simply a change of perspective. Does that answer suffice?”
“No, merely because you have been sullen forever.” Thor clapped him hard on the back, “It is in your personality to be dark, brooding, but we will find out soon enough, or you will return to yourself. Either way.”
Loki left them at the door to his chambers. Upon entering therein and finding Eidra gone, he stepped out into the hall, making certain the others had left, then he started for the staff kitchen to look for her.
Eidra sat at the table, her back to the stairs, using the light of the fireplace to sew by though she was, at the moment, paused, wondering if she should bother to stab Malek with the needle.
“You still hide the name of your lover. Why?”
Eidra glared up at him as he stood beside the kitchen table at her right.
“I am hiding nothing that you are meant to know. I do not wish to share my private life with you and that is that. You came here to fetch Silas now do so and away with you.'
He put his hands on her shoulders, “Now Eidra, why must you be so short with me? I am only curious.”
She shrugged angrily, trying to rid herself of his touch, “You are a cad and a gossip, you only wish to make me talk so that you may tell the palace rats something more of value than the current state of the storehouses.”
“Not true, Eidraaa...”
She felt his hands leave her shoulders quite abruptly and she jumped up with a scream as Malek's head came down hard on the table, pinned there at the neck by Loki's hand.
“This is the second time I have found you with your hand on her person!” He growled close in Malek's ear.
“Milord, I meant no harm.” Malek grunted, his eyes squeezed shut, tears staining the worn wood of the table.
Loki picked Malek up and slammed him to the table again, Malek cried out, his arms flailing.
“Whether you meant no harm is irrelevant, that you TOUCHED her at all, is. There will be no more warnings, you whoreson. DO YOU KEN?!” He shouted in Malek's ear.
Malek nodded as best he could, his cheek scraping the rough wood. “I am sorry, Milord, I ken, I ken!”
Loki hauled him up and shoved him away from the table where he stumbled, nearly losing his footing, catching himself on the wall.
“Be gone, let not even your shadow cross mine from this day forward,” Loki snarled, “GO!”
Eidra watched Malek scramble away from them down the corridor without so much as a glance backward.
“What was he doing to you?” Loki swung around to glare at Eidra.
“He was asking me questions. He was not hurting me.”
Loki looked down the corridor the way Malek had gone. “He touched you, that is enough for me.”
Eidra put a hand to her forehead, “And now he will spread word that Lord Loki came to my rescue once again and the rumors will grow worse.”
He threw his hands in the air, “Did you expect me to stand by and let him manhandle you?”
Eidra put a finger to her lips. “No more talk until we are in our chambers. The walls have ears, Milord.”
Loki drew his hand through his hair, “Come then, I was looking for you and have found you.”
Loki shut the door behind him, “It was not meet that he touch you!”
Eidra threw her hand towards the door, “Sometimes you must practice self control. Whether he was right or wrong, if you had come up behind him and said his name, it would have had the same effect as knocking his head against the table.”
Loki crossed his arms, “It would not have stayed with him as long. I was angry, and I shall not suffer the woman I love to be pestered by a lowly field hand. Am I so wrong for that?”
Eidra put her arms atop her head, “Oh Loki, you do not get it. Words, rumors are more dangerous than any one weapon, they stab more deeply, wound more thoroughly. Please tell me you ken.”
Loki reached out and grabbed her arm, hauling her to his chest where he caught her in a blistering kiss that made her body tingle all the way to the soles of her feet, “I only ken that I love you more deeply every passing day. If you wish for me to have restraint then I shall endeavor to do so, only do not expect profound results.”
She took what he could give, soothed him, cradling him in her arms as they lay together in his bed, talking of everything save the incident in the kitchen.
“The fields shall be blessed and readied for planting in a few days time. The moon is full now.”
Eidra nodded, stroked his hair, his comfort mirroring her own, “Mmhmm.”
“Silas this year is to go to the fields, is he not? He approaches twelve seasons.”
Eidra put her head up, “I did not know you took notice of such a thing.”
“He is my houseboy, why would I not?”
Eidra shrugged, “I simply did not think you would notice.”
Loki kissed the crook of her neck, nipped the skin , “Should I keep him from the fields, do you think? He is of more value here than out there.”
Eidra was tongue tied for a moment, his attention stopping her words. “I think it would be wonderful to keep him in the palace oh gods yes right there....”
“Then it is settled, he shall remain in the palace come planting time.”
“Thor is right, you indulge me too much.”
He rose over her, “Let me be the judge of such things.”
She was sick, it had been an age since she had felt this bad. She stood at the door at the end of the corridor to the staff kitchen, doubled over. She had sicked up her morning meal. She lay now with her head on the kitchen table while Helgi stroked her back, held a hand to her forehead, “I feel no fever. Child, go and lay down, Lord Loki will ken if you do not run at his beck and call.”
Eidra nodded, “I shall as soon as my stomach feels it has had enough. Why now Helgi? I thought to make it through the winter without falling ill.”
“You know this is the time of sickness. Come, I will walk with you.”
By the time they had made Loki's chamber, she was feeling a bit better but Helgi still insisted she lay down. She crawled beneath the coverlet on her cot while Helgi promised to check on her later. She sorely wished Loki was there. At least she would have someone to talk to. She dozed a bit, the warmth from the fire lulling her to sleep, her mind drifting with half remembered dreams and then she awoke, sat up, the last thought that had gone through her head propelling her to her feet.
Helgi was sitting at the kitchen table again, chunking up potatoes and putting them in a cast iron kettle when Eidra came down the staircase at a run. “Helgi, oh Helgi!”
“Goodness child whatever is wrong?” Helgi stood from the table and opened her arms, Eidra fitting into them, her hands to her mouth.
“Is anyone else here?”
Helgi walked down to the laundry room, peeked in at Artra who was dozing by the kettles. Volsa was somewhere in the palace proper.
Helgi stroked Eidra's hair, watched her shiver. “It is safe. What has you so frightened, Eidra.”
“I fell asleep in my bed for a bit,.” Eidra's words were delivered rapid fire, she scarce drew breath between them, “..then I woke up and lay there for a while, just thinking, as one is wont to do when alone. I wondered what had made me sick, a bit of bad meat, an underdone piece of dough then my thoughts turned to illness when I realized that I have not bled for two moons!”
Helgi stumbled backwards to sit hard on the bench, “Sweet Valhalla, Eidra, tell me you are mistaken, that you must have miscounted.”
Eidra sat on the bench seat beside her. “No, Helgi, not since before Jul. I am certain.”
“Now tell me that you have had a dalliance with a handsome young stable boy.”
Eidra stared into the fire. “I would ere I could, Helgi.”
“Odin's silver beard, I will tell Silas to fetch his mother. She is the best midwife in Asgard and she will have remedies for this, I am sure.”
Eidra started up from the bench, “Remedies? What do you mean?”
Helgi took her arm and sat her back down beside her. “There are elixirs that you can take, compounds that will cause a miscarriage, I will help you...”
“Helgi!” Eidra pushed her away, “No! Gods no.”
Helgi put her hand on Eidra's arm and Eidra flinched from her. Helgi reached again, gripping her arm hard. “What will you do? You are just a servant girl. It will be the bastard child of a prince. What if he turns you out with the baby? Or worse!”
“Helgi, he loves me and I love him.”
Her face softened. She took Eidra's hands in hers then, “I do not doubt it, but love can only stand up to so much in this world.”
Eidra stuck her chin forward, “This will be a child born out of love, tell me that is wrong.”
Helgi sighed, brushed a strand of grey hair back from her face, “You know that it is not but you are in this about as deep as you can go without drowning.”
Something in her words struck Eidra, and she nodded, put her head down on her knees. “How shall I tell him?”
“I do not know, poppet. Tell him the truth at the very least. Then we will go from there.”
But she could not bring herself to tell him. Not yet. She had begged off the blessing of the fields a couple of days before, claiming she felt ill and Loki had worn a worried look as he knelt by the cot. “Go to our bed, you have no need to stay here.”
“No, I will be fine, I would not want anyone to see me there.”
“Should I fetch Clotho to attend you?”
She shooed him out the door then, telling him all she needed was rest. He had promised to have her morning meal brought up to her and she had nodded, unable to tell him that it would likely make her sicker.
In the week to follow, Helgi told her that she had asked Petar what would soothe morning sickness and Eidra had quailed.
You did not tell her who you were asking this for, did you?”
Helgi had rolled her eyes, “Of course not! Do you thinkI am so ignorant? She said to have a crust of dry bread on hand in the morning to settle your stomach. It works wonders.”
And it had. Eidra was able to rise at dawn and continue with her chores though she ached to tell Loki her secret more and more each day. She soon had Helgi asking Petar advice on everything from what she should or should not eat, how much lifting she should do, even whether sexual relations were safe to continue.
“Child,” Helgi chided her, “Any more questions and Petar shall start asking questions of her own.”
Eidra had apologized, “I must ask about what I do not know.”
She had to laugh to herself when Helgi had blushed to tell her that she could still lie abed with Loki at this time. If nothing else, being with child had increased her desire, and more than once, Loki was taken aback at her lust for him. One evening she had waited behind the door for him to arrive from the stables, drenched with sweat, dirty. He had not even been able to remove his cloak but that she had pulled him to the bed and was atop him, one hand on his chest, the other undoing his breeches.
Her energy was boundless, as was her joy, her trepidation when the third moon passed and she knew for certain. Now she sought a time to tell him.