Descent-(The Path)

17

Thus it came to pass a week later that Thor showed up at Loki's door one evening.

“If you will not venture out, I shall have to come to you, brother.”

Eidra had been sitting in her chair knitting, chatting with Loki. Helgi had taught her to knit some weeks past when she had expressed an interest in it while watching her one night beside the kitchen fire. Eidra quickly set her needles down, rose and walked to Thor, holding out her arms as he draped his cloak over them. While he straightened his tunic, she artfully draped the cloak over her chair, hiding her name carved there, and bowed to him.

“You are dismissed for the evening.” Thor waved at her while he sat in her chair. Loki was nearly out of his seat when she shook her head, her eyes sliding to Thor. As she closed the door behind her, she reasoned to herself, what was a loss of one night to placate Thor, though she wanted only to spit in his face for having caused her dear prince such anguish.

However, when Thor began to make his visits a near nightly ritual complete with wine or mead of some form, she started leaving Loki's chambers soon after evening meal though he would protest. She wondered if, at one point, Sif would come looking for Thor, if he even told her where he went each night. She tried to console Loki, explaining that his patience was going a long way towards smoothing over relations with his brother and in the end he had grudgingly agreed.

Even their time alone was not entirely safe. One evening, after having made love, she had left their bed for a cloth to clean up with and was standing in the bathing room when she heard Thor's voice; he sounded drunk. She peeked around the edge of the door frame to see Thor standing by the bed while Loki yanked the coverlet up, trying his best to hide her discarded robe in the bed beside him.

“Come brother,” was all Thor had to say to send Loki into a spasm of laughter, and even Eidra had to jam her finger in her mouth to keep from joining him.

“Why do you laugh at me? I wish to ply you with mead and lovely women tonight and you do naught but laugh.”

Thor knelt on the bed, grabbing handfuls of the coverlet, trying to drag it away from him. They see-sawed to and fro until Loki shoved him over with one hand. Thor landed across his legs and the fight was on. They wrestled for a moment until Thor managed to seize the upper hand, straddling him, half uncovered across the waist, pinning his hands to the bed.

“Get off me you great oaf!” Loki cried, “You are crushing me!” To which Thor responded by bouncing up and down atop him. She could see Loki getting madder with each rebound.

“You will luh..oosen the ropes and flatten the dow...uhn.”

“Then yield to me brother,” another bounce taking the breath from him, “Yield.”

Loki was finally in a rage, “I swear I will petrify you again!”

Thor slid Loki's arms above his head clasping his wrists both with one large hand and clapping his freed one over Loki's mouth, “Not without that silver tongue of yours, you won't. Now yield.”

His final bounce was his undoing as Loki was able to get his right leg beneath him and with a shove shifted Thor's balance enough to throw him, unseating his hand from his lips as he did so.

“Stein til stein for alltid en så sier jeg dette spell er gjort!” Loki roared as Thor tumbled from the bed to the floor with a loud thud and remained there.

“Damn you, Loki!”

But Loki was already on his feet, pulling on his robe as he stood beside the bed.

“The next time I shall include a spell to silence your tongue.”

“Release me!” Thor cried but Loki bent down and took hold of one of Thor's feet.

“What in Hel are you doing?”

Loki leaned backward and started to drag Thor toward the door.

“Loki, I know what you are thinking, do not do it.”

He swung the door open, returned to Thor and dragged him into the corridor.

“Loki!” Thor shouted as Loki slammed the door shut and strode to the bath room where Eidra stood doubled over with laughter.

“It is not funny, I shall need the coverlet laundered, the bed shall need to be remade, I must wash up.”

“Oh Loki,” she whispered, “Calm yourself, he was having fun.”

“We were having a fine time before he arrived.”

She sidled up to him and wrapped her arms around his waist, “And we will have a fine time when he leaves.”

From out in the corridor they heard him, “Please brother, I feel sick.”

“Go rescue the brute, send him to his rooms and come to bed. I shall stay here and hide until he leaves.”

He kissed her, shook his head and walked out into the bedroom where she heard his voice, “Calm down you fool, it shall be but a moment.”

While the siege that was Thor continued, Eidra would spend her nights in the kitchen knitting, helping with the laundry, cooking, even playing games with Silas who at twelve seasons was very nearly a man and was now entirely devoted to Eidra, dependent upon her to fill the sibling void left by his moody withdrawn older brother. In particular, she loved to tease him, though in good nature.

“Silas,” She remarked one night as they sat at the kitchen table playing hnefatafl, “You spend your evenings with your elders, women to boot. Do you not ever gather with the other boys and girls in the palace?”

Silas looked downcast, “Does Milady wish me to seek out proper company?”

Eidra shook her finger at him, “Do not call me milady for I am no such thing and if you move a foot from that bench I shall warm your bottom for you.”

Silas smiled, relieved. “The boys run mostly with my brother and thus are often in trouble. I would not wish to anger Lord Loki by imitating them in such a manner. The girls, they are just....girls.” A shadow crossed his face.

“Is there a fair maid caught your attention?” Eidra pondered the game board.

Silas did not answer right away. Finally, with a faraway look in his eyes, he said, “There is a fair maid, though not as fair as you,” he reddened at his own confession, “Your move Eidra.”

She picked up her white stone and moved it, “Who is she? Does she work in the palace or is she in the fields?”

Silas reddened further, “She works in the field with Malek's girl, Erwen.”

Eidra sat back, astonished. “Malek courts a girl?”

“Yes,” Silas made a face, “If you could call call her that. Such a sullen dark-haired scarecrow of a girl is she.”

Eidra nodded, “Seems fitting for the likes of him.”

“Indeed it does.” Silas agreed.

“So what is the name of your intended?”

“Ingrid,” Silas was now fairly scarlet. “She is the same age as me.”

Eidra put her stone on the board, “Your move. What color hair does she have?”

Silas smiled, “Dark red, and green eyes.”

Eidra could see Helgi grinning from the corner of her eye, “She sounds lovely. Have you talked to her?”

“Oh no, Eidra, I could not.”

Eidra reached over and put her hand on Silas's, “We will figure out a way to get her to notice you....and I think that's the game..”

Silas looked down at the board, “That be two in a row. You are too good for me. Another game?”

Eidra shook her head, “I heard Thor leave a short time ago. I am getting tired, Loki is probably already asleep. Thor tires everyone out.” She picked up the game, put the stones in their pouch. “We will play again tomorrow night.”

Loki was indeed asleep and she climbed into her cot after making sure the fire was banked. The air was still cold but the weather was not as harsh as it had been. She burrowed further under the coverlet, draping her arm over her belly, and fell asleep thinking of baby names.

The next evening, Eidra had just gotten the game board out to wait for Silas who was finishing chores, when Loki came bounding down the stairs.

“Come with me.” He took Eidra's hand, pulling her up from the table.

“Wait, what is going on?” Eidra followed him up the staircase.

“You are going to challenge the oaf to a game of hnefatafl. He does not believe that you can beat him.”

They were practically running down the corridor when she yanked at his hand, skidding to a halt.

“Have you been drinking?” she whispered.

“I have had nothing tonight, come, I wish to see the oaf eat his words.” They started off again, his grip firm on her hand.

“I do not wish to see the oaf at all.”

Loki stopped in his tracks, “It would be all that much sweeter to make him see you are no ignorant servant girl.”

“You do not think this would make me more dangerous in his eyes?”

Loki laughed, started walking again, “You are hardly dangerous to the likes of him. Such foolish talk, Eidra.”

She trotted along beside him, “Well I cannot match his strength but his intellect is just as precious to him. If I make him feel like an oaf, might he find more reason to see me gone?”

Loki paused with his hand on the door, “I challenged him, I cannot back down.”

She nodded, “I will throw the game to him. I would prefer to please him.”

Loki held the door handle firm but leaned over and with one hand, put it behind her head and pulled her to him in a kiss that stole her breath. “A wise woman you are.”

When he swung the door open, Thor was sitting cross legged in front of the fire.

“Oaf, you are in my spot” was all she could think to herself. She passed in front of the fire and seated herself opposite him, being careful to pull out her skirt around her belly.

“Woman, Loki has said that you are an excellent hnefatafl player, I say that he is simply a poor player,” Thor waved to the board set out before him. “And to that end, I shall beat you as well.”

She could smell the mead on his breath and wondered how far she dared to go. She glanced up at Loki, sitting in his chair beside her but he was looking at Thor.

“Your move first, Milord.”

Thor smiled at Loki, picked up his black stone and the game began.

They seemed pretty evenly matched as he worked his way around the board. “Loki, she has indeed shown you up, she is matching me so far.”

“She will overtake you if you become too confident.”

“I am far from worried,” Thor said with a defiant smirk, “She has simply played against you.”

Eidra bristled as Thor deigned to address her, instead acting as if she were not there. She felt Loki nudge her with his foot and she stole a look to him as Thor was staring at the board.

Beat him” he mouthed.

Eidra sighed, watched Thor's move, planning a couple moves ahead of him. She knew she could beat him, that was not in question. Did she want to?

“I have always been better at games than you, brother, and I always will.”

Yes she did.

She made her next move, felt his foot nudge her again and she smiled; he was able to see what she was doing.

“I propose a bet for the outcome.” She watched Thor's face darken.

“What have you to bet? Your pretty robe, your little loom?” he paused, “Perhaps your attention for the evening?”

Eidra blanched. If she was to lose, everything would be lost. She cursed her tongue.

“You have no need of her attention.” Loki spoke up, “Lady Sif is more than you can handle.”

Thor glared at Loki, “Then what has she to bet?”

Eidra thought hard and fast, “I propose that if I win, you must apologize to Milord.”

“Apologize for what?” Thor laughed, “I have no need to apologize.”

“You do! You make him feel small, you insult him, upbraid him in front of his servant.”

Thor slammed his hand on the hard marble floor, “You wench! Were it up to me, I would cut out your tongue!”

Eidra flinched but did not back down, “Is it a bet?”

Thor sat back, eyes narrowed. “And if I win?”

Her eyes darted to Loki, “Then I shall give up my position to Silas.”

Thor thought for a moment, grinned, “It is a bet.”

He reached out his hand and she took it in a strong shake.

Thor concentrated on the board as Loki locked eyes with Eidra.

He made one move, she countered it, sat back working her fingers together, made a move, waited for him, for the set up.

His next move was his last as she closed in upon him, “I believe that is the game, Milord.”

His head swung slowly upward until he was staring at her. She'd never been more frightened in her life, not even when Loki had set upon her but she bit her lip hard.“We had a bet, did we not?”

Thor stood abruptly, his hands working into fists. “Brother, I apologize for my actions.”

“You do not sound sincere.” Eidra replied, still sitting on the floor. Loki caught Thor's downward swing before it could touch her.

“You bitch!” he roared, “You tricked me somehow, you wished to humiliate me in front of my brother!”

“Thor, she played fairly. You must learn to lose as graciously as you win.” Loki pushed him back from her.

She knew it was time to placate him yet again. She bent over, her head on her hands, “Forgive me, Milord. I misspoke. I only live to serve Lord Loki.”

Thor wrenched his arm from Loki's grasp. “I grow tired of this,” he growled, “Good evening, brother. We ride in the morning?”

Loki nodded. With a backward glance at Eidra, Thor strode from the room, slamming the door behind him.

Eidra watched Loki, his body tense. She could detect a slight tremble as he stood there staring at the door, then he looked down at her.

“Do you want him to strike you? Truly?” He ran his fingers through his hair, eyes cast to the ceiling.

“I did not want him to hurt your feelings any longer, it breaks my heart to see him treat you so.”

Loki knelt before her on one knee, “So to buy an apology, you were willing to bet your position? Do not gamble like that again. Were he to win, it would have killed me.”

She put a hand to his face, “I knew I was going to win. I would not leave your side.”

He kissed her forehead, “What shall I do with you, Eidra?”

She shifted her gaze to his face. His head was tilted to the backrest of the chair, eyes closed, lips parted in ecstasy, yet his brow was furrowed and she was frustrated. Even at such a time as this, his mind was still elsewhere.

She lifted her head, drew him from her mouth, giving him a gentle squeeze, “I feel, though your rod be stiff, your mind be elsewhere.”

Thor shifted his position, looked down at Sif, “Woman, your timing is ill met.” He entangled his fingers in her hair, pushing her toward his groin again but she shrugged him off though she kept stroking him slowly.

“How can the crown prince enjoy himself fully when his mind is so clouded?”

Thor leaned forward in the chair, his long blond locks obscuring the light from the fireplace, and took her chin in his hand, “What do you know of my mind?”

“What I see with my eyes, hear with my ears.”

She knew how to keep him pliant, satisfied. She drew her tongue along his length, smiled as he shuddered.

“If your absence these past days has been any indication, you seek another's attention.”

Thor grunted, “It is of no concern to you,” but she squeezed him again, this time a bit tighter and he yelped, “Gods! Take care, woman!”

“It is of concern to me whether my gracious Lord is unencumbered by dark thoughts.” Sif had stopped stroking him now, merely holding his manhood, waiting.

Thor stared into the firelight, seeming to weigh his words, “I grow weary of waiting for my brother to tire of the servant wench.”

Sif stood from her position at his feet and straddled his lap, “Tell me, does it matter who Loki spends his nights with?”

Thor bristled at her nonchalance, “To the distraction of all else? Yes.” he made to shove her from his lap but she wrapped her arms about his neck.

“You miss the brother who would follow you about, who would remain at your side though he often be on the receiving end of your caustic humor.”

She felt his body tense, “Sif,”

“You miss the one person who loved you because he wanted to, not because he must.”

Thor looked up into her eyes, “What of you? Do you love me because you must?”

Sif caught his mouth in a slow kiss, “Of course I must. Who can resist the warrior prince?”

“But,” Thor leaned back, “Would you love me were you not promised to me?”

“I always have,” She smiled.

He reached up to cup her breasts, kneading them, “Do I have reason to worry?”

Sif tilted her head, “About myself, Milord?”

He frowned, “About my brother? About the maidservant? Do you indeed believe he will lose interest in her?”

Sif thought of Loki's endless crude remarks, the insults he would often deliver at her expense, had for many seasons since they were children.

“He must. Otherwise, what be the alternative? Will he make her Princess of the chamber pots?” She giggled, “Perhaps they would have a whole family of little manservants and handmaids.”

Thor grimaced, “It is unwise to talk about serious dealings in such a manner.”

“But I merely meant it in jest. His bed will soon turn cold again and you will have him all to yourself.” She leaned into him, began to nip at his neck, watching the seeds of doubt that had already been planted begin to germinate in his gaze as he threw her to the floor covering her body with his in a haze of lust, her smile one of pure revenge as she looked to the dark ceiling far above.

Soon after Thor's resounding defeat, his visits became far less frequent until they stopped altogether and one evening Loki told Eidra to stay with him after the evening meal. On one hand, she was delighted, on the other she was sad. She had enjoyed her time with Helgi, Silas and the others, so it was with trepidation born out of pure love of the friends she had made during her time here that, one morning as they lay in bed, she asked if Silas could join them one night for games.

“The houseboy? Will you soon have the entire staff in our bedroom?”

“Oh Loki, he is just a boy. A good boy at that, with a good heart. He has no man to look up to save his whelp of a brother, Malek.”

Loki traced circles on the swell of her belly, smiling as he was rewarded with the merest of movement. “An' we have gained our privacy back, you would bring another in.”

She wrapped a strand of his raven black hair around her fingers, “We will still have our time together.”

He sighed then and she knew she had been given permission.

When that next afternoon, Eidra took Silas aside and told him to come to Loki's chambers that evening, he was under the assumption that it meant he was to have work. When she told him he had been invited to share their company, he sat down hard on the kitchen bench.

“With Lord Loki? Odin's beard, what has happened that he should want the company of a lowly houseboy?”

Eidra patted Silas's hand, “I requested that you join us, I will have buttermilk and apples and honey. We will play games. You may test your skill at hnefatafl, and see if you surpass him.”

Silas looked about to fall from the bench, “But what if I win?”

Eidra smiled, “Bet him something good, he will honor the bet.”

“Oh I have nothing to bet.”

Helgi tapped Eidra on the behind, “Do not tease the boy, you will scare him to death.”

Eidra sat beside him, throwing her arm around his shoulders. “It will be fun. Will you come?”

Silas shrugged, “As you wish, Eidra.”

“...and he is enamored of a girl named Ingrid.” Eidra put her head back against Loki's shoulder, enjoying the warmth of the water, his hands on her belly as she sat between his legs in the bath.

“Foolish boy, I should warn him that women are nothing but trouble.”

She pinched his thigh, “Do not warn him off of his first romance.”

He leaned over and nipped the back of her neck, “I would only spare him the agony that comes with love.”

“Agony, my prince, I will show you agony.” She proceeded to turn around, catching his mouth in a kiss, her teeth tugging at his bottom lip, tongue flicking his tip to tip, straddling his lap and he was full hard when she broke the kiss, pushed from him and swam to the stone steps.

“That, my prince, is agony.” She smiled as she walked up the steps to fetch her towel.

“Damn you, woman,” he muttered.

By the time he was able to leave the bath and towel off, Silas had arrived and he and Eidra were sitting in front of the fire with a tray between them upon which sat a small jug, mugs, apples and a pot of honey. Eidra waggled her fingers at Loki and he gave her a sly grin as he lowered himself to the floor beside her. She had wondered how he would act before Silas and was pleasantly surprised when he spoke up,

“So, my love, this is the boy who would challenge me for your attention?” He smiled at Silas. “How answer you, boy?”

“Nay, Milord, I would not challenge you for all the gold in the kingdom.” Silas seemed to shrink into himself.

“Not for all the gold, but for the hand of my maiden.” Loki picked up the knife from the tray and Silas darted on his knees behind Eidra.

Loki raised an eyebrow and handed the knife to Eidra, “Perhaps you should do the honors. The boy thinks I aim to stick him.”

She eyed Loki, “Silas, come return to your place. I only indulge in a bit of good-natured ribbing with you. Be not afraid of me.”

Silas eased back to his place beside Eidra, “I will try, Milord.”

“Must so much effort be put into such an easy thing?” Loki handed Eidra an apple then began to pour the buttermilk.

She could tell Silas was hesitant and she nudged him, “Speak, Silas, he gives you the chance to do so.”

Silas swallowed hard, scratched his short dark blond hair, “Faith no. You are a changed man, Milord.”

Loki sat up straighter, “How say you?”

“You are, forgive me, Milord, kinder, more even tempered. Eidra has made you happy, I think.” Silas blushed and glanced at Eidra, waiting to be chided for his words.

Instead, Loki chuckled, “She has indeed, the love of a good woman works wonders, a good woman mind you. I hear tell you have an interest towards a girl.”

“Yes, Milord, she is a field worker.” Silas took the slices of apple Eidra held out to him.

“Is she also a good woman?” Loki dipped an apple slice in honey, reached over and fed it to Eidra.

“I do not know, I have never spoken to her.”

Loki nodded, “You must grab the chance when you can. Do not hesitate lest it pass you by because love is as precious as time.”

“Yes, Milord.”

“Eidra,” Loki waved to her, “take out the game board, let me test the boy's skill in strategy, perhaps he would make a better soldier.”

They played until late into the night, Silas winning a number of games against them both. While Loki would play, Eidra would sit and knit, content, feeling the baby slide across her abdomen. She would look at Loki then who would grin and she was sure that if she could only live in these moments forever, life would be ever sweet.

When Silas finally bid them goodnight that evening, he was able to joke lightly with Loki, his fear having abated as the night wore on. They lay in bed later, Loki curled to her, his hand rubbing her back in slow, soothing strokes.

“Soon I will not be able to venture out from our chambers for I will be too big to go unnoticed. Therefore I ask a favor of you.”

Loki paused, his hand between her shoulderblades. “What is it?”

“The planting will be next week. I would..”

“No,”

Eidra sat up and turned to him, “You do not give me a chance, I would be with Helgi and Silas and Artra, even Artra is going to be there. I will stay with them. Please may I go as well?”

Loki sat up beside her, “You are already showing and you should not be bending all the time. I have been listening to Helgi caution you. What have you reason to go out into those fields for in the first place?”

“I shall wear my dress high, it will hide me. I want to be with all the other servants and workers. I wish to help plant the fields so I may feel I have had a hand in the harvest.” I also confess I have another motive.” She pushed him back to the bed, laying on his shoulder, gazing up into his eyes. “I wish to help Silas get the attention of that girl Ingrid.”

“Are you after playing matchmaker?” His arms encircled her.

“I am, I think. Please, Helgi will watch over me, I promise I will be careful.” She kissed the line of his jaw. “I will not stay out there long, I just want to participate, and maybe see if I cannot get Ingrid to talk to Silas.”

Loki shook his head, “I will allow you the morning, but I wish you to be back to our chambers by midday,” She hugged him tight, “And you must stay with Helgi, ken?”

“Yes my love,” She was grinning from ear to ear, “Thank you.”

“Mmmm, shall I live to regret it?”

Eidra giggled, whispered in his ear as her hand stole beneath the covers.

“Ah, I gather I shall not.”


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