Descent-(The Path)

18

She plucked at her dress to pull it away from her body, acutely aware that Loki was right, she was showing a bit more than she'd thought. She followed Helgi to the edge of the field where carts were lined up loaded with farm implements, spades, hoes, pouches of seed. It was already warming up, she had taken her slippers off to feel the warm soil beneath her feet. She shivered and the baby kicked.

“I think she shall be a runner.” She whispered to Helgi as they made for the wagons.

“And you still insist it shall be a girl?”

“I think so. He claims otherwise,” she scanned the field. “Where is Silas?”

Helgi joined her, “I do not know.”

“Ingrid!” She heard the name called out, turned to see a pretty girl run past. She was short, with long dark red hair done up in a braid and jade green eyes.

“There she is,” Eidra poked Helgi, “Is she not a beauty?”

Helgi looked the way the girl had gone, “Yes she is, now come, lets start. Tell me if it is too much for you and I will bring you back to the palace.”

Eidra rolled her eyes, “I will be fine.”

She spied Ingrid walking past her again beside a sullen looking, dark haired woman, beautiful but painfully thin, her dress hanging on her frame, her heavy lidded eyes making her seem indifferent, withdrawn. She was everything Silas had said about Malek's girl and sure enough far down the field, they met up with Malek who was standing there, pouch in hand yelling at Silas. She made to start for him but Helgi put her hand on her arm. “Do not interfere. Silas will take care of himself.”

She watched as Silas strode off, a dark frown on his face and she thought to call him over. Helgi, however, pulled her to the nearest wagon, grabbing a pouch to sling over her shoulder. Eidra took it from her and turned to call to Silas but he had disappeared.

She followed Helgi along one row for a while, Helgi making the furrow, she dropping the seed as they chatted, being careful to stay apart from some of the other workers.

“I have finished with one blanket, Helgi. I am so proud of myself. I wish to make another one in his standards to wrap the baby in but I must see the weavers. I will ask them to dye some skeins gold and green.”

Helgi stood upright wiping the sweat from her brow, drying her hands with her apron. “I have sewn two dressing gowns. I would like to sew a matching one for you. It would look so beautiful, you laying abed with the baby in the same garments. I have had to sew them late in the evening when everyone is asleep so as not to garner too many questions.”

“I cannot wait to wear them,” she reached into her pouch and felt that it was nearly empty, “I will go back to the wagon for another pouch, you rest.”

Helgi nodded, waved her on as she bent forward to ease her aching back.

Eidra tossed her empty pouch onto the bed of the nearest wagon and was reaching for another when angry voices on the other side stopped her and she stood still, listening.

“Go wench, this is none of your concern!” It was Malek.

She heard another voice, a female, “Hang yourself then, I have work to do, miserable whoreson!”

The fast footsteps behind the wagon had her hauling herself up into it, crouching beside the bags of seed, her back protesting painfully at the cramped position. She peered between the slats to see Erwen striding through the grass behind the line of wagons. She shook her head and was about to step down when the voices began again.

“The feast for the planting is tonight. Are you certain?”

This voice she didn't recognize.

“I am sure of it. The kingdom will be well rid of his evil.”

Eidra was fairly holding her breath.

“But you will be taken as well, how do you expect to kill him and escape without harm? The royal guards are everywhere in the palace.”

“Hush, Vanir, low tones,” Malek scolded him and here his own voice dropped to barely a whisper so that she had to strain to hear, “The royals use a short corridor to present themselves at the far end of the Throne room. They walk through it unattended. It is there I will set upon him and stab him with my dagger. I will be far away before they discover his body.”

Eidra felt as if she had been struck with fever. She began to sweat, shivering as if she were standing in snow.

“And what if they catch you? They will miss him but a moment or two, time will be short.”

“Then I die a martyr. He has always been a cruel master, he thinks nothing of killing.”

Eidra thought of the night Loki had rescued her from the sentry, and she closed her eyes.

“He is as arrogant as the crown prince..”

She had to restrain herself from popping up in the wagon and cutting out his tongue with a spade at daring to compare Loki with his brother.

“He cleaves unto that servant girl, Eidra and then he beats the other servants for the slightest offense. He is a selfish, self-righteous hypocrite and the kingdom will be a better place for his absence.”

She looked out across the field where Helgi stood, leaning on the hoe and prayed that she would stay there. She was startled then by a flurry of movement behind the wagon, and the voices started again.

“I have honed this blade for weeks, waiting for the chance to execute my plan. I will have a horse ready for me at the outskirts of the city. From there I will ride into the countryside and perhaps on to Alfheim until they have ceased to look for me.” The sound of a blade being put into its sheath made her heart race.

“Provided you make it to the outskirts of the city. Who is to say you will even succeed in killing him. He is a powerful man. I have seen his displays with mine own eyes.”

“And I have felt them.” Malek's voice was almost a growl now. “I must follow my heart and it says that this is the right thing to do. Now come, no more talk, we are surely missed.”

Eidra shrank down into the wagon, suddenly sure she was going to be found. She looked out into the field before her again and saw both men walk past the ends of the wagon, heading straight out across the furrows. All Malek would have had to do would be to turn and he would be looking right at her. Mercifully, he did not and after a short time, she stretched herself out and dropped from the wagon. She had to tell Helgi, she had to warn Loki.

She searched the fields for a quite a while, finding no sign of Helgi and she began to panic. She had been told to stay with Helgi and now she had lost her. She returned to the line of wagons, walking down the long row until she met up with Silas.

“Have you seen Helgi? I need to find her.” Eidra was gasping for breath, having nearly trotted all the way down the line of wagons.

“I saw her at the end of the field, she was looking for you. Is everything alright?” he bent low and whispered, “Is it the baby?”

She shook her head, “No, I will head to the end of the field. If you see her, tell her I must talk to her.”

Silas nodded vigorously and she was seized by the sudden urge to hug him which she gave in to before she resumed her path down the wagon line.

It was past midday and large black clouds had begun to gather along the horizon when she found Helgi who grabbed her shoulders and gave her a gentle shake. “I was supposed to watch over you today child. Are you trying to scare me from a years growth?”

“I am sorry, I was distracted, oh so distracted, we have to find a quiet place to talk.”

Helgi put her hand at Eidra's back and guided her away from the group of field workers gathered nearby. “Now whatever is it?”

Eidra wrapped her arms around herself, “I had exchanged my pouch for a full one when I heard voices behind the wagon I was at so I climbed into the wagon and peeked through the slats. It was Malek. I heard him talking to someone named Vanir. Malek is going to try to kill Loki tonight at the celebration feast!”

“Oh you must have heard wrong. He is hot headed and foolish but I cannot believe he is as foolish as that. It would mean certain death for him.” Helgi scanned the fields, searching for a glimpse of Malek.

“I do not think he cares, he said he was willing to become a martyr. We must return to the palace so that I may warn Loki.”

Helgi searched Eidra's face for a moment, “Are you certain of what you heard?”

“Yes,” She turned to look towards the palace far distant. “Please, we must find Loki. He said he was going to be preparing for the ceremony at the feast.”

Thunder began to rumble in the distance as they started down the road towards the palace. The sky opened up before they were little better than halfway to the city walls. Helgi spied a rocky outcropping at the edge of the fields, hurrying Eidra towards it though she protested loudly.

“We can walk in the rain, Helgi. It is growing late, please!”

But Helgi held her ground, “We will be there in time, if you catch a chill from the rain, the baby shall suffer, now must I sit on you to keep you here?” She took off her shawl and wrapped it around Eidra's shoulders, hugging her to herself.

Eidra, settling against her, murmured, “Malek said Loki is evil, selfish, that he thinks nothing of killing. Am I wrong to love him? Is it because I do that I do not see him as they claim he is, or do I choose not to?”

Helgi rocked her as the rain came down in sheets, “Oh poppet, Loki was rash in his youth. He can be selfish at times, irrational, even mean-spirited. His fury in battle is legendary but if that be true then so is the Crown Prince guilty of such crimes. But now he is far gentler than before, his heart has softened. Why worry yourself with such matters, you said that he went so far as to beg forgiveness for his wrongs against you. Do you love him?”

She nodded.

“Does he love you?”

Another nod.

“Then that is enough.”

Loki stood at the railing of the balcony, peering out over the city to the fields far beyond as the rain soaked the landscape. Eidra should have returned to the palace by now, sitting warm and dry by the fireplace. He would have ridden out to find her had not Thor been sitting on the bed waiting for him to don his court dress.

“What bothers you? It is but a little rain, a storm.”

“My hand maid and the staff cook are helping with the planting today and I am concerned for their health in this rain.”

He had long ago stopped caring what Thor said about his care of Eidra and his response now mattered little.

“Yet again? They are but servants. Now stop mooning over the rain and dress. We must hasten to the Throne room or we will delay the entire ceremony.”

Loki rolled his eyes but turned from the railing with one more protracted glance and headed for the wardrobe across the room.

By the time the storm had passed, taking the dark clouds with it, the sun was halved by the horizon. Though Eidra wished to run, she feared hurting the baby; she could manage only a brisk walk. Helgi kept pace with her but it was still dusk when they burst in through the stables heading swiftly through the arena and into the south courtyard.

She swung open the door to their chambers, calling out his name. Receiving no answer, she slammed the door shut and turned to Helgi.

“They must be heading to the Throne room already, the Gods wept, Helgi! Hurry!”

The corridors were silent, quite deserted in the south wing until they reached the central courtyard. Aesir and citizens alike were streaming into the Throne room. Eidra elbowed her way through the crowd, covering herself as best she could with Helgi's shawl. She was acutely aware of her dirty, disheveled appearance from a day in the field but that mattered little now. Turning to excuse herself from a hard jostle with someone, she lost contact with Helgi.

She could hear Thor's voice booming over the crowd and she cut away from the throng towards the direction from whence it came. A line of royal guards separated Thor, Odin, with Queen Frigga on his arm, and Loki, from the crowd. Odin was already through the corridor leading to the Throne room. She heard the cheers rise as Odin appeared at the end of the hall.

She had little choice if she was going to be successful and she stood before one of the guards, “I must speak to Lord Loki!”

Loki had adjusted his helmet for the fifth time as his brother kept playfully hitting it forward on his head when he heard Eidra's voice. He whirled about to see Eidra pleading with one of the Royal guards who was shaking his head, his pike held across his chest. Loki was almost too stunned to move, torn between letting the guard hold her at bay and removing his cloak to wrap around her, claiming she was soaked to the bone, which she was. That move would have thrown Thor into a lather. Instead he chose to put himself between her and Thor. He walked back to the guard, shoving him aside and grabbing Eidra by the shoulders, hating the way she flinched even now. He wanted to shout at her, tell her not to be afraid of him, angry that he was giving her reason to be.

“Why are you here?” he growled, “Have you lost your mind?”

“Milord,” She was seized by a violent trembling, “I have something I must tell you.”

He heard Thor behind him, “What is the meaning of this intrusion, brother?”

Loki pulled his cloak from his shoulders and wrapped it around her, Hel and be damned what he would say.

“That is what I am endeavoring to find out.”

His fingers pressed into the meat of her forearm, “Out with it, woman and I pray it be a good reason.”

She waved him closer until he was side to side with her, “I was in the field today and overheard Malek speaking. He intends to kill you tonight.”

Loki stood back, at once light headed, looking at Thor then back to Eidra. “Are you certain?”

“Why does no one trust my ears? I am sure, Milord.” Eidra curled her hands into fists, so badly did she wish to take hold of his hand.

“How?”

She pointed to the drape-lined dimly lit hall through which Odin had just passed.

“What is happening brother?” Thor had moved to stand beside him.

He pulled Thor to his side and whispered in his ear. Thor stepped back, his cheeks red with fury.

“How know you this wench speaks the truth?”

Loki clenched his teeth together, “I trust my most loyal servant.”

Thor stared at the red velvet curtains forming the entrance to the hall, “Then we will roust him out.” Thor moved to shout for the guards but Loki put his hand to Thor's lips.

“Go through the hall as if nothing has happened. I will deal with him myself.”

Thor's face changed into a mask of horror, “Madness, Loki. How do you know where this devil's son is?”

Loki put his hand to his side where the thigh holster lay. “I will know, go, before he suspects something is wrong.”

“Yell to me brother if you have need of my assistance. I will come running.” Thor clapped him on the shoulder and Loki returned the gesture.

He turned to Eidra who was shaking her head, looking panic-stricken at the hall where Thor had disappeared behind the high red drape. It was too dangerous to reassure her with the guards, people watching them. He touched the red velvet as he heard the crowd cheer for the Crown Prince. With one more glance backward, he saw that Helgi had reached Eidra and was trying to pull her back into the crowd. He drew aside the drape and stepped inside the hall.

The drapes muffled the sounds of the palace. He stood staring down the hallway where it turned sharply right and led into the Throne Room. Nothing moved, the torches along the wall sputtered, casting a dim, fluctuating glow. Loki waved his hand before him,Avslør dine fiender til meg.”

A faint green glow, almost too dim to notice, grew about halfway down the hall on his right. He started to walk, slow, his dagger already in hand, breath quick with excitement, listening to the people outside in the throne room as he drew closer to the faint light.

He caught the movement of the drapes as he passed by, heard the grunt as Malek stepped out of the shadows with his knife raised. The downward swing of the blade sliced through thin air as Loki stepped aside, pivoted, drove his hand across his chest and into Malek's wrist, breaking his grip on the knife. It clattered to the floor as Loki came across with his right hand, blade tucked against his forearm, charging at Malek who stumbled backwards in his effort to run. He landed on the floor behind him, his head bouncing hard as it came in contact with the marble, compounded with Loki's full weight on his chest, the knife laying across his throat, cutting a thin line with the weight of Loki's arm.

“GUARDS!” Loki roared, the drapes at the end parting as the royal guards who had been keeping the crowd at bay now trotted into the hall, pikes at the level. Loki stood, hauling Malek up with him.

“You bastard! You troll's spend!” He threw Malek against the drapes to the wall behind, yanked him back and shoved him hard with a hand to his chest, feeling ribs give way beneath his palm.

Malek cried out in agony, “Forgive me Milord!” as the royal guards stood watching, waiting for their orders.

“There will be no forgiveness this time! Did I not tell you never to cross paths with me again?”

“My...Lord!” Malek gasped, “I was possessed by...”

Loki shook him hard, his face now inches from Malek's, “I will brook no excuse from you. The High Council will deal with your act of treason.” He shoved the boy into the arms of the guards beside him. “Take him to the cells. I will inform the High Council myself.”

He followed the guards back out through the drapes, Malek doubled over, hanging between them. Once out of the hall, he scanned the corridor finding no sign of Eidra or Helgi, feeling all at once, faint. He quickly retreated back into the hallway where he leaned against the wall, drawing his helmet off, dropping it to the floor with a clatter. He closed his eyes, his hand to his forehead. When a hand settled itself on his shoulder, he opened his eyes to see Thor standing there.

“You did well, brother. I watched from the shadows.”

Loki nodded, “Thank you.”

“How did that wench know what was to happen? Perhaps she was in on the plot!”

He could have yelled, chided Thor but he simply laughed, stood there and laughed.

“You sound like a berzerker, Loki. Tell me the thought has not crossed your mind.”

Loki stood from the wall, “It has not. We will find the truth of the matter from the boy itself and then justice will be done.”

“You are overconfident, either that or a fool.” Thor grumbled as they started for the throne room again.

Eidra was sitting before the fire, dozing, his cloak wrapped tightly around her body, her head nearly in her lap when he walked into his chambers that evening. He touched her back and she jumped, startled awake, sleep filled eyes blinking up at him until she was able to focus. She reached up and wrapped her arms around his neck.

“Thank the Gods you are safe,” she cried as he lifted her up from the chair.

“You are still in your damp dress? Why did Helgi not run a warm bath for you?”

“I told her I wanted to wait for your return.”

He carried her into the bathing room and set her on the stool. Then he walked to the bath and started the warm water flowing into the large basin. “I will fetch you a fresh robe. You should not be taking a chill. It is not good for the baby.”

She shivered, drew the cloak tighter around her. “I was so worried, I did not think I would reach you in time.”

He said nothing, watched the water flow into the basin.

“Is he dead, Loki?”

“No, he has been sent to the cells. The High Council will convict him of treason and he will be executed.”

Eidra nearly fell from the stool as she reached out a hand to Loki.

“Do not let him be killed! Exile him, imprison him but do not kill him. Who knows what he has said to others. What if he has seen us together? If he dies, he will be made a martyr.”

Loki stared across the basin at Eidra, “He would have killed me, would you have pleaded for his life then? High treason is punishable by death, do you ken? I cannot, I will not go against the laws of Asgard!”

“Do you not go against the laws with such as myself.?” She was so tired, her tongue betraying her.

“You are not a whoreson would-be murderer.”

“Nay, I am nothing but a voice of reason. If you love me, you will think long on this matter.”

Loki stood, walked to her, “Do not bargain my love for the life of a lowly field hand.”

He unwrapped his cloak from her and tossed it to the floor, drew her dress over her head.

“But for you would I also be working in that field.”

He led her down the steps into the water, taken by how far along she truly appeared.

“Do not group yourself in with his ilk. You are a noblewoman in all but title to me. Now the matter is closed. His fate is out of my hands. I will brook no more discussion on it.”

He was halfway to the bathing room door to fetch a robe before he turned around and strode back to her, kneeling beside the basin and taking her hand in his.

“Oh Eidra, do you not see that by that same hand, if I were to ask pardon for him, tongues would wag still and perhaps for far worse than his death as a traitor to Asgard. Tell me you see my meaning.”

“I do, my prince.”

“It will be far easier to accept his death as a traitor than to accept that the High Council is to begin pardoning treasonous assassins and if indeed he knows of our trysts, better to stop his own tongue. Rest, I will get you a robe, have you eaten?”

She shook her head. “I could not.”

“Helgi will fix you something.”

He was almost from the room again when Eidra spoke, “What about Silas?”

“He was not involved, he will be safe.”

“But his brother will not.”

Loki nodded, “No more talk, we will take care of Silas, I promise.”

She heard the door to the chamber close and she sank further into the water, the baby pushing against her open palm. She would have faced Malek herself had she been able to, had she not feared for her unborn child. She wished fervently that Loki had instead stabbed him to death with a claim of self defense. She decided she would ask Loki to continue her sword lessons in the days ahead.


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