Descent-(The Path)

19

He was up and gone before she woke the next morning. She put on a clean dress, picked up the dirty clothes from the chair, wrapped her cloak over her shoulders and wandered down to the staff kitchen.

Artra was standing at the kitchen fire, stirring the porridge in the large kettle.

“Where is Helgi?” Eidra asked as she passed her on the way to the laundry room.

“She went to see Petar. The poor woman is beside herself. The High Council is in session this moment as we speak to pass sentence on Malek.”

She came back out into the kitchen, “Is Silas with his mother too?”

“He is, he came to fetch Helgi. He was as white as milk.”

Eidra sat down at the kitchen table, her head in her hands, “How long do you think the Council will take?”

Artra shrugged, pulled the cap of her sleeve up to her shoulder, “Treason is easy to judge especially as he was caught in the act. They will not take long. I do not know what was going through Malek's mind. How could he think to succeed in this ruinous plot?”

Eidra stood and looked up the stairwell. “I am returning to the bedchambers to do housework. If you see Helgi, tell her I am looking for her.”

Loki stayed absent throughout the day, missing the evening meal at least in his chambers. She wondered if he had eaten. She was at the edge of sleep, lying on her cot by the fire, when she felt the cot sag and Loki press in around her, draping his arm over her swollen belly.

“Loki,”

“Mmmph.”

“We cannot both fit on this cot, I must have room.”

In response he instead pulled her closer and she put her arm over his, “Did the Council reach an accord?”

“Yes.”

She peered over her shoulder at him, “And?”

“He is to be taken to the Dying Place tomorrow morning and executed.”

She nodded, “So be it.”

He groaned then, leaning in, kissing that one spot on the nape of her neck that they had both learned. In the end, he took her, lying on her side, his hand trapped between her thighs as she convulsed around him, gripping the cot frame tightly with both hands, pressing her face to the pillow to stifle her cries of passion. As their bodies cooled, hearts slowed, he lay there, stroking her hair, kissing her back, shoulders, worshiping her body with his touch. “The High Council thought you should be rewarded for your loyalty to the crown.”

“It was loyalty to you.”

He palmed one breast gently and she arched back to him with a moan.

“Thor would not hear of it, though. He argued that you were a servant and thus duty bound to warn me of such goings on.”

“It is no surprise.”

She felt Loki nod, “Your loyalty will, in the very least, help when I speak with father after the baby is born. They will look with favor on your service to the crown.”

She was silent for a few moments, “I will wear my cloak but I will go with Helgi tomorrow to the execution.”

He shifted, raised himself up on his elbow. “You should stay here though I know you will not. I could order you to.”

She rolled onto her back, “I want to be there, I want to see Silas. The poor boy needs someone.”

He stroked her cheek, “He has his mother to comfort him.”

She put her hand to his chest, “I know but she will need comforting herself, I wish to see him, to ask his forgiveness. He is dear to me. Such an innocent child.”

“I know, Eidra. He has been a loyal houseboy to me as well. All I ask is that you stay well out of the way, and this time, with Helgi. No running off.”

“I will stay small and quiet.”

“Small?”

Her mouth opened in an O as she shoved him in the chest, “Am I that big in fact?”

He smiled, chuckled. “In the most beautiful way, my little minx. Come with me to my bed, it is more comfortable.”

She shook her head, “What if Thor is here to fetch you early. I would rather not start a sad day off in such a manner. Go to bed, my prince.”

With a pout, he kissed the tip of her nose and left her side. She lay there some time later, thinking of how Malek must be feeling as the night trudged on relentless towards the dawn and she shuddered, pulling her coverlet tighter around her.

She was sweating under the heavy cloak but she didn't dare remove it as they walked to the small grove in the forest at the outskirts of the city. The last day of May was turning out to be warm indeed, and she took Helgi's arm for stability on the uneven terrain. The baby did a fluid dance for a few moments and she put her hand on her belly.

“The baby is moving a lot?” Helgi whispered.

Eidra nodded, smiled, “Yes, it feels so wonderful.”

As the reached the open grove where people had gathered, citizen, servant, noble alike, she knew it was the last wonderful feeling she would have that day.

The members of the High Council stood in a semicircle around a grassy knoll not far from a small bog, the mists from which rose into the cool morning air. Sif and Odin were in the line beside each other, talking quietly. She could see Loki and Thor at the end of the line of High Council members. They were dressed simply, tunic, breeches, long cloaks, both of them heavy, black. They were watching the crowd. She saw Loki's eyes flicker to her then back to Thor.

A commotion at the other side of the knoll drew their attention as a hush fell over the crowd.

Magnus, his long blond hair interspersed with braids, a wooden bead on one with the symbol of Odin carved into it, handsome face painted with three red stripes on both cheeks, gained the top of the knoll. Then came Malek, his hands tied behind his back. Following him was a giant of a man, dressed in a red robe, his head draped in a red hood with eye holes to see through. In one hand he held a long leather strap, a wooden cross piece at either end. Finally, Petar who was being helped up the hill by a pale, trembling Silas. Eidra wanted to call to him, embrace him but she was helpless to do anything save watch.

Magnus stopped, turned to the High Council and bowed deeply, then held up his hands to the sky. “Malek Skanar, you have been found guilty by the High Council of the crime of high treason to the crown by your attempted murder of Prince Loki. It is therefore the decision of the High Council that you be put to death,” at this word, Petar wailed into her hands, “your soul remanded to Niflheim, your body to lie forever in the bogs.”

He stepped back and nodded to the hooded man who put his hand on Malek's shoulder, pushing him to his knees. She couldn't bear to see the terror in his eyes. She looked away, settling on Loki's face, impassive, distant. The hooded man took the other end of the cord and wrapped it around Malek's neck, twirling the ends together and placing the wooden ends in his palm, waiting for a nod from Odin.

All at once Petar broke from Silas and dove to the ground at Odin's feet.

“Mercy, mighty Allfather, mercy! That my son has done what he has done, I do not question, only do not make him to suffer. If there be an elixir, a potion that he be allowed so that he may sleep and thus not know of his fate. Hear a mother's plea and please have mercy!” She embraced his boots, sobbing. Eidra watched Silas standing there alone at the bottom of the knoll clearly in shock, whether at his mother's actions or at what was about to happen, she did not know.

Loki turned to Odin with a scowl, “He is a traitor, father.”

Odin nodded, “I can grant no mercy,” he raised his hand to the executioner but before he could let it drop, Thor bent over to Odin and whispered in his ear. Odin looked down at Petar then at Malek kneeling there on the knoll, his eyes closed, body trembling.

“Bring Clotho to me.”

Loki stared down at his boots, lips pursed together.

The elderly physician was led through the crowd to stand before the Allfather, “What does your majesty wish?”

“We need an elixir for the boy, to ease his pain.” Odin fixed him with his one good eye.

Clotho held up a finger and reached into a small bag slung over his shoulder, “I thought to be prepared today.”

He pulled out a black glass vial, put his hand on Petar's head. “Rest assured, little mother.”

Clotho climbed the short hill to where Malek still knelt and unstopped the vial.

“This will speed you on your way, boy, you will feel nothing. May your journey in the next world be one of redemption.”

Malek nodded, whispered, “Thank you.” He opened his mouth, Clotho tipping the vial onto his tongue and a thick purple gel dripped out. Malek swallowed, turned his head and smiled at Petar who now stood, hands clasped before her. Seconds later his head dropped to his chest. Odin nodded, dropped his hand and the hooded man began to twist the garotte.

Eidra kept her eyes to the ground, unable to watch the horror being played out on the knoll, desperate to shut out the wails of Petar as they lowered Malek's body to the ground so that she could touch him one last time. She chanced a look at Silas who stood, still silent, tears streaming down his face and she felt her own begin, bringing her arms tighter around her stomach wanting to cradle her baby in her arms at that moment, wishing she had stayed in her chambers.

Magnus and the executioner covered Malek's face with a burlap sack. But for the purple cast to his skin, he would have appeared as asleep. They lifted the body between them, carrying it to the edge of the bog where they tied the feet and hands with sacks of stones, dragging the body into the water of the bog until it sank beneath the surface, finally disappearing completely.

Loki watched Silas lead Petar away, still wailing, her hands outstretched to the sky, then he turned to look for Eidra but she was gone.

After a search that quickly became frantic when he did not find her in the kitchen or in his chambers, he happened by the Arboretum, looking into the sanctuary from the archway and spotted her, wrapped in her cloak, sitting by the large fountain in the center.

“Eidra, what in the name of Odin are you doing here? You should be in our chambers.”

“Of course I should.”

Loki tilted his head, eyes narrowed, “Are you angry with me?”

She shook her head and he sighed, “I know it is horrible to be confined to quarters like this. Shall I endeavor to speak with Odin? He may be tractable now.”

“No, not yet. Seeing a baby would perhaps soften his heart as you have said. I am simply..”

He sat down beside her on the stone bench. “Simply what?”

“Thinking I suppose,” They watched the water shooting high into the air from the middle of the fountain to land on the lower two tiers.

“Loki, do you fear death?”

“No, Valhalla awaits those warriors who die in battle, I will await that day.”

She frowned, “Must you talk of it as if you wish for it?”

“You put me in my grave too soon. I will be a father first.” he slid his hand across the bench to hers, covering it, “And a husband.”

She glanced at him, surprised, “Dare I to hope for such a thing?”

“You need not hope for something so sure to happen,” He looked up at her, “Do you fear death?”

“Yes,”

“Why?”

“I am not a warrior, I will not be able to go with you,” She rose from the bench to stand at the edge of the fountain, trailing her hand in the water. Her throat started to sting.

“Then I shall go with you instead. We will go to Helgafjell hand in hand, gather around our hearth and tell stories, eat, drink. Enough talk of such terrible things. Let us ease our melancholy.”

She wiped hot tears from her face. “Forgive me. My mind dwelt today upon the baby, you and I. How much I love you and all I wished to do was hide, which is why I came here. Why I am sad.” She giggled, “Helgi says it is because of the baby that I cry often. I am inclined to believe her sometimes.”

Loki stood, held out his hand. “Come, Eidra, let us go to our chambers. You must rest. Put your feet up and knit. I like to watch you when you work with your hands,” he leaned over and kissed her. “Someday I promise I will make you my wife.”

“Were it that I could believe it.” She took the Uruz that now hung around his neck and held it in her hand, “Perhaps I should have used this long ago.”

He enfolded his hands around hers, “Do not say that, I would be lost without you. Alone, unloved, bitter.”

“And you are now what? Loved yes, but worried, angry, frustrated. You must be because I feel the same. I live in constant fear we will be found out, angry because I cannot tell the world the name of the man I love, frustrated because for the same reason I cannot walk by his side.”

“My love, why do you not confide in me these feelings?”

She pulled her hand away, “Because there is nothing to be done for them, nothing will help but time and I grow impatient to hold our baby, to return to my work, to be a mother.”

“Soon, Eidra, soon. Let me take care of you. Vanquish all your worries. We will spend the day together.” he paused, seeming to think about something. “Perhaps tomorrow will be different.”

“Different how?”

Loki smiled, wagged his finger, “I cannot say. You must trust me.”

She returned his smile, “My will is yours.”


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