His groan woke her from sleep. She lay there, eyes open, listening as he moved about. He had sat up, swung his legs over the edge of the bed and now was sitting there, elbows on his knees, head in hands.
“Woman!” He yelled, groaned again, “Up, wench.”
She rolled over to face the room and rose from the pallet, wincing at the stiffness in her muscles as she walked to where he sat. “Yes, Milord.”
He squinted up at her, sat back, “What in the name of the Gods happened to you? Have you started your menses?”
For a moment, she was confused then she looked down at the dried blood stain on her gown and fell mute. She could find no words to describe what had happened the night before without cursing.
“Woman, answer me,” he stood up, towering over her, “I am in no mood to brook your silence.” He held the side of his head and looked at himself for the first time. “I am still in my court dress.” He took her by the shoulder, giving her a hard shake, “How came I to my bedroom and why did you not see to it that I did not dress for bed?”
“Please, Milord. You came to your chambers in a drunken stupor last..” The hand at her shoulder gave her another hard shake, stopping her words.
“I do not remember anything save the ceremony last evening. Who brought me here to my chambers?”
“You came alone, Milord.”
His grip on her shoulder eased and he looked around the room, bewildered as if trying to remember something. Finally he let her go.
“Draw a bath for me. You may take my garments to the laundress. Then return and lay out a tunic and breeches for me here,” He patted the coverlet, “On my bed. Away with you.”
She leaned over, this time with the pipe before her at the end, watching the water flow into the basin. He remembered nothing? He had taken her, deflowered her without ritual, made her unclean, and he remembered none of it? She wanted to fly from the room, jump on top of him and gouge his eyes out, remove his tongue, cut off his manhood. She sat back on her haunches for a few moments longer then, stopping the flow of water, she walked out into the bed chamber to find him stripped naked to the waist.
“And change your dress as well. Do you not keep track of your cycle?”
She nodded, “I will in the future, Milord.”
He handed her his tunic and outer vestments, unlaced his breeches and stepped out of them, then, realizing she was not taking them, he looked at her, saw her eyes were closed . He shoved the breeches at her.
“Pay attention, wench!”
She gasped, grabbing at the breeches before they fell to the floor, keeping her eyes averted from his naked form.
“I shall not be long. See that you make haste to return.”
She nodded again and without another word, fled from the room, her arms full.
He rubbed the sleep from his eyes as he walked into the bathing room to the chamber pot to relieve his bladder. As he took himself in hand and looked down, he was horrified to find dried streaks of blood upon his manhood and inner thighs. He stumbled back as if he could escape the scene before him, almost losing his footing, swinging around to stare at himself in the reflection of the wall panel lit by flickering torchlight. His stomach clenched as the light displayed far more than he had seen before. He broke into a cold sweat, remembering the stain on his servant's dress and he wracked his mind, trying to recall the events of the previous evening, finding nothing beyond Sif's biting rebuttal. Aggravated, he stepped down into the basin, sliding into the warm water until he was fully submerged, then resurfaced to sit along the stone bench, his hands at his side, eyes searching the walls of the room as if to find the answer carved there among the vines.
Helgi was preparing the morning meal when Eidra flew down the spiral staircase, through the kitchen and down the short hall into the laundry room. She thrust the armful of clothes at Artra who stood at a great pot of boiling soapy water, stirring it with a large wooden handle. She backed away then, watching Artra stoke the fire, missing the glance the laundress threw her as she noticed the stain on the front of her dress. “Are you well?”
Eidra jumped as if struck.
“Forgive me,”she mumbled as she scurried from the room, heading back towards the kitchen, wondering what she was going to tell Helgi about her dress. She needn't have worried. When Helgi spied her, she gave a sympathetic moan.
“You started your cycle last night? Odin wept, let me get you a belt and some cloths. Go into the washroom, I can draw a basin of water for a bath.”
Helgi guided her back down to the laundry room where she drew the dress over her head and tossed it to Artra who stood there, hands on her hips. Eidra waited in the humid warmth of the room, arms crossed in front of her to hide her nakedness.
“I have not time for a bath. I must hurry back. Milord will be waiting for me.” Eidra cast a glance up the spiral staircase as if she expected Loki to come charging down it any minute.
“He can wait in Hel. You must at least wash yourself and have a fresh dress. Come, let me find a belt.”
She followed Helgi into the washroom and stood there while the older woman gently wiped the dried blood from her. Eidra started to shiver violently as Helgi put a towel around her and set her down on a small stool, smoothing her hair from her forehead.
“Child, why do you tremble so? It is a normal part of being a woman, you know this. You are well past your first blood.”
Eidra couldn't speak, even nod, simply watched Helgi take a fresh dress from a hook near the wash basin and hand it to her. As she let loose the towel to draw the dress over her head, Helgi finally saw the bite mark bruised into the flesh at her left shoulder.
“Oh dear, my little poppet.” she cooed, stroking the skin as Eidra flinched.
“Do not tell anyone, please.” She begged, her voice as tremulous as her body.
Helgi pursed her lips together as she helped Eidra tie the drawstring at her neck, “It shall be our secret though were it myself, I would speak with Queen Frigga. Master or not, he has no right...” She took Eidra's hands and squeezed them, “Keep your wits about you, he is dangerous.”
Loki was dressed, standing in his bedchamber when Eidra finally returned, out of breath, having run from the kitchen. His look of disapproval was enough to frighten her senseless as she bowed to him, “Forgive me..”
“Be silent, woman.” he cut her short but his tone seemed softer than it had earlier. “Had you thought to bring the morning meal with you, it would save you from the return trip you will now make. See to it you move with all expedition this time.” She started to speak, closed her mouth tight, and scampered out of the room, returning a few minutes later with a tray.
He was reclining on the bed, one leg draped over the edge to the floor, his back against the headboard. He had a piece of parchment in his hands, reading. She nudged the door open with her behind and backed into the room to avoid jostling the contents of the tray. He held the parchment out of the way as she set the tray on the bed before him and backed away.
Loki scanned the tray and picked up an apple, studying it. She stood waiting for him to dismiss her but their eyes met for a second and she looked down at the floor.
“Did the pallet suit you?” he took a bite of the apple.
He frowned, “Did you sleep well last evening?”
Her confusion slowed her response but she managed to croak. “I did, Milord, thank you.”
“Do not lie to me!” The anger in his voice startled her.
“I..I would not, Milord,” She stammered, backed further from the bed.
“Then perhaps you should practice an answer ere you speak again.” He watched as her eyes flitted up to his, just as quickly away.
“I awoke once during the night, Milord.”
He studied the bite mark he'd left in the apple, wondering if she was aware that its twin was exposed at the neck of her gown.
“You are dismissed.”
She peered at him, “Milord?”
“Have you had your morning meal?”
She shook her head.
“Then away with you. See that you return within the hour.”
Minutes later she was seated in the staff kitchen, an untouched plate of food before her, Helgi leaning over the table trying to coax her to eat.
“Come, Eidra. Starving yourself will do no good. Eat.”
She had set her hands in her lap but now she reached up, pulled a piece from a filet of smoked herring and put it in her mouth.
“That is it, you will feel better after you have something in your stomach.”
Eidra gave her a wry smile, “There is little that shall make me feel better. If I were not worried that I would dishonor my father, I would steal back to my village.”
Helgi stirred the porridge in the bowl and took a spoonful, holding it up to Eidra, “If you must, but you shall not get far without nourishment. Come child, eat.”
The rest of the week and the week after that was spent in learning his daily routine. He would ride most mornings, sometimes with Thor, oftentimes alone, along well traveled trails through the forests and small villages dotting the outskirts of the city proper. These few hours were the times Eidra would finish her chores specific to his household, any mending, cleaning, washing. She would then stay with Helgi in the kitchen, helping her cook for the evening meal, or work in the laundry with Artra. When there was extra to be done, Silas would join in. She began to cherish those few hours, though they were hard work, with her new found family for that was how she viewed Helgi, Artra, and Silas. Even serious Volsa, who could be made to smile when Helgi would begin to tell her bawdy jokes until she would swat at her with a cloth.
The darker, more tense times came when Loki would return, especially in the week after he had taken her. He could not quite remember what had happened, only vaguely aware he had been a man possessed that night. He would stare at her while she sat by the fire on her pallet, mending or sewing; she had started to make a new dress with some cotton cloth given her by Helgi. She would raise her eyes to catch his stare and quickly look away. One evening, though, at the end of a long day, when she was tired, irritated, she had caught him staring at her once more and she had looked up at him, holding his gaze for a moment longer than usual, then returned to her work.
She did not see him move from his chair before the fire and the cuff she received knocked her off her pallet, her right ear ringing loudly as he stood above her, “Learn your place, wench.”
She sat up and was about to crawl back to her pallet when his hand grabbed her hair tied at the back of her neck and pulled her backwards, “You will answer me when I speak to you.”
She shrieked in pain, her anger growing, even though she knew she was dangerously close to insubordination now, she cried, “What answer would you have me give you?”
His breath in her ear the tone of his voice, calm and flat, made her cringe, “The same answer you have been giving me this entire week. Yes, Milord.”
She could feel him hovering over her as he waited.
“Yes, Milord.” She wailed as he shoved her forward towards the pallet.
She spun around preparing herself for another blow and was surprised to see Loki standing, feet apart, seeming to look right through her. Before he could recover, she had gathered her dress to her and resettled herself on her pallet, hoping her answer had satisfied him. She expected him to take his seat in front of the fire again but with a snort, he turned and headed out to the balcony. She watched him walk away, until she could only make out his silhouette against the rapidly darkening sky. She wiped her nose with the back of her hand, then continued to sew.
She had almost forgotten he was still in the room when he was suddenly before her. “Fetch my evening robe for me.”
She sat her sewing on the pallet and walked to the wardrobe, “Which robe does Milord wish to wear?”
“It matters not.”
She chose the green and gold silk robe with gold viper headed buttons, the one that had first caught her eye when he'd shown her his quarters and laid it on the bed. He was drawing his tunic over his head and she held out her arms, her eyes downcast. He started to undo his breeches but something stopped him. He reached for the robe, pulled it over his head, then reached underneath and drew off his breeches, handing them to her.
“The weather grows colder by the day. Tomorrow I think I shall have my winter robes brought out. It is the beginning of Haust-mánuðr.”
He strode over to the fireplace, arms crossed before him. She gathered his clothes to her chest, placing them beside the doors so that she could bring them with her to the laundry in the morning, then returned to her pallet by the fire where Loki still stood, lost in thought.
She chanced to peek then and was struck by him. His troubled expression, his eyes seeing something she could not, his long black hair free from the leather tieback, framing his face. The robe shimmering in the firelight, flowing around him with the slightest movement, the hem touching the floor making him seem even taller than he was and she hated him. Hated him for his cruelty, his lack of compassion, his insensitivity, his apathy, his unpredictability. His regal bearing, his beauty, his grace. She hated it all. As if from a distance, he spoke, his voice in that same flat tone,
“You shall need heavier garments for the winter months. See to it that they are provided to you.”
He stood before the fire a minute longer then turned to her as if to speak. She waited, watching, ready and for the first time, it was he who looked away.
“Milord?” She ventured to help him.
Her address seemed to snap him back to himself. “You will accompany me tomorrow to the stables.”
“The stables, Milord? What would you have me do there?”
He walked over to the pallet and leaned over her, “Do you ride?”
She shook her head, distressed, following his thought pattern.
“You will learn to do so.”
“Do you question my reason?”
“Yes, Milord.” She waited for his rebuttal and was shocked when he gave a slight chuckle.
“Then you shall have an answer. You are my personal servant. It is meet that you should know how to ride so as to accompany me on occasion, when I have need of you.” He rubbed his fingers at his temples. “Now I must retire.”
She folded her dress and tucked it against the wall behind her pallet, then crawling beneath the coverlet, pulling it tight around her to shut out the drafts, she lay there, staring into the firelight. She heard Loki sigh, long and deep. She listened, as he seemed about to speak but all she heard was silence and she shut her eyes, imagining what tomorrow would bring.