“Get up, get dressed,” came the whisper in her ear.
Eidra opened her eyes to see Loki standing over her.
She lifted her head to look out towards the balcony where the sun had not quite made the horizon.
“It is so early.” She flopped her head back down on the pillow as the coverlet was thrown back from her.
“Get up,” He shook her again.
She swung her feet around to the floor, “I am up, Odin's beard.”
He set a pair of breeches and a tunic in her lap. “Put these on.”
She held them up before her, “A dress would hide me better.”
“No one will notice you today.” He put his hands on his hips, “Hurry, I wish to beat the dawn.”
Loki had procured for her a hooded woolen cloak that hung warm on her shoulders. She had begun to sweat by the time they made the arena. As they entered the stables, she dug her heels into the dirt, “Loki” She whispered, frantic, “I cannot ride the horse, I am too far along.”
“I know this,” he took her by the elbow, moving her along, “I have readied a cart, with fresh straw and a soft coverlet.”
They passed through between the stalls to a cart and horse waiting outside along the south wall of the palace. “Let me help you up.”
She stepped on a small rung at the end of the wagon and knelt down on the coverlet, “Are you sure this is wise?”
Loki trotted around the front of the wagon, grabbed a similar cloak that had been lying on the driver's bench and threw it around his shoulders, raising the hood. “You wished to be free for a day, we will be free for a day. We will return to the waterfall and we will be back before evening meal. I had Helgi pack us something to eat.”
Eidra huddled down in the coverlet, draping the cloak around her, “You are incorrigible.”
“So I am, would you have me any other way?” he clucked his tongue and snapped the reins. The wagon lurched forward as she looked up at his back and grinned.
“Not at all.”
Each time they would pass anyone on the road, she would drop her head down, letting her hood hide her face. The sun slowly climbed the sky while he kept the horses at a slow trot. At last they reached the overgrown ruts of an old wagon path which led to the waterfall far from the road. She braced herself as they turned into the path and the wagon dropped with a jolt.
“Are you alright?” He pivoted on the seat to look at her.
“I am fine,” She smiled, readjusted herself to a more comfortable position as they continued on. They would not see another person for the rest of the day.
They could hear the roar of the waterfall long before they could see it. When they reined the horses in, the wagon was perched on the ridge of a tall cliff overhanging the water. The large pool spread out before them, a trail to their right leading down to the water's edge, the waterfall roaring in the distance on the opposite side of the pool. Loki jumped down from the wagon and unhitched the horses to graze. Eidra let herself down and walked to where Loki was standing at the edge of the cliff. She peered at the water some twenty feet down, backing up as soon as she saw the drop.
“I do not remember it being so high this winter,” she shuddered, “Come let us head to the bottom.”
She undid the clasp of the cloak but before she could throw it off her shoulders, Loki had divested himself of his garments and boots and was poised at the edge of the cliff. He turned to her, “Take the trail, I will meet you!”
She had not a chance to cry out but he had dove off the rock ledge into the water below. She raced to the edge and peered over, seeing him surface, shaking the water from his face.
She cupped her hands around her mouth and shouted to him, “You are completely mad!” His resounding laughter made her shake her head. “How is the water?”
“Cold!” he shouted back, “Come down.”
“I will, the safe way.”
He began to swim towards the rocks along the shore of the pool as she gathered his clothes and boots and started to pick her way down the trail to the bottom. As she reached the shore of the pool, he was just hauling himself up onto the rocks and she stared unabashed at him, his finely chiseled musculature, his grace in form and movement, his sheer height.
“You are beautiful,” She breathed.
“So you say.” He looked over his shoulder at the water and she saw his wet hair trailed nearly to the middle of his back.
“How long has it been since last you cut your hair?”
He held it's length between his hands and squeezed the water from it. “I was but a child, eight or nine seasons at the most. A dear cousin had passed from this world to the next and we were made to cut our hair in mourning.”
He took his clothes from her arms, dropped them on the ground and proceeded to lift her tunic over her head.
“Wait,” She gasped, “What are you doing?”
“Are you not warm from the ride? Raise your arms, woman.”
She did so but quickly covered her bare breasts as he tossed the tunic in the pile with his own garments. He reached to unlace her breeches, saw her stance and stood back with his hands out, “Eidra I have seen you unclothed time without number.”
“But we are out of doors.”
He took her arms and gently pulled them away, “And we are alone.” He leaned over and kissed the swell of each breast, “Magnificent.”
She giggled but could not stop her hands from interfering once more as he redoubled his efforts with the laces of her breeches, pushing her fingers aside as they dropped around her ankles.
“Step out of them.”
She looked down at her feet, “My boots.”
He put a hand to his forehead and knelt to the ground where he worked her boots from her feet while she steadied herself with a hand on his shoulder. Rising then, he took her hand, guiding her along the shore to where the rocks turned to pebbles, then to sand as the pool shallowed out nearer to the thundering cataract. He walked her out until the water was at her thighs and her teeth were chattering, then he pushed off the bottom and swam into deeper water, careful to stay clear of the brutal downward plunge of the water falling from high above.
“Gods, it is frigid.” She cried, “How can you stand it?”
“It feels wonderful.” He motioned her forward, “Keep walking.”
As the water reached the underside of her belly, she felt a flurry of movement, “The baby protests as strongly as the mother.” She hissed.
“Dunk yourself under completely and get it over with. It is sheer torture to prolong it.” He swam up to her, his hair waving in the water like a black curtain against the pale sand below the surface. Another few steps in, then he splashed at her gently, making her squeal. “Loki, I am cooled off now.”
He pouted then, “Swim with me, please?”
She frowned, took a couple deep breaths casting a glance up at the surrounding cliffs and let her knees drop her forward. Cold water closed over her head, drawing the air from her lungs and she stood up, sputtering. “Odin's damn beard!” before she dropped back into the water again. He swam up to her and caught her mouth with his, the sweet water mingling with their kiss, cold and warm, soft, eager. He cupped her behind with his hands, drawing her to him.
“You inflame my desire to a fever pitch.” He pulled her closer, laughing as she looked down between them at her belly,
“Methinks you have reached your limit, little one.”
They swam for a bit longer until Eidra stood up, her hands in the air. “I am numb from tip to tail.” They let the water drip from their bodies before donning their clothes again, still damp. Loki trudged up the hill to the wagon, fetched the basket Helgi had packed and returned to where Eidra had stretched out on a rock to warm herself, waiting on the sun to dry her. They moved to a clearing a short way from the edge of the pool where Loki spread the coverlet on the ground and opened up the basket. Helgi had packed a loaf of bread, a goodly hunk of cheese, a tied leather lace filled with dried apple slices and two pewter cups.
“Goodness there is enough here for four people.” Eidra tore off a piece of bread. Loki walked to the water's edge and rinsed the cups out, filled them with water, then returned to the coverlet. They sat, eating, watching the waterfall.
“Thor challenged me to jump from the ledge beside the waterfall one day.” Loki looked up at the ledge high above them.
“Why in the nine realms would he do such a thing? Was he trying to kill you?”
Loki took a long drink of water, “I do not know, I do not think so. I believe he was trying to test my loyalty, or my bravery, perhaps both.”
“You did not do it did you?”
Loki smiled, it was a sheepish grin and her mouth dropped open. “You are not serious.”
“The water felt like solid ground when I hit it. I blacked out . When I came to my senses, Thor was kneeling beside me, pushing the water from my lungs. He said he did not think I would actually do it. I fractured a bone in my left leg. I was thirteen seasons old.”
She shook her head, “It is a wonder that you survived the fall at all.”
“The wonder is that Thor bothered to pull me from the water. He could have solved a multitude of problems by leaving me to drown.”
She untied the lace and slid some apple rings from it, giving some to him, “Danar did something similar to me only it was by accident. He was chasing me on the grounds of our cottage and I stepped into an old well. Fortunately, it was not too far into the ground and the water was not too deep but I was terrified. No one else was home at the time so he had to get a rope and pull me out. I told him that he might have been an only child again had the well been deeper.”
“Perish the thought.” He looked about the cliffs once more. “Thor grew out of this place eventually, preferring to spend his days sparring, working his body, drinking, carousing, at least until Sif tamed him, and that only as much as possible with the oaf.”
“But he still carouses, does he not?” She tore off a hunk of cheese, paired it with a slice of apple and popped them in her mouth.
Loki nodded, “Sif is a difficult woman, to say the least. She is as arrogant as him, proud, her tongue sharp as any knife.”
Eidra sat up straight, “And that gives a man reason to seek out other women?”
Loki took another bite of bread, his words muffled, “Now I said nothing of that. I simply said that was Thor's way of dealing with her.”
She eyed him, gave him a short punch in the arm and eyed him again, “And that is the way to deal with errant men.”
Loki chuckled, “Punch the oaf, do not punch me. I am no fool.”
He brushed the crumbs from his tunic and stood up as she repacked the basket. “After you are finished, I have something very special to show you.”
“Oh?” She closed the basket up.
“We'll fetch that on the way back, put on your boots.”
They began to walk towards the waterfall until they were beside it. Then Loki started to pick his way up the jumble of rocks to the cliff face running behind the great torrent. The light was muted, the rocks slippery, the air cool. He kept his hand in hers, making sure her footing was good. Finally along the cliff face, she saw a narrow path and an enclave behind the waterfall. He leaned to her shoulder and pointed at it. “Look closely and you will see a narrow fissure.”
She squinted while her eyes adjusted to the light, until she could see a long narrow streak in the rock. “I see it.”
He crooked a finger at her and walked towards it, “I found this one day when Thor was not here. As far as I know, I am the only person who knows of this place.” She watched him turn sideways and slide through the fissure.
“Loki,” She whispered frantically, “Wait.”
“Come on.” His voice sounded distant, nearly engulfed by the roar of the sheeting water behind her. She felt for the rock wall, following it until she found the fissure. She looked down at her stomach, “Loki I do not know if I will fit with the baby.”
A hand poked from the fissure and she screamed.
“Hold my hand.” She could barely hear him but she did what she had been told and with one hand over her belly, she turned sideways sliding through a long, damp, narrow crevice that finally gave way and widened out after a few feet. The sound of the water falling behind them was faint but she could hear another rumble, much deeper, like thunder. A hand on her shoulder made her scream again. “Loki I can see nothing.”
“I know, just wait.”
He let go of her and she started to panic, “Loki!”
“Shhh, En varm lys til å lyse min vei.”
All at once Loki's hand was before her face, a ball of orange light with a nimbus of yellow around it suspended in the air above his palm began to glow brighter and brighter until she could make out a wide black river a few feet distant to their left. As her eyes adjusted further, she could see the cavern they were within, was much bigger than she'd first thought. The river stretched off to their right into the darkness where the rumbling was much louder.
“I wanted this to be my special place, and mine alone.” Loki's voice echoed in the darkness.
“And now I know of it.”
He nodded, “It will be our special place.”
“What is the sound we hear up ahead?”
“I do not know.” She realized Loki hadn't moved from the spot since he had entered the cavern.
“Have you never looked?”
She turned to him, incredulous. “You have known of this place all this time and yet you have never explored it? Why?”
“If we are to be honest with each other....fear.” Loki peered into the darkness ahead but would not look at her. “I could never ask Thor to come with me because I did not want him to, but I could never pluck up the courage to go further into the cavern.”
Eidra strained to see further into the darkness, “What do you think is in there?”
I think we are below Yggdrasil, perhaps near the well, Mimisbrunnr. It is at least how I fancy it.”
“Let us get closer then. You will never know if you do not look.” Eidra took his arm but he remained firmly rooted. “Loki, I am with you.”
He allowed her then to lead him forward, his hand holding the light, outstretched before them. The thunder kept getting louder, the vibration fairly shaking the cavern floor, resonating in their chests. They had to choose their path carefully along the uneven rock strewn riverbank. She looked over to the river more than once to see rapids that would have upended even the sturdiest longboats and the river seemed to be widening.
“Look up ahead.” Loki whispered in her ear. She stared hard into the darkness and saw dimly reflected in the light, a sheet of water they had been getting closer to as they walked. It was ten times the width of the waterfall at the entrance of the cavern and from the looks of it at least three times as high. The spray of the cascade was reaching them even this far distant.
“It is another waterfall.” She gripped his hand harder, “Perhaps you are right.”
He scanned the cavern, turned the way they had come as she pulled him forward again. They had only gone a few more paces when Loki stopped her. “I feel as if we should not be here. As if we are intruding.”
She stood still for a moment, looking about them, at the black surface of the river which roiled with whitecaps, realizing that the black surface had risen a bit higher than was normal in one place, diamond like scales reflecting in the glow of the light.
“Why don't we return to the entrance.” She tried to keep her voice steady as she reversed direction.
“A prudent suggestion.”
They continued their return path, she keeping an eye on the river's surface as they walked. Loki was right, whatever was in that water was likely not open to visitors, a light snack perhaps, but she was not about to indulge it. They reached the fissure and sidled through to stand behind the sheet of water that was their waterfall now. They followed the path back to the canyon and the clearing beside the pool where she flopped down on the coverlet and held her belly. “Oh my, a baby takes the stuffing out of you. I am exhausted.”
He flopped down beside her and took her hand in his,“Thank you for solving the mystery of what was in that cavern. Let us lay here and rest.”
She squinted up at the sun, “The true mystery lies in what was swimming in that river.”
He turned his head to look at her, “You saw it too?”
She returned his stare, “You saw it?”
“Yes, when I told you I felt we were intruding. I did not want to frighten you.”
She laughed, “And I did not want to frighten you. How comical!”
He rolled to his side to rest in the crook of her arm, “Eidra, if I had a sky of ink and a sea of parchment, I could not begin to write of my love for you.”
She shifted to her side to face him, “How beautiful, my prince is a poet.”
“You bring out the best in me.” He caressed her face, pulled her to him and they lay there until the warmth of the sun closed their eyes.
The sound of something rustling in the grass at the edge of the clearing awoke her. She put her head up, spied a doe watching them, her long ears twitching in time with her tail. It was then she noticed the position of the sun.
“Loki!” She cried, “It is getting late.”
Loki opened his eyes and sat up. The sun was not far from the horizon. He helped her up from the ground and grabbed the basket while she gathered the coverlet in her arms. They stopped to grab her cloak at the shoreline where she'd dropped it then they climbed the trail to the wagon at the top of the ridge. It took a few minutes to get the horses to come for the hitch and by then, the sun was touching the top of the hills.
“Helgi is going to be out of her mind with worry.” Eidra moaned.
He helped her into the back of the wagon and draped the coverlet over her though the weather was still warm. “So long as no one else is looking for us, we will be safe.”
They bounced along the old rutted path and onto the main road as the light was starting to fade from the sky. She crawled up to her knees and leaned on the drivers seat beside Loki, as they talked in hushed tones for a bit. When the spires of Asgard loomed large, glowing with light in the dark of the night sky, she retreated back to the wagon bed and under the coverlet until they made the stables.
A stable boy took the reins from Loki and began to unhitch the team, watching as he helped a hooded figure step down from the wagon.
“Loki, go on ahead,” She whispered, “ If anyone stops you, 'twill not be with me.”
He hesitated but she pushed him gently ahead of her,”Go, I will be there presently, I want to tell Helgi we are back.” She gathered her cloak around her and watched him walk through the arena. She shivered then as she recalled that day so very long ago as she watched him wrestle with Thor in the dirt. Finally, after she felt enough time had passed, she followed him, taking a different path.
She trotted down the spiral staircase, halfway to the bottom before she realized she had left the basket in the wagon. There was no help for it though, she would have to get it tomorrow. She made the bottom of the staircase to see Helgi standing before the fire, “Helgi I forgot your basket in the wagon, I will bring it to you tomorrow. We had...”
Helgi swung around and put her finger to her lips. Eidra stopped and tipped her head, until she heard footsteps coming down the corridor. She turned to see Erwen standing in the doorway, her arms crossed.
“I brought the clothes to the fat lady,” she eyed Eidra, “Now what?”
“The fat lady has a name, it is Artra. I will not hear you call her by that name again,” Helgi scolded, “Now why not take your evening meal and sit at the table. I will return in a moment.”
Helgi motioned toward the staircase and Eidra started back up the stairs, Helgi following her.
Once in the corridor far away from the stairs, Helgi hugged Eidra, “You two had a good time?”
“Helgi, it was simply enchanted. I cannot remember what life was like without him.”
She jerked her thumb towards the stairs, “She was told to report to the staff kitchens this morning. It would seem she moved up in the world.”
“Now you will have to visit me, Helgi. How is Silas, have you seen him today?”
She shook her head, “Not today, when I asked Erwen about him she answered, 'how should I know, I am not his keeper', miserable wretch.”
“I have to fetch our evening meal, Helgi.” Eidra's hand flew to her mouth.
“I will fetch it, child. Go to your rooms. If I see Silas, I will send him to you. They say Petar is still insensate. Clotho had to help with a delivery this midday. Go, I will get the meals.”
When she reached the rooms, Loki had changed into a robe, laying hers out on the bed. “How fairs Helgi. Is she safely back in her mind?”
“She was not far out of it, not for us. She has a new kitchen worker down there.”
“Oh?” He sat on the bed watching as she undressed.
“Yes, her name is Erwen. She was a field hand before this.”
“Then you will have to stay up here.”
She drew the robe over her head, “I know this, I told Helgi and she said she would bring up our meals. Do not be surprised if you find her here knitting with me some nights. I will not give up all my time with her too. Servant be damned.”
He shook his head. “The whole staff in my rooms I tell you.”
“You love Helgi, do not tell me different.” She sat on his lap, her arms around his neck.
“If I do, then it is because she loves you so well.” He kissed the crook of her neck sending shock waves through her body. “How did you like my surprise today?”
“Were it we could do that each day, be free to roam.”
“We shall again someday,” He held up a fist and opened it, “These crystals line the wall of the cavern. When I went in before you, I picked some up, this was the best of the lot.”
She picked up the purple faceted crystal and held it aloft to catch the torchlight. “A memento of our day together. I will talk to the goldsmith and have it put in a necklace. Perhaps I can trade a service in return, wash clothes, make a sash.”
Loki took it from her hand, “I will commission a necklace for you.”
She lay her head on his shoulder, felt the baby move and lifted his hand to her belly, “She approves.”
“So he does.” She poked him in the stomach and he laughed.
Helgi's knock on the door made them jump up.
“Evening meal delivery!” She called.
That evening, Eidra felt more tired than usual and had nodded off soon after her meal but Loki could not sleep. He sat in his chair before a low fire, wondering, thinking, how to tell Odin that he would presently be a grandfather. He was soon asleep before the fireplace, his head resting on the arm of the chair.