“I have never been so uncomfortable in my life,” Eidra groaned, holding up her finished blanket, “..And so proud. Look, my first big piece.”
Helgi nodded, “The yellow edging is lovely, a royal coverlet.”
Eidra proceeded to fold it in her lap, “I had to order Loki to go with Thor riding today. He was at the door this morning, demanding that Loki come with him. I stayed seated with the blanket on my lap and he scowled at me but I did not waver. I thought he was going to upbraid me for being so impudent but he simply grabbed Loki's arm and dragged him out of the room.”
“He has not troubled himself about you in such a long time. We may count our blessings.”
Eidra stood up, a little off balance at first, then steadied herself, carrying the blanket to the wardrobe where she lay it on a shelf, “I'll show Loki when he returns.”
Helgi gasped aloud, “Oh I nearly forgot to tell you, they found Erwen's body in the river. Some peasants dragged her out. Her neck was broken. She had apparently leaped from one of the balconies. At the very least, we now know she is not lurking somewhere waiting for you in the shadows.”
Eidra put her hand to her chest and let herself back down into the chair again, “Thank the gods.”
They gazed out over the railing at the city, “I very much wish I could help you prepare for the feast. Loki and Thor had to choose a cow to sacrifice today, I feel so useless and anxious.”
Helgi wrapped her yarn around her needles, “It is the quickening, poppet. The baby is on its way,” She stood from the chair, “And I must go help Artra and Volsa with the preparations. I will return later with your evening meal.”
Helgi leaned over and kissed Eidra on the forehead, lingering a moment, “Now you will have to start a bunting, my child. I will show you how later.”
Eidra walked to the railing and scanned the south courtyard far to her right. More and more, she wanted Loki by her side. Each day seemed precious to her. Those times alone with him, knowing soon that she would see him hold their baby and it would demand the largest share of their attention. Time alone would become a memory. Loki, too, seemed to sense this impending loss. She had begun to pack one day for the trip to Rialo and he had asked her where she was going.
“I am packing to be ready.”
Loki had lifted the dress she'd been folding, from her hand, “Ready to go where?”
“Away, as you said I would. To Rialo?”
He had looked quite crestfallen, “You cannot go yet. I will be so alone.”
“As you wish,” She had finished packing the trunk and slid it beside the wardrobe.
Still, the anticipation was building. Helgi and herself had made a layette early on and she would sit on the bed with Loki and look at the little dressing gowns, the small robes, the booties and daydream about what the baby would be like.
One evening, not long after she had packed for her trip, she heard the door open and turned to see Loki striding towards her, a smile on his face.
“I have something for you, little mother,” He guided her back into the room, took her by the shoulder and turned her around until she was facing away from him.
“Now close your eyes and do not open them until I say so.”
She heard the light rustle of paper, then felt the weight of something settle against her chest, his fingers at the back of her neck and she shivered.
“Open your eyes.”
The beautiful purple crystal that Loki had taken from the cavern for her, lay at the swell of her breasts. It had been carved and polished into a cabochon encased in a rim of gold worked with the image of a snake who appeared to hold the gem in its coil. It was suspended from a fine gold chain.
“The metalsmith summoned me today and told me the necklace was finished. Do you like it?”
“It is wonderful!” She held it up to the sunlight that was streaming into the bedroom and it sparkled, throwing shades of brilliant purple across her palm. “Oh Loki, it is divine.”
She felt his arms encircle her waist from behind as he rested his chin on her shoulder. “I must confess I cannot wait for the baby to be born so that I may again hug you face to face.”
She giggled then, “I thought you did not mind this position.”
He arched up against her in response, “Neither did you, I seem to recall,” He kissed the sweet spot on her neck and she felt the lock unhinge from her knees as she stumbled a bit.
“My prince, it is unwise to start something we cannot finish.”
She pushed back against him, relishing the firmness rubbing against her backside as he groaned loudly, “And this, this too I cannot wait for.”
She broke the embrace then, turned and kissed him, “I know, but Clotho's orders stand.”
He gave her a pat on the behind then turned to his wardrobe and opened the doors.
“I must wear my ceremonial dress tonight. I wish you could be there.”
She shrugged, “As do I but it is better this way. I need my rest and my back is quite sore. Are you to have a bath first?”
“Yes, I must cleanse the dirt of the day from me.”
“I shall go draw your water.”
She walked into the bathing room but he was close behind, “Away with you. I do not want you struggling to get to your knees. I shall draw my water.”
She crossed her arms, “I am far from an invalid. You should wish a servant for the servant before long.”
“Servant for the lady,” He grunted as he reached for the tap, “..and that is a find idea. You shall need a nursemaid.”
“I need no nursemaid. I will have my lying in time with the baby first.”
“You must have help with the baby. It is your first.”
“I will have Helgi to help me.”
He stood up, “Does Helgi know of your plan?”
“Of course she does,” she followed him back out into the bedroom, “Helgi will be at the blot tonight. I hate being alone.”
“I would miss it if I could.” He reached into the wardrobe and drew out his under tunic, elaborate overshirt and long coat.
“Not at all, you have duties. I will be fine, I just complain to myself.”
He disappeared back into the bathing room as he spoke, “Oh remember how I told you of Persis, the storeroom guard?”
He poked his head from the doorway, “It would seem he has been found out. Not one but two women have fingered him. He is to be a father twice and it would seem nearly at the same time.”
“Are you serious? The rogue, the scoundrel.”
She heard the water stop, “Indeed and not a one his wife.”
“Intrigues, palace life is full of intrigues.”
His laughter echoed in the cavern of the bathing room, “Someday you shall see.”
She had watched the proceedings in the south courtyard from the balcony It was a fair distance away and she soon gave up when the pain at her back started to throb. She considered her loom by her cot, recalled once again that she had no lap to set it on any longer then looked at her needles. She needed more yarn.
She sighed, feeling peckish. Everyone was still at the festivities so she grabbed her green cloak, drew it over her shoulders, opened the door and peered into the corridor. Finding no one about, she made her way to the spiral staircase and down into the kitchen.
She set the half loaf of bread on the table then walked to the cold cellar at the opposite end of the kitchen and drew out a covered pewter pitcher of buttermilk.
She sliced a thick hunk of bread from the loaf, tearing into it as she poured the buttermilk into a mug. The bread was delicious and the buttermilk cold and salty. The only thing lacking was company. The baby moved about and she patted her belly.
“Very well then, company I may hold a conversation with,” She corrected herself.
Loki steadied himself as he draped his cloak over his arm and shook his head to clear the slight buzz in his head from the wine. He opened the doors to his chamber and called for Eidra. Getting no response, he searched the bathing room. Neither was she on the balcony. He stood there confused. Perhaps she had taken a stroll to the arboretum. She had been doing that on occasion. He walked back out into the corridor and headed to his right.
Eidra cleaned up the mess on the table, put the pitcher away, and threw her cloak back on. She was about to ascend the stairs when the clatter of metal from the corridor behind her, reached her ears, startling her. She sunk into the recess of the arch near the cold cellar waiting for whatever had made the noise to emerge from the darkness. She drew her cloak tighter around her, her heart pounding near out of her chest as the profile of Thor swept through the archway into the kitchen. She held her breath, pressing herself as hard as she could into the stone wall but Thor turned and saw her immediately. She held her cloak out around her, hoping it would hide her belly. “Milord, “She curtsied looking down at the flagstones beneath her feet.
When she looked up, he was smiling at her.
Loki returned to his rooms, bewildered. Had she gone with Helgi? He drew off his great coat and went to the balcony to look out over the south courtyard.
“Where is your master, wench? He keeps you so ensconced in his chambers now.”
Thor ambled over to her and she hunched forward, terrified. She could smell the mead on him. He put his hand to her face and pulled her chin up.
“What is it about you that holds my brother in thrall?”
He leaned over and sniffed her hair, whispering into her ear, “Is it your beauty?”
His other hand came up and cupped her face. “Is it your skill? Can you make him scream your name to the four walls?”
His hands tightened upon her cheeks and he drew her up. They were face to face now. She had never been so close to loosing her bladder as she was at that moment.
“What is it that he sees in a lowly servant girl. Is it your pretty little mouth?” He leaned closer towards her. She had determined long ago that the only lips to touch hers would be Loki's and to that end she made her decision. She brought her hands up and raked her fingernails across his face with a roar of anger.
He let go of her with a bellow, “You whore!” flailing for her as she slipped from his grasp. She stumbled once, felt him yank her cloak nearly from her shoulders. She felt his hand slip around her side in an effort to reach around her waist, sliding along her belly before she turned and shoved at him with both hands. His posture and the mead served to take him off his feet. His hand let loose of her cloak and he struck the floor in a great cacophony of metal and stone.
She scrambled up the stairs as fast as her condition would allow, his roar of rage spurring her onward. She made the top of the landing, hearing his boots hit the steps at a furious pace. She thought her heart would burst as she ran panting to the chamber door, flung it open and shot through nearly into Loki's arms.
“Eidra!” he cried, “What is going on, where...?”
She flung herself behind him just as Thor made the doorway and headed straight for Loki.
Loki reached to the chair beside him where he had lain his scabbard and drew his sword, stopping Thor in his tracks. “Hold your tongue, Thor, lest you lose it.”
“Draw your sword on me, brother? She is the one you need protect yourself from. Dismiss her, dismiss her at once!”
“Remove yourself from my chamber!” Loki growled, repositioning the sword.
“Look what she did to me!” he pointed to his face, bloodied with the scratches she had given him.
“Upon compulsion I am sure of it.”
“He cornered me, Milord,” She cried, pressing her face against his back.
Thor made another step towards him, “She is a witch, she has enchanted you. I will see her dismissed or father shall hear of it.”
“Do tell him, see if he does not laugh at you. She is a valued part of my household, she is my servant. She knows nothing of enchantment,” His voice faltered as he pushed Thor back toward the door, “I will take her to task. Now get out of my chambers, you drunken fool!”
Thor was now at the extent of Loki's sword, the tip nearly at his leather clad stomach when Thor shoved Loki's sword to the side, “If she be but a servant, if she has no hold over you, strike her.”
Loki pushed Thor backwards with the flat of his sword, his teeth bared in a snarl, “I will discipline her as I see fit when it suits me. What right had you to... ”
Thor gripped the front of Loki's tunic, “She has touched the person of a royal and worse, she has drawn blood! This is inexcusable. Punish her!” he roared.
Loki shoved Thor's hand away and glared at Eidra. “Never touch the person of the crown prince again, do you ken?”
“Ah Gods! Out of the way brother,” Thor pushed Loki aside, expecting him to yield but he resisted, putting all his mass into the return shove, knocking Thor to the side, raising his sword once again.
“Thor, you have made my business your own for far too long!”
Thor's vambrace struck the sword with a metallic clang as he swung his arm about and lunged at Loki, finally catching him off balance. Loki stumbled to the floor, landing on his back, the sword skittering behind him towards the fireplace.
Eidra was before Thor in an instant, her fists in the air, “Leave him alone!”
“Eidra no!” Loki cried as Thor's hand connected with the side of her head in a resounding slap and she stumbled sideways, catching herself on her chair.
“Now throw yourself on my tender mercies that I do not drag you from this room to face the...”
The momentum from Loki's leap knocked the wind from Thor. He staggered to the floor his head connecting with the marble to bounce once, then again as Loki pounced on his chest and grabbed him.
“GET OUT!” Loki bellowed, “OUT!” He stood and strode over to Eidra who'd sat down in the chair holding her cheek.
Thor scrambled to his feet, paused, watching Loki kneeling on the floor before Eidra. Then he looked at Eidra yet again, blinked.
“Father will hear of your insubordination, you can be sure of it,” Thor growled. When Loki ignored him, he frowned, thought of cuffing Loki in the back of the head. Instead, he stalked from the room, slamming the door behind him.
Thor strode down the corridor, his boots clicking on the hard marble, anger darkening his soul, clouding his mind. As he reached his chambers a few doors distant and he touched the door handle, his mind finally found traction through the haze of mead surrounding it. He could see before him Eidra, her hands into fists, the sides of her gown distended slightly, her stance, the roundness of her belly as his fingers had dragged across it. He let go of the handle and started off on a trot toward the Allfather's chambers.