Descent-(The Path)

23

“Tomorrow you will travel” Loki stroked the redness on her cheek where Thor had connected with her. “I shall charge Helgi with your care. I will provide you with enough coin and set you up in Rialo with Ren until your time. Then you will rejoin me with our child. I will speak with Father as soon as you are safely away. When mother sees you with that little baby cradled in your arms, she will bend him to her will. He shall not be able to deny you.”

She put her hands up to let him slide her robe over her head caressing her belly as he did so. “I shall miss this, touching you, feeling the baby move under my hand.”

“Ah, the baby will still move beneath your hands only I shall be across the room,” She giggled, put her hands atop his as her face turned grave, “I am afraid though, I have felt a change these past couple of days, my back has hurt constantly. Helgi says it is my quickening. I fear traveling so close to my time.”

She slid beneath the coverlet beside Loki. He pulled her in against him, his arm now pushed just below her breasts for it was all the room afforded now. “It cannot be helped. You should have been gone a long time ago but it was my selfishness kept you here, my precious little minx. I will see you to the borders of the city.” He kissed her shoulder, “You will go in comfort. No harm will come to our child.”

She touched the amethyst necklace at her throat, “I shall be lost without you.”

“It will not be for long, I promise you.”

She reached backwards, placing her hand on his hip, “I will hold you to that.”

Odin sat on the edge of the throne, elbow on his knee, head in hand, “My son, the hour is late and you are clearly in your cups. Tell me once more what has happened to you that you have summoned me from my chambers?”

Thor put a hand to his forehead, “Loki has gone mad along with his servant girl. She attacked me, scratched my face, and Loki drew his sword on me when I sought to discipline her.”

Odin nodded, yawned.

“He threw me out of his chambers in a rage, but it is worse, much worse. I told you, Father, I said that this would come to pass and now it has. The servant girl, Eidra is with child.”

Odin sat straight, “How know you this?”

“I saw it with my own two eyes! Felt the swell of her stomach with my hand. She is great in fact. Father I demand you remove her at once from him and do something about this. He must be made to realize the error of his ways.”

Odin stroked his beard, “I must speak with members of the High Council about this.”

Thor stuck the palm of his hand with his fist. “But what shall we do about it now?”

Odin stood, descended the few steps from the dais and stood before Thor, “Take the royal guards and remove her from his chambers, see she is sequestered somewhere, unharmed. She is still a citizen of Alfheim, never forget that. Then bring Loki back here to the throne room. I will talk to the Council members then to him.”

Thor nodded, grim, “Yes Father.”

She snuggled closer to him, adjusting her position yet again. Her back was worse this night than it had been previously. The excitement had agitated her, the baby mirroring her discomfort as it fidgeted in the room it had left. She had just closed her eyes for the tenth time when she heard footsteps outside the door.

She lay there listening, her heart pounding. It was too late to leap from the bed as the door creaked open. Loki was sound asleep but she didn't dare move to shake him. She watched Thor enter the room followed by three guards, their faces terrifying in the torchlight. Thor walked to the cot and bent over, throwing the coverlet to the floor. He was looking for her.

She was seized with the urge to get up and run past him out the door, to keep running until she dropped or, worse, was caught. He stood up then, whirled, spying her in Loki's bed. She closed her eyes tightly, heard his footsteps and suddenly she was being wrenched from the bed to sprawl on the marble floor. She curled into herself with a cry, arms across her belly as she knelt on the floor. Loki was immediately upon her, hovering over her like a wild animal, one arm pulling her beneath him, the other brandishing his dagger at Thor.

“It ends here, brother!” Thor roared as he nodded to the guards.

“Come no closer to her!” Loki hissed, “I will stain this blade with blood tonight.”

Thor reached out to Loki, dodging the swipe he made and catching the crook of his arm, flipping him to his side on the floor where he pinned him as the guards lifted Eidra from the floor. “NO!” Loki bellowed, “LEAVE HER ALONE!”

He bucked hard beneath Thor's weight but Thor was determined to keep him flat and he bore down.

“I will make you to suffer for this!” Loki shrieked as Eidra struggled to free herself from the guards.

“Loki!”

“Eidra!” He thrashed harder, “Bite, kick scratch...mmph!!” Thor's hand had clamped firmly over his mouth.

“Take her to the cells. I will come for her later.”

The guards started to drag Eidra from the room as she began to scream. The door shut behind them only muffling her cries.

Thor backed off Loki slowly, watching the fire behind his eyes, anticipating his strike as he hurled himself upward at Thor's chest.

“You bastard!” He caught Thor across the chin, canting his head to the right, “Where are they taking her. Why have you done this?!”

“Because you have lost your way, brother. You have fallen into a trap, she has enchanted you, I tell you. She plays you for a fool, takes liberties with you and now you are beholden to her for the child in her womb. This must not happen, there will be no bastards in the House of Odin.”

Loki stood there in shock, too stunned finally to speak.

“Come, father wishes to speak with you.”

Eidra struggled against her jailers until all strength left her. She sat now on a short chair in the corridor leading to the throne room, the same corridor Malek had hidden in to kill Loki. The royal guards stood facing away from her, their pikes hard upon the floor. She shuddered, grimacing as pain shot through her back then subsided.

Thor parted the drapes at the end of the corridor, nearly causing Eidra to fall from the chair in her effort to back away from him. He sailed up to her, took her by the arm and hoisted her up to stand, guiding her through the drapes at the other end of the corridor to emerge blinking into the torchlit throne room.

Odin was standing before the throne, the Valknut carved into its gilded gold back, tall red drapes in valances on the wall behind it.

She looked about for Loki but he was nowhere to be seen. Thor held her out to Odin as if she was a mare for him to inspect before purchase.

“See father, how he has arrayed her in finery, like a noblewoman?” He lifted the amethyst from her throat and she cried out as he gave it a yank, snapping the chain.

“Please give it back to me!” She reached for the necklace in Thor's hand but he dropped it to the floor, crushing the crystal beneath his heavy boot.

“You troll!” She shouted.

Thor turned to her, “Curb your tongue lest you lose it!” he took her by the arm, gripped her chin “Those things are not for the likes of a servant wench.”

She pulled away from him, stumbling backward, “Do you hate me so that you would not allow a small gift from him. Is it jealousy?”

Thor took a step toward her with a mind to break her jaw and tear out her tongue but the hall rang out with the ringing thunder of metal on marble, “Stand down!”

Odin motioned to Eidra and she felt herself grow small before him. She knelt down on the floor.

“Mighty Allfather.”

“Up child.”

She rose and stood before him, head hung down. When he put his hand to her belly to feel the roundness, the fullness there, she felt violated. She had all she could do not to shove his hands away from her as he nodded, “You will go with the royal guards now. I must speak with my son.”

Thor all but threw her through the heavy drapes into the guards midst. “Take her to the cells. Await my command.”

When Loki was finally allowed into the throne room, the horizon outside the arched windows had begun to brighten with the dawn of a new day. Thor and Odin stood on the dais at the top of the steps, their heads together as they talked.

Odin noticed him first and touched Thor's shoulder, “Loki, come here.”

Loki mounted the steps in twos, “Father.”

His foot kicked something that slid across the floor. Glancing down he saw the remains of Eidra's necklace shattered in pieces. He felt disoriented, enraged, his mind racing. He had managed to slip on breeches and his tunic but he'd eschewed boots and his bare feet slapped the marble as he paced back and forth.

“Thor has invaded my private chambers and taken Eidra from me! I ask that she be allowed to return to me. She has committed no crime, she should not be treated as a criminal.”

Odin held up his hand, Loki saw a weariness in his eye. “She is with child.”

Loki stared at his feet, “Yes Father,”

“And the child be yours?”

“Yes.” His answer stronger then, with more conviction.

“You see!” Thor cried as he waved his hand at Loki, “He admits his indiscretion!”

“I never intended to deny it, you simpering fool,” Loki growled, shoving him hard as he passed him.

“Then the child is a bastard.”

Loki stopped pacing, “Something I yearn to correct! Father, I beg your permission to marry her! I wish to make her a noblewoman.”

“Impossible,” Thor was now blocking his path, “She is lowborn! A half-breed.”

“She is a daughter of the House Denari in Alfheim, her father holder of the Sacred cup of Volundr.”

Odin nodded, “Just so, still she was never acknowledged as an heir or a full member. She is a servant.”

Loki turned to Odin, “She saved my life, does that count for nothing?” He was starting to feel a sick dread in the pit of his stomach.

“And I say again,” Thor held up his hand, “She was merely doing her job. Not to tell Loki would have been treason on her part.”

Odin backed away from them and sat down on his throne, crossing his arms.

Loki whirled on Thor, “She warned me because she loves me. Does it make the deed less noteworthy then?”

“It makes her a fool.”

Loki's hand slapped Thor's chest hard, “Speak not of her in such a manner. But for her telling me, I would possibly be dead. Would that be preferable, am I that much of a threat to your place on the throne?”

Thor's face flushed crimson with rage, “You are second in line to the throne for the time being. When I produce a son, he shall be my heir!”

Loki clapped him on the back, his smile dripping with sarcasm, “Come now, brother, surely you must have a son somewhere amongst your own bastards that you may convince Sif to claim as her own.”

Thor's hand shot out and grabbed Loki by the throat, “Brazen whoreson! Your heart is as black as a Dökkálfar, as cold as the wastes of Jotunheim!”

“Enough, both of you!” Odin shouted, leaping from his chair. He turned to Loki, “The law as written by the High Council places the fate of the prince regents children in the hands of the crown prince who judges whether they be worthy to wear the crown if it be necessary. A bastard falls also under this law. I have seen kingdoms topple for the claims of such a one, I will brook no infighting amongst my heirs.”

He rubbed his temple, “This being said, it is out of our hands. The woman remains a citizen of Alfheim regardless of where she lay her head every evening. Therefore she will be delivered there to face the High Court. Be ready to travel on the morrow.”

Loki wrenched himself from Thor's grip, “She nears her time, she cannot travel!”

Odin pointed at Loki and crooked his finger at him to approach. He put his hand behind Loki's head and speaking low, “My order stands firm. The child will come regardless, consider whether it would be better to see it birthed in Alfheim or here under your brother's watch.”

Loki looked to Thor who was still trembling hard enough to make his armor clank and squeak. “It would seem we must take our chances. We will prepare to travel.” He stepped back and bowed to Odin.

“Your brother will accompany you with a small contingent.”

Loki looked to Thor, “Do you not trust that I will do as I am ordered?”

Thor shook his head, “I do not.”

Odin tapped his staff on the marble again, “Make yourself ready.”

Loki flew into the kitchen where Helgi was standing by the fireplace, wiping her hands on her apron. “Milord, what is wrong? Is the baby on its way?”

It was then Helgi saw the wild, desperate look in Loki's eyes, “They have taken Eidra.”

“Who?!” Helgi rushed to Loki, taking his trembling hands in hers, “Sit, Milord.”

She guided him to the bench at the kitchen table and eased him down. “Tell me, now, what has happened.”

He put his head in his hands, “Thor attempted to manhandle Eidra here in the kitchen. She scratched him and escaped to our chambers where Thor confronted me. I told him to leave but he returned and discovered us lying abed. He knows Eidra is with child.” His voice wavered, as tremulous as his hands.

Helgi sat beside him, all pretense of master and servant gone. She put her arm about his shoulders as he continued, “I could not stop them, Thor kept me pinned while the guards dragged her away. I will never forgive him, never.”

“Where did they take her, my boy?” Helgi hugged his shoulders tighter.

“I know not, I expect that she is in the cells. I must see her. She will be beside herself.”

“Have you talked to Odin? Have you told him what Thor did?”

He looked at her as if he had not seen her before, “I have just come from an audience with him,” he stood up from the bench, “They are sending her back to Alfheim.”

Helgi pressed the hem of her apron to her mouth, “Oh gods no, it cannot be true.”

“I would it were not. Odin says she is a citizen of Alfheim and must appear before the High Court there. I entreated him to reconsider. I said I wished to make her my wife. He would not hear of it, would brook no discussion in fact.”

Helgi tried to bite her lip to hold the tears back but it was little use and she let out a small sob.

Loki turned to her, “Pack what you must, I will have you with us. It will soothe her greatly. See that Silas is also prepared. He shall accompany us as well.”

“Milord, the baby may come at any time. She cannot be expected to ride, 'tis too dangerous.”

He threw his hands in the air, “I have told them this but they would not be moved. I will procure a wagon with clean bedding for her.”

“But, Milord..”

“Helgi,” he leaned over to her, “The fate of our child rests in Thor's hands while we remain in the realm of Asgard, thus we have little choice but to acquiesce to Odin's orders.”

Helgi stood and wrapped her shawl around her. Though it was the cusp of summer, she felt chilled to the bone, “What have we to fear from him?”

He put a hand to his chest, muttered, “Thor has said he will tolerate no bastards in his kingdom. At least none that are not of his own loins.”

“What? Loki how say you....”

Loki's hard stare conveyed the horror.

“The Gods wept, surely his heart is not that hard..”

“We must assume it may be. I am not willing to bet my child's life upon it. Please Helgi, hurry and pack, she will need you. Send for Silas, tell him to make all haste.” She watched Loki run up the stairs, then trotted as fast as her old legs could carry her to Clotho's door.

Clotho opened the door as Helgi flew into the room, “Clotho, Eidra has been taken. Myself and Silas are to travel with her to Alfheim on the morrow!”

Clotho gripped her shoulders with his gnarled hands, “She must not. It is too close to her time.”

“Thor insists. Loki fears Thor will not allow the baby to live if it is born here.”

Clotho nodded, his face grim, “The law says the crown prince possesses the power to protect his right to succession.” He sat down in his chair before the cold fireplace and appeared to think hard upon something. Helgi found she could not stand still and paced around the room. Finally Clotho stood up and opened his cabinet.

“Where is it?” he mumbled as he moved bottles about, peering into the shelves, “Ah.”

He took a small green vial from the shelf and put it in her hands. “We will find a way to keep the baby safe.”

Helgi descended the stairs, feeling the cold damp leech into her bones. She readjusted the small basket and the blanket atop it to get a better grip upon them and approached the high desk where sat the head jailer, a large man with fiery red hair and a short beard, dressed in a kilt and pair of dirty old boots, but other than that, naked to the waist.

“I need to see a prisoner,” Helgi pulled herself up straight.

“Name o' the prisoner?”

“Eidra.”

The jailer scanned the parchment before him, “There be no Eidra on me list.”

Helgi rolled her eyes, “For Odin's sake, the servant girl?”

“Oh, aye, why did ye no say that?”

“I wish to see her.”

The jailer scratched his head with a massive, dirt-blackened hand, “I canna let ye, Helgi.”

Helgi set her basket on the stone floor and put her hands on her hips, “Whyever not?!”

The jailer crooked his thumb in the direction of the ceiling, “Blondie's orders.”

“Skiver, do you wish me to tell your dear mother that you would not allow succor to be given to a poor helpless girl?” Helgi fixed him with a steely gaze.

Skiver scratched his head even harder, “Miss Helgi, d'ye wish me to go agin' me orders?”

“Yes.” She bent over and retrieved her basket, “Yes I do, now be quick about it, I have food and blankets for the poor thing.”

Skiver pursed his lips together, then blew out a lungful of air, exasperated. He picked up the ring of keys on the desk before him and stepped down from behind it, “If anyone asks what happened, d'ye think ye could say ye threatened me with yer kitchen knife?”

She held up her hand, “Skiver, I nearly stuck you like a suckling pig.”

Skiver smiled, “Oh, aye, and I can act all afright.”

“Thank you, Skiver, truly.” Helgi patted his beefy arm.

“Aye,” He grunted as he picked the key out of the mass on the ring.

Eidra lay curled up on a bed of straw, shivering, the silk robe she'd been taken in scant protection against the cold damp of the cells. Voices reached her ear, nearly inaudible followed by footsteps and the jingling of keys. She struggled to sit up, only managing to get to her knees as the jailer reached the door to her cell. When she saw Helgi standing behind him, she began to cry.

As soon as the door was opened, Helgi rushed in, set her basket down and opened the blanket, encircling her in it as Eidra wrapped her arms around Helgi's neck, sobbing.

“Oh Helgi, I am so frightened. It was like a bad dream. Loki was going to send me to Rialo this very morning but it was too late. I should have stayed in our chambers while he was absent. Thor would never have found me out. I thought Loki was going to run Thor through with his dagger.”

Helgi heard the cell door close as she rocked Eidra, cooed to her.

“Helgi, call to me when yer ready. If I see Blondie comin' I'll fetch ye.”

“Thank you,” Helgi called out.

“What is to happen to me, Helgi?” She sniffed, wiped her nose with the back of her hand.

“They are sending you back to Alfheim to face the High Court.”

Eidra stiffened, “What? No, NO! I wish to stay here with Loki, where is he?”

Helgi pushed her back to look at her, “He will be accompanying us. I am going with you and so is Silas,” she paused, “As well as Thor.”

“ He comes along just so he might torture my prince.”

Helgi squeezed Eidra's arms, “Now listen well to me. Loki is certain Thor is going with us to see that you are delivered to Alfheim but also to see that no bastards be born in this kingdom.”

“What?” Helgi felt Eidra start to tremble and she bolstered her up.

“Now, now to that end I have spoken to Clotho. He has provided me with the means to save the baby's life should it decide to come before we are safely in Alfheim.”

“How?”

Helgi shook her head, “We will speak of it while we are on our way to Alfheim. There are too many ears here in the palace.”

“I cannot believe that Thor would harm a child. It would be too brutal even for him.”

“Then it is a good thing I can believe such,” Helgi turned from her and opened the basket, “How are you feeling?”

Eidra sat back on the straw, “Miserable, my back pains me so. I am cold, hungry and afraid.”

Helgi handed her a hunk of bread and a piece of cold mutton, “The pain in your back means the baby is in position to be born. The question remains, will it be a Magnus or a Cait?”

“Cait, I am sure of it,” She offered a piece of bread to Helgi but she shook her head, “You need it much more than I,” she patted her stomach, “I have all the padding I need. It will be alright, poppet.”

“Will it?” Eidra put her bread in her lap, “Even I cannot but think the worst. I need to see Loki.”

“You will soon, I am sure. He will be there on the morrow with us. I had to beg Skiver to let me in. I expect his orders for Loki are much stricter, do not be cross with him.”

Eidra shook her head, “I will not though I wish I could feel his arms around me now.”

Helgi sighed, “I had such fears as this when you first told me of your love for him and now I am seeing them played out before mine eyes.”

“But it was all for love, all of this. That must count for something.”

Helgi took her hand and patted it, “Love counts above all else, child, but it seldom conquers all.”

Skiver was suddenly at the cell door, “Come on Helgi, I hear footsteps and they be heavy, I canna risk ye bein' in here.”

Helgi quickly rose to her feet, wrapped the contents of the basket in a cloth, and set them beside Eidra.

“I will see you on the morrow, I will bring you a fresh dress as well,” She leaned down and kissed Eidra's forehead, “I love you, poppet.”

“And I love you, Helgi, thank you so much for everything.”

“Helgi, come now!” Skiver whispered frantic.

Helgi followed Skiver down the row of cells and around the corner to find Loki standing there.

“Helgi?”

“Milord,” She curtsied, “I brought Eidra a blanket and some food.”

“Thank you for that,” he turned to Skiver, “I wish to see her.”

Skiver turned bright red, “I canna let ye. Blondi....Lord Thor's orders were firm, ye would be barred from seeing her until the morrow.”

Loki stepped up to the desk, eyes ablaze,“Thor be damned, bring me to her.”

Helgi looked up at Skiver then to Loki, “If you see her and then must leave her there in the cell, would it not be ten times worse? Come with me to the staff kitchen and I will make you a posset to calm your nerves.”

Loki gripped the edge of the desk hard, “I want nothing else save seeing Eidra. I need to see her, Helgi. You do not ken my words.”

She placed a hand on the small of his back and he flinched.

“I do ken, Milord and I know how hard it would be on her. Let her rest, she shall need her strength with the coming dawn. You will see her then.”

She felt Loki's shoulders drop and he backed from the desk.

“I am powerful sorry, Milord.”

Loki turned to Helgi and she could see he too had spent the morning in tears.

Helgi took his arm and guided him up the stone steps out of the cells. “Come, let us ready ourselves for the journey ahead.”


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