Descent-(The Path)

24

“My dear, you should not worry yourself about such matters as these.”

Frigga glared at Odin, “Do not patronize me. I will worry as I please.”

Odin turned another page of the tome and continued reading, drumming his fingers on the tall stand at which he stood.

“What is the use of worrying when it does little else but give you bad humors?” Odin leaned closer to the page, following the words with his finger.

Frigga wanted to throw the book to the side and jump atop the stand, screaming. Instead , she walked up to him and stood at his side, “The laws of the High Court of Alfheim?”

“Woman,” He grumbled as he turned another page.

She kept silent, stayed at his elbow as he hunched forward again to read, turned the page back, then forward again. She edged closer still until Odin sighed and stepped back from the stand, “Please feel free to intrude upon my research, my dear.”

He rolled his eyes as she slid in front of him and began to read. “I did not mean it as an invitation.”

After a moment, however, her head came up and she stared at him, “You are sending that innocent girl to die.”

Odin reached before her and gently closed the book, “I am following protocol. I am doing what I must so as not to offend the Alfari people. Are you prepared to go to war for the sake of one servant girl?”

Frigga shook her head, “Surely they would ken if we were to take responsibility for her, offer her asylum.”

Odin took Frigga's hands in his, “The High Court will do whatever it must to preserve its heritage.”

Frigga pulled her hands from his grasp in anger, “Were it someone else, a highborn noblewoman, you would set the whole of the Asgardian army at the border.”

Odin walked back to the book and reopened it, “Read a bit further, my love”

Frigga leaned in to where Odin was pointing on the page, after a moment, raising her hand to her mouth.

“Do you ken now? Would you instead give up your son?”

“There must be....something else.....she carries your grandchild...” Frigga's words faded into silence.

Odin closed the book once more, “In this matter, Thor is justified. I cannot change fate.”

Frigga looked about the vast library, willing the solution to leap from the endless tomes and parchments piled on the shelves, then she folded her hands before her and bowed. “Forgive me, my husband. It is truly a pity. Loki seemed so very happy, what would it have been for Thor to look the other way? ”

Odin took her hand once more and kissed it, “As I have said, worry yourself no more. The hour grows late. I am going to retire for the evening.”

Frigga followed him to the entrance of the library, “I am going to walk in the arboretum for a bit to clear my head.”

Odin waved his hand, “As you will.”

Frigga watched him walk away, noticing his stride was a bit shorter nowadays, a bit slower. She stood in the corridor for a minute, twisting her ruby necklace about her fingers, then found her own purposeful stride in the opposite direction.

Skiver was dozing in the chair before the desk when Frigga arrived. She tapped on the wood with her knuckles, standing back as Skiver flailed his massive arms and sat forward with a snort.“Troll's pizzle!”

When he realized Frigga was standing before him, he stood and bowed deeply, “Beggin' yer pardon, yer Majesty. Me gob gets the best a me. What are ye doin' down here at this hour?” Skiver scratched his chin, “In point o' fact, what are ye doin' here at all?”

Frigga folded her hands together, “I am here to see the prisoner Eidra.”

“The wee lass? She's one o' me most popular inmates 'twould seem.”

“Popular?” Frigga tilted her head.

“Oh aye, Lord Loki, the cook Helgi...” He paused as Frigga held out her hand.

“Please hand me the keys Skiver. I will not need your assistance tonight.”

Skiver stared at her open hand, “Ye canna be serious, yer Majesty. Beggin' yer pardon. These keys are me lifeblood. If I were ta lose 'em, I'd be seeing the inside o' those cells meself.”

Frigga smiled what she hoped was her most beatific smile, “I am not going to steal them, only borrow them for a bit.”

Skiver stared down the row of cells, “Yer Majesty, I can unlock 'em for you. Been doin' it half me life.”

Frigga kept her hand out and waggled her fingers, “Please, Skiver.”

He sighed, setting the large iron ring in her hand, “I am no' walking away from me desk. Ye canna ask me that much.”

Frigga patted his hand, “Not at all. I shall be back presently.”

Eidra heard the click of footsteps outside her cell. She raised her head from her arm and peered into the torchlit hall through the bars catching a shimmer of light as a silhouette fit the key into the keyhole and swung open the cell door.

She struggled to sit up, wincing at the pain in her back, as the figure approached and knelt down before her, “My dear child.”

Eidra gasped, stuttered, “You..your Majesty.” and took Friggas hands in hers, pressing them to her forehead, “Forgive me, I cannot rise to bow.”

She felt Frigga's hand smooth her hair at her shoulder, “There is no need to bow, but you must rise.”

Eidra grimaced, set her jaw but with Frigga's help, she was soon standing, a hand at her back.

“Now come with me, I am going to spirit you away from this terrible place,” Frigga began to guide her from the cell but Eidra pulled back.

“Your Majesty, where are you taking me?”

She watched Frigga look down the hallway, “I will bring you to the stables where I will have a cart readied to take you out of Asgard.”

“What of....,” Eidra stopped, “What of Lord Loki?”

Frigga gestured for Eidra to join her, “I will tell him you are safely away from here.”

Eidra came nearer, “Where will I go? I was to travel to Rialo.”

Frigga nodded, “Then you may go there. I shall see you have safe passage.”

Eidra shook her head, “If I leave, I will never be able to return. I cannot be apart from him.” She retreated back into the cell.

Frigga turned to her, “There is much more at stake than you know, my dear. If you go to Alfheim, your life will be forfeit.”

Eidra hissed as another spasm raced across her back, “I know, but I must hold out hope that the circumstances shall change the outcome.”

Frigga took her by the shoulders, “Are you so willing to give up everything for one man? Why will you not take this opportunity?”

Eidra felt tired, weary enough to drop, “If I escape I will be outcast. If I do as I am meant to do, there may yet be hope for redemption.”

Frigga let her hands slide to Eidra's arms, “And if you are forced to reveal the name of the father of your child?”

Eidra cupped her hands at Frigga's elbows, “I would die for him.”

The sound of movement at the end of the corridor made Frigga step back into the shadows.

“Your Majesty, I will never forget what you have tried to do for me, and for your son. You must go now before you are found here.”

Frigga stuck out her chin, “I am above reproach,” but she gave one last glance down the corridor, then gathered Eidra in a tight hug, “May you soften the hearts of the righteous.”

Eidra watched Frigga relock the cell door then disappear the way she'd come, only then did she return to her blanket on the pallet and wrap herself in its warmth as she lay there caressing her belly, waiting for the morning.

Loki was in the courtyard at dawn, having spent a sleepless night in his chambers sitting in her chair. He had ordered fresh straw and heavy blankets be put in the wagon where Eidra and Helgi would ride. A servant was knee deep in the straw, strewing it around, evening it out. Clouds were building on the horizon, threatening rain.

“Fix a canopy for the wagon.” He tapped the side of the wagon to get the young servant boy's attention.

“Yes Milord.”

He stood at the archway leading to the arena and waited.

Helgi drew the dress over Eidra's head, “It is dawn and more, Thor shall be furious.”

“Fie upon him, what more can he do to me that he has not already done?” Eidra yanked her dress into place and bent forward, her hands at her back, “I am in such agony, the stone floor did me little good. Curse Thor and his insensitivity.”

The guard standing at the cell door with his back to them, cleared his throat. “We must make haste.”

“I am aware of it,” Helgi grumbled, “Come, child, have you your slippers on?”

Eidra nodded, “Let us go.”

Loki saw her walking up the arena stairs and he rushed to join her, ignoring the glare from Thor as he sat atop his steed. He took her hand and kissed it, held her arm as they climbed to the top through the archway into the south courtyard to the wagon where he helped her up the rear step. He then climbed in behind her, easing her to the blanket laid down over the straw.

“I had the servant boy erect the canopy to protect you from the weather.” He turned and held out his hand for Helgi to grab as she pulled herself up into the wagon where she settled herself beside Eidra. He heard fast footsteps then and the wagon sank as Silas heaved himself up.

“Forgive me, Milord. I...I fell behind, I had to pack.”

Loki nodded, “Sit, we are nearly ready.” He knelt in front of Eidra, took her face in his hands and kissed her long enough to spur Thor to approach the wagon and kick it with his boot. “Brother, enough of this. We must head out.”

He broke the kiss, “We will find a way out of this, I swear.”

She tried to smile as he let his hands from her face, “I know we will, my prince.”

“My love,”

He glared at Thor who spurred his horse forward at the head of the caravan and looked back, gesturing at him to follow suit. Loki held his steed , defiant, until he was even with the wagon and only then did he spur his horse into a canter. Thor's jaw tight, he faced forward and said not a word as they started out the gate towards the realm of Alfheim.

The jostling cart was agony to Eidra. All she could do was lay in the straw and try to make herself as comfortable as possible. Helgi tried to distract her by rubbing her back and talking to her about the baby but she could only moan with each heavy bump. Helgi would look every once in a while to Loki who had dropped back and was now keeping pace at the rear of the wagon, worry plain upon his face.

The clouds had burned off and the sun was directly overhead when Thor called a halt to the caravan. He trotted back to the wagon where Loki had reined in his horse, watching him.

“The river ahead is swollen beyond its banks here. We will have to scout for another crossing less dangerous than this..I would prefer not to use the bridge, if possible we should look for a shallow spot.”

“I fail to see why you wished to take the old toll road in the first place, you cannot possibly be ashamed of what you have done, can you?”

Thor's horse stamped the ground mirroring his irritation, “I wished to avoid the bridge.”

Loki snorted, “What is wrong brother, are you adverse to paying the trolls? Perhaps you are worried about your last encounter with them.”

Thor glared at him, steering his steed beside Loki's, “This would not be a problem were you able to keep out of your servant's bed.”

Loki bit his lip, reluctant to get into a row out here in the middle of nowhere but he touched the hilt of his sword as he retorted, “No it would not be a problem were you able to keep your hands off of her.”

Thor glanced over his shoulder into the wagon where Helgi, Eidra and Silas were huddled together staring out at them. “I would prefer a quicker end to this, we will head upstream to the bridge.'

They could see the bridge in the distance as they followed the riverbank upstream. Upon the bridge, a being of middling size was walking back and forth across it. Occasionally, the being would stop and stare down into the water. The bridge loomed closer and closer until the being spotted them, watched them, walked to the end of the bridge they were fast approaching.

Loki dismounted from his horse, relishing the chance to stretch his legs. He nodded to the troll who now stood before him. He was much shorter than any of them, more the stature of Silas than anyone else but plumper. He wore dark brown blowsy breeches, a tan tunic much too long for himself and a fine maroon velvet vest. Likely he had traded a passage for the garments. They looked much too fine to be draped over such a being as this. The poor wretch was shoeless, his stumpy feet black with road grime. He had braided his black hair into one long plait down his back but nothing could help the dull look on his dim face, or the glaze over his brown eyes as he walked up to Loki.

“Ya wantin' passage?”

“Yes, what is your price?”

The troll rubbed his whiskered chin, “Lemme see what ya got in yer wagon.”

“That is your price, that we satisfy your curiosity?” Loki tilted his head.

“Naw, jus' wanna see.”

Thor had dismounted by then and walked up to the troll, “Where is Malkor?”

“Dead.”

No explanation was given. The troll shuffled his feet on the ground, then wove around Thor to the back of the wagon.

“Brother we have not time for this,” Thor groused while the troll knocked on the wooden slats as if testing the quality.

“Of course, you are the one in a hurry. I say the river is too high to cross, we must use the bridge so we must wait. You want to start a war with the trolls, be my guest.”

Thor crossed his arms, “Ridiculous.”

The troll walked around to the back of the wagon where three pairs of eyes stared out at him. After a minute he waved to Loki to approach. He pointed into the wagon. “I will take tha' one with the blue eyes.”

Loki smiled good-naturedly, “Oh no, these are my household. They are most certainly not for barter,” He glanced up at Eidra, winking at her.

“Find another bridge...” The troll turned and trudged away from the wagon.

“Wait, we have other items, we have coin of the realm,” as he was feeling for the pouch at his belt, he heard a sword being drawn from its scabbard.

“We also have the threat of cold steel ready to pierce your heart, foul being,” Thor growled, the tip of his sword just touching the tip of the troll's bulbous nose.

“Unfair dealing, you are worse than the elf folk with their tricks.” The troll's face wrinkled in disgust.

“Then name a fair price and we can deal fairly with you.” Thor put his sword tip down in the dirt and leaned on the hilt.

The troll walked to the side of the road and eyed the length of the small caravan, made to count on his fingers, finally switching to his other hand, looking bewildered when he ran out of digits. He walked back to Thor, cast one more look at the wagon, then shrugged, his answer almost a question, “Twenty coin?”

Loki opened his purse and doled out the toll into his palm whereas the troll stepped out of the way, hand outstretched, gesturing them across the bridge. Loki and Thor mounted their horses again as the wagons lurched forward, the sound as the horses pounded the cobble of the bridge resounding out over the water.

Loki fell in step behind the wagon where Eidra was sitting up, her hands across her belly. “Were you worried I was going to trade you for passage, my little minx?”

Eidra blushed at the use of his private endearment, “Yes, my prince,”

He raised an eyebrow, his smile searing into her heart, “I daresay not even the Bifrost is big enough to warrant such a trade in all the nine realms.”

Loki could see Thor far ahead of him at the front of the caravan, “A little longer and we will be able to make camp for the evening.”

“I wish it were not so,” Eidra locked eyes with him, “For you will not be by my side.”

“I will steal away when the camp is quiet and visit you, my love.”

Helgi cast a glance at Silas, “Milord, the boy.”

Loki smirked, “Ah yes, we will whisper our words of love to each other later,” He gave Silas a nod, “The boy's education will begin soon enough I think.”

The clouds had begun their assault yet again and a light rain dampened the entire entourage. Rain dripped from the hood of Loki's cloak to the pommel of the saddle. He would slow to check on Eidra every few minutes until Thor shouted at him to come ride by his side. Eidra had fallen into a fitful sleep from the rocking of the wagon, the pain in her back eased to a dull ache. They had just come to a rise in the road, water running in rivulets down the wheel ruts when the wagon started to slide to the side of the road. One wheel wedged fast against a large boulder, pitching Eidra, Silas and Helgi into a heap. They would have slid down the wagon bed to the ground had not Helgi dug her heels into the frame at the end of the wagon, bracing them. Loki was off his horse in an instant.

“Eidra, are you alright?”

She sat up with a grimace, “Yes, what in Odin's beard happened?”

“The road gave way, we will have to pull the wagon out of the rut. Get out.”

He watched her inch her way to the rear of the wagon. “Put your arms about my neck and I will lift you out.”

She put her head against his shoulder, relishing the feel of his body against hers again, and then he was setting her down on the ground beside the boulder where the wheel had sunk in the mud. Silas having jumped down himself to stand beside Eidra, now assisted Helgi in stepping down from the wagon. Loki took his cloak from his shoulders and draped it over Eidra's head, “We will be as quick as we can.”

Despite their best effort, it took some time to free the wagon from the mud. As they topped the small hill and glanced around, they could see the surrounding valley opening up into a wide glen. The lights of Rialo glittered far in the distance. The sun was nearly at the horizon.

“We will go a bit further then we will make camp. The men are hungry and tired.”

Eidra climbed into the wagon first, helped by Loki, then Helgi and Silas. As Eidra adjusted her skirt, she felt a wet warmth flush the insides of her thighs. She looked over at Helgi in horror.

“Helgi” She whispered as the wagon lurched forward, “I think I have wet myself.”

Helgi's eyes grew big as she reached under Eidra's skirt, felt the moisture and brought her hand to her nose.

“By the gods, your water has broken.” She tugged at Silas, “Tell Loki it has begun. We must make camp soon.”

Silas crawled to the end of the wagon, peeked around the cover to the side where Loki held his horse at a canter. “Milord, please.”

Loki reined in the horse until he was even with Silas who leaned over and whispered to him, “Eidra's time is here.”

Loki steered the horse to the rear of the wagon and peered inside.

“Her water has broken, the baby is coming,” Helgi's face was a study in terror.

“We will stop soon. I will have the guards set up your tent first,” Loki put his head up over the canopy, seeing Thor still at a canter at the front of the caravan, then he ducked back down. “How are you feeling, Eidra?”

“As well as might be expected,” She managed a smile for him just before she drew breath in sharply, her eyes brimming with tears. “Why now, why could it not wait?”

“Shh, poppet, all will be well,” Helgi held her as she moaned. “Do not tighten your tummy, breathe through the pain, it will be easier.”

Helgi waved to Loki, “Go, do not act as if something is wrong, do not give your brother reason to suspect.”

Loki had turned pale. He looked ready to jump into the back of the wagon with Eidra, instead he steered the horse back into the road again and kept even with the wagon, ears pricked for the slightest sound of distress.

The men worked feverishly in the growing dusk to erect the tents. Thankfully Thor was thus also involved while Eidra sat on the wagon, riding through the contractions that would tighten her stomach into a hard ball. She would breath through her nose, biting on the strap of Helgi's pouch to hold her tongue until the contraction passed.

At one point Thor walked past them as they sat on the edge of the wagon, stopped, then returned to stand before them. He put a hand roughly on Eidra's stomach and she shrieked but he held his hand there. Suddenly he arched forward with a grunt as Loki's fist found the center of his back and he turned on Loki.

“What were you thinking?!”

“I was thinking that you should never again touch Eidra.” Loki retorted, “What gives you the right to place your hand on her person?”

Thor scowled at him, “She looks to be in distress. I wished to see if the bastard's time approached.”

Loki pushed Thor from the end of the wagon and held his hand up to Eidra. “Come, the tent is finished.”

She stepped down to the ground, willing the contraction to wait until she was safely away from Thor's scowling gaze but the baby would not be ignored and she gripped Loki's hand hard as she doubled over. Helgi leaped from the wagon to attend her as Thor's face split into a grim smile, his eyes trained on the swell of her stomach.

The contractions were like nothing she had ever felt before. Helgi had sent Loki and Silas from the tent, telling them that this was no place for men. Silas had darted from the tent but Loki had gone reluctantly, placing a kiss on Eidra's damp forehead, “I will be outside ere you need me.”

It was well on toward midnight when she raised her head from the down pad, “Helgi, it feels like I must push.”

Helgi took her hand, “Get up and squat, put your arms around my neck. It will help the baby come.”

Eidra struggled to rise, crying out as another contraction hit her and she fell back to the soft pad panting.

“I am so tired, Hel,” she gasped after the contraction had subsided.

“I know poppet, it will be all over soon.”

The tent flap opened and Silas slipped inside, white as milk. Helgi was about to scold him when he leaned over and whispered in her ear, “I overheard Thor talking with the guards, he means to take the baby when it is born.”

Silas sat back on his heels to look Helgi in the eyes. Helgi nodded, “Go back outside, stay close.”

As Silas left the tent, Eidra raised her head to look at Helgi, “What is wrong?”

“Nothing, now try to rise up again, hurry.”

Eidra managed to reach a squat, draping her arms, heavy around Helgi's neck. She arranged a linen blanket below Eidra and knelt with her hands ready to catch the baby.

“Helgi I must push.”

“Yes child, I will count to ten, then you must rest,”

She began to count, could feel Eidra's body shaking from the effort, wobbling on her feet, leaning forward when she let forth a sob and stopped, panting.

“Again, Eidra.”

“I....cannot.”

“Again.”

Eidra took another deep breath as Helgi began to count.

“I can see the baby.” She put her hands beneath Eidra and touched the crown of the small head. She took one of Eidra's trembling hands and brought it down between her legs, “Do you feel the head?Another push and it shall be over,”

Helgi counted once more as Eidra bore down with all her might, crying out with relief as the head popped free. Helgi supported the head as the shoulders popped free, finally spilling the child into her waiting hands.

“You did it!” Helgi lay the child on the linen blanket, “You have a beautiful baby girl!” Helgi cried, tears rolling down her cheeks. She felt Eidra's arms unlock from her neck as she flopped back down to the pad, sobbing with joy.

“A girl....we have a girl.....”

“The baby has been born with a caul,” Helgi tore into the caul, setting it aside on the fresh hay then wiped the baby clean as well as she could.

Eidra struggled to her elbows, “I do not hear her, is she alright?”

“Yes she is, the dear one seems to know she must not make a sound. The caul is a sign of greatness, this is a good omen.”

The baby flailed her arms, giving a small squeak as Helgi cleaned out her mouth. Other than that, she remained silent as Helgi prayed she would. Helgi took the knife she'd laid beside her and a length of twine and cut the umbilical cord, tying it at the baby's stomach.

“Let me hold her,” Eidra whispered.

Helgi wrapped the baby in the blanket and handed her up to Eidra's waiting arms.

“Look at her, she has black hair like Loki. Gods she is beautiful.”

Helgi took the vial from her apron pocket, her hands trembling, Clotho had said one drop would be enough for an infant.

“Hurry, child,” She held out her hands, “The potion must have time to do its chore before she is seen.”

“Oh Helgi I want Loki to see her,”

Helgi nodded vigorously, “And he will but if the baby is to be safe, we must do what we discussed. You must be strong for the both of you.”

Helgi uncorked the vial, knelt beside Eidra and opened the baby's mouth, letting a drop of the liquid down her throat.

“What if it does its chore too well, what if she dies?” Eidra said amidst a fresh spate of tears.

“Then it is a better way to go than at the hands of a monster.”

Helgi rose and pushed open the tent flap, motioning to Silas who had been waiting by the entrance. When he slipped inside, Helgi took him by the hands, “Your chore will be the bravest and the most important. You will volunteer to bury the baby but you must take her to Rialo, find someone to take her in and be back here in haste.”

“Ren,” Eidra looked at Helgi, “Find the woman named Ren, tell her the baby is mine.”

The baby had grown quiet and still in her arms. “Helgi, tell me her heart still beats.”

Helgi leaned down and put her ear to the infant's chest, fearing for a moment the worst had come to pass, finally finding the thread of a beat though respiration was all but undetectable.

Helgi had been about to tell Silas to fetch Loki when the tent flap was thrown open and Thor entered. “Where is the child?”

Eidra was sitting up now, clutching the baby to her chest. “She was only here for a short time, she sleeps the eternal sleep now.”

Thor bent over, reaching for the baby in her arms. Helgi stole a panicked glance at Eidra who looked ready to pounce on him. He felt the baby's chest, put his finger under her nose. Finally after an exceeding long while, he handed the baby to Helgi.

“Milord, I shall take care of the baby.” Silas had appeared at his elbow, Helgi heard the panic in the boy's voice.

Bury it in the woods, then so that we might end this folly.” He threw the tent flap open and strode from the tent, nearly walking straight into Loki who was on his way inside.

“The child has passed on.” Thor muttered.

“Dead, dear gods, dead? Out of my way!”

Thor stepped aside to allow him in, then dropped the flap behind him, leaving the four of them alone.

Loki dropped to his knees beside Eidra as Helgi placed the baby in his arms. The weight of her body served to increase his grief a thousandfold as he put his forehead to her little chest and moaned, rocking back and forth on his knees.

“Milord, perhaps it was Erwen's poison did it. The little dear has been through so much.” Helgi put her hand on his back, the heave of his chest causing the tears to sting her throat.

Loki looked up at Eidra, “Say her name, say the name we chose so that her soul is not lost.”

Eidra swallowed, opened her mouth, a hitching sob, then, “Cait, dear Cait.”

Helgi touched his arm gently and he turned to her, kissed the baby's forehead, then handed her to Helgi.

Loki leaned over to Eidra, “When all has been made right. We shall mourn properly and then we shall try again,” He kissed one hand and then the other, holding them to his chest.

The tent flap opened again and Thor walked back inside with a spade which he handed to Silas, “Go boy and do your chore,” then he gestured to Loki, “Come brother, it is over.”

Eidra could see something snap in Loki's face as he let her hands drop and stood up, staring at the tent flap through which Thor had just passed.

“Loki, do not go out there like this.” Eidra touched his boot but the words seemed not to register as he threw the flap aside and followed his brother.

Helgi handed the baby to Silas, “Keep her warm and make all haste to Rialo, take the spade and hide it somewhere, when you return, dig a hole and refill it so that they will think you have done your chore. Hurry now before the potion weakens.”

Silas shoved the spade under one arm. When the baby was handed to him, his lip began to quiver, “Helgi I am frightened.”

He felt a hand upon his breeches and looked down, “I am in your debt, Silas. If it take forever, I will repay you for this great kindness.”

Helgi pushed him toward the flap, “Go, boy, make haste.”

Silas emerged into the night and stopped short. Loki was atop Thor, his blade drawn against Thor's neck and he was shouting, “You take my woman from me! My child has passed from this world to the next and you will not allow me even to console her in her grief?! You are a tyrant!”

Thor shoved Loki from him with a roar, “And you will ever be but a prince. You will never sit on the throne. You lack the conviction, the strength, even your ability to punish, to discipline has faded. You have failed our father, our kingdom. You have made an abomination and fate has paid you back tenfold.”

Loki's feet were beneath him in an instant, his dagger swung across to rake Thor's cheek as he threw his weight into Thor's chest staggering him once again but not unseating him. He caught Loki's hand then, “Do you wish to be the one who ends me?” he shook Loki's wrist, “Do you?”

The knife dropped to the ground, lay there glinting in the torchlight. Thor let Loki's wrist free and Loki sank to the ground, his head in his hands.

When Thor spied Silas standing there, open mouthed, he made to advance toward him, “See to your chore, whelp!”

Silas shot like an arrow into the woods to his left, nearly tripping over the roots of a tree as he made his way through the underbrush. He kept the few lights of Rialo always to his right until he was sure that the camp was far enough behind him to track right and head for the village. He kept moving, carefully picking his way along, only the moon serving to light his way. When he finally stepped into the rutted road leading to the center of the village, the baby had taken up a lusty cry, fully recovered from her ordeal and quite hungry.

He looked about at the houses but most were dark. One house had candles burning in the windows and it was there that he decided to try first. He knocked on the door once, twice and heard footsteps from inside. The door swung open and an old woman in a long robe and bed jacket appeared holding a candle in her hand. “Who knocks on my door so late?”

Silas bowed, “My name is Silas, Milady, I must find a woman named Ren. Are you she?”

The elderly lady shook her head and cackled, “No, no, but I will take you to her.”

She backed into the house, shoved her feet into a pair of boots by the door, picked up a lantern and closed the door behind her. When Silas followed her, the baby started to calm down a bit, as if she knew that they were going someplace safe and warm.

“How is it a young boy like you comes in the middle of the night with such a package?” the old woman rasped.

Silas glanced over his shoulder at the woods from which he'd come, “I was trusted to do this chore and I must do it.”

The woman nodded, her profile craggy, even more ancient in the lantern light “And Ren is your goal. What a grand mystery.”

They stopped at a small dark cottage with an overhang along its front. The old woman knocked on the door. No answer. She knocked again.

“Come Ren, you have visitors,” she shouted. Somewhere in the village, a dog began to bark.

After a long time, a light appeared beneath the edge of the door and it creaked open just a little, “Who goes there?”

“It is Gerta, I have a boy come to see you.”

The door opened and Ren peered out into the darkness, “A boy at this hour? Whatever for?” The woman narrowed her eyes to stare at Silas,stopping short as she saw the baby in his arms, “What be your name, boy?”

“My name is Silas, Milady.”

The hand holding the candle trembled slightly, “Milady says you? Come in, thank you Gerta.” She closed the door behind her, shutting the elderly lady out before she could make her way inside.

“I was told to bring this baby to you.” Silas unfolded the blanket to reveal the baby's chubby face and open mouth as it searched for a nipple to latch onto. Its tiny hands opened and closed and it began to cry again, indignant at being disturbed

“Let me see,” Ren took the baby from Silas's arms.

Ren moved the blanket from her face and gazed down at her. “Whose child is this?”

“Eidra's, Milady.”

The starch seemed to run out of Ren's legs. She sat heavily in a nearby rocking chair beside a tall fireplace.

“This is Eidra's child? What has happened to her?”

“Nothing yet, she is being taken back to Alfheim to face the High Court and feared for the life of her child which chose to come while we were on the road.”

Ren put a hand to her mouth and closed her eyes, “I fear the asking but must know for my own sake, who be the father?”

Silas hesitated, “Lord Loki.”

Ren rocked forward, clutching the baby to her chest, “The child of a royal, a princess here in Ren's humble hovel?”

“Please, Milady, my time grows short. I must return to the caravan so that they do not know. Will you keep her here? Someone will come for her. I must go.”

“Wait, what is her name?”

“ 'Tis Cait.”

She looked at Cait's face and nodded, “I will care for her, go now and may the gods bless your return.”

Silas left the small cottage with a light heart. The baby was alive, he had done what he could to help his dear Eidra and to Hel with the consequences. With one last look at the cottage, he started back up the road to finish his chore.


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