Descent-(The Path)

25

When Silas finally set the spade on the ground beside the tent, the sky was starting to brighten on the horizon. The camp was still quiet. He crept into Eidras tent, dropping to the hay beside Helgi and Eidra. Helgi had her hand at Eidra's back, as if she had been rubbing it. Silas tapped Helgi on the shoulder, and she turned with a snort.

“She is with Ren,” he whispered.

Helgi's hand came up to cover his, “Dear boy, we are ever in your debt. Lay down and rest while you still can.”

Silas lay next to Helgi, staring up at the roof of the tent, “How fared she after I left?”

“Mmm, it took much to console her. This will go far in easing her mind. Now rest.”

The stamping of a horse outside the tent opened Silas's eyes. It was light outside. Helgi stirred as he rose to his feet. Eidra was still asleep. He pushed aside the flap to find Loki dismounting from his horse. He could tell at a glance that Loki had not slept. Since Silas had been born, the dark prince's cruelty and quick temper had been well expounded upon. Now, standing before him was a haggard, gaunt man, dark circles beneath his blue-green eyes, a day's growth of whiskers darkening his face, who looked as if the color had drained from his world.

He gestured to Silas who trotted up to him.

“Show me.”

Silas began to panic as he tried desperately to ken Loki's question, the panic swiftly turning to fear as he realized what Loki was asking him. Silas had returned in the dark, dug a small hole, shoved a small log into the hole then refilled it before he had made his way through the woods back to the camp. He'd been barely able to see his way back to the encampment. Now he searched the tree line for a familiar landmark as he started into the woods, Loki following him. Every now and then,he would look back to see what the camp looked like from one angle or another, recalling the flicker of the torches through the trees. Finally a vista of Eidra's tent caught his eye. He scanned the ground, found the disturbed dirt, cursed himself for the lie he had been asked to keep, then pointed.

“There Milord.” then he was struck by the horrible thought. What if Loki wished to dig up the body to bring it to Asgard for burial? Silas backed away from the makeshift grave as Loki drew his sword, knelt down, eyes closed, with his forehead leaning on his hands as they rested on the hilt. Silas saw his lips moving in silent words and he stood quiet. A shout was heard from the camp, “Loki!”

The hands gripping the hilt tightened but Loki did not move. When the shout came again, his eyes flew open, lip curled into a momentary snarl that swiftly faded as he regained his feet, striding past Silas who followed him to where Thor was standing, hands on his hips.

“Boy, get to work,” Thor waved at him and Silas darted away to the tent.

Helgi was folding the rugs to put in the wagon. Eidra was tying the bodice laces of her dress when Silas re-entered the tent.

“Silas!” Eidra cried. She enfolded him in her arms in a fierce hug, “I can never thank you enough. Someday I will try to repay you, I promise.”

Silas had gone bright red but he returned the hug, “Repayment is not needed. I would do it all again a thousand times over.”

“Come, my boy, take the rugs to the wagon. We must be off soon.” Helgi held out the bundle to him and he took it, pushing through the flap. He hopped onto the wagon bed, positioning the rugs for the women to sit upon. Loki stood by his horse, his brother speaking to him though Silas doubted Loki heard much, such was the expression on his face.

When Helgi left the tent, her arm around Eidra, Loki walked around Thor as if he had been invisible, escorting Eidra to the wagon, his hand at her back. Helgi climbed in with help from Silas but Loki and Eidra stood there at the rear, holding each other while the guards dropped the tent behind them. He stroked her hair, cupped her face with his hands, kissed her forehead, clung to her until the signal to move was sounded and he helped her into the wagon with one more kiss.

Eidra settled down onto the rugs beside Helgi and watched Loki mount his horse. Only when he had steered his horse from the wagon did Eidra turn to Helgi, “I am so worried about him.”

Silas nodded as Helgi patted her hand, “He knows not what you know. He mourns for his child but to tell him of our deception now would put her in danger. You know he would search for her and Thor would follow him. It is best to leave the telling until after we have seen the High Court and Thor is well away from us.”

“Oh Helgi, will he ken my reason?”

Helgi watched the road wind away from them, “He will. He must.”

“He said he slept not a wink last evening, and now he does not eat the morning rations. He will be exhausted. I shall try to convince him to eat later.”

Helgi smiled, “If anyone can convince him to do anything, I daresay it would be you.”

When they reached the outskirts of Rialo, a light rain had begun again. Eidra sat forward in the wagon, hoping against hope that Ren would hear the wagons and step outside with the baby. Luck was with her as they passed and Ren stood beneath the canopy before her cottage with a little bundle in her arms. As the wagon passed and Eidra waved to her, Ren smiled, patting Cait's back. Eidra clasped her hands together and mouthed the words, “Thank you.”

Rialo soon dropped away along the road and they continued on to Alfheim.

The spires of Freyr's castle began to rise out of the valley before them until the vista opened up. The mountains rose high above as they descended into the valley proper finally making the front gates a little past midday.

Thor dismounted from his horse and approached the large iron gate, calling to the sentries on the other side. “We must speak with the king. Tell him Thor Odinson is here to request an audience.”

Loki approached the wagon, “We will reach an accord with this, Eidra. Then we will return to Asgard and I will find a way to convince my father to accept you.”

He reached up into the wagon and patted her feet, then was gone to the gate to stand with his brother.

Silas and Helgi peered around the canopy over the wagon, watching, waiting until finally the gate rose and the caravan advanced to the interior.

Freyr was already in the courtyard.

“Thor, what brings you here to Alfheim?” He stared past them, “And with a retinue.”

Thor glanced behind at Loki and Eidra, “Your Majesty, I must speak with you about a matter for the High Court.”

Freyr nodded, “Very well, what does it concern?”

Thor shook his head, “Your Majesty, I desire to speak with you in private.”

Freyr looked again past him at the caravan, “As you wish, follow me.”

Loki began to walk with them when Thor turned and put his hand out, “No, brother. You must stay here.”

Loki's shock was evident on his face. “I should be included...It is as much my concern...”

Thor whirled on him, “Not another word, I order you to remain here.”

Loki seemed ready to tackle Thor, “This is an outrage! I have as much right to this audience as you...”

“Brother, it is my express command. Stay here, you shall have your chance to speak.”

Loki stared at the ground, trembling, his voice a low growl, “As you wish.”

The sun had dipped below the spires of the palace, casting most of the courtyard in shadow. Loki had paced back and forth for a time until Eidra had stepped from the wagon and begged him to come and sit with them. After much protest, he finally relented and it was there he sat when Thor and Freyr exited the castle again. This time Freyr approached the wagon, looking inside.

“Eidra, I have sent couriers out to gather the High Court. Your father should be here by nightfall,” He turned to Thor, “We will prepare quarters for your contingent. The High Court will take a couple of days to assemble. Until then, I am your most gracious host.”

Eidra bowed, “Thank you, Your Majesty. I am honored.”

Freyr eyed Loki, who was silent. “Come our servants shall show you to your rooms.”

Eidra and Helgi were given a room together. The walls were spartan white but it was furnished with a massive four poster carved wooden bed with a royal blue coverlet and heavy blue drapes hung from the canopy to pull around it for privacy. There was a small fireplace at the end of the bed with two red velvet wing-back chairs flanking it. A small wardrobe stood in one corner and a private balcony looked out into the valley stories above the palace grounds.

Helgi sat on the bed, “It will be good to sleep somewhere other than the cold hard ground tonight.”

Eidra nodded and flopped down on the opposite side with a groan. Helgi turned, “How are you feeling, poppet?”

“Not as sore as I was, hungry, tired, worried.”

Helgi walked to the balcony and took in the view, “Such a long way down.”

Eidra's smile was tight, “I am sure that is the reason we were given this room.”

“Do you think they expected us to flee?”

“Thor did.”

Helgi laughed, “Flee where? Back to Asgard?”

“Perhaps.” Eidra joined her on the balcony. “I only know I wish I were there right now with Cait and my dark prince.”

Helgi put her arm around Eidra's shoulder, “You will have your wish, someday.”

The houseboy opened the door a crack and peeked out at the tall courier standing on the doorstep. The royal standard was all he needed to see as he flung the door wide and stood back. Eldan rose from the table where he, Suram and Danar sat at their evening meal. The courier bowed as he approached the table, “His Majesty, King Freyr, requests your presence at a meeting of the High Court.”

The courier handed Eldan a letter with the royal seal stamped upon it. Eldan took it, taking care to avoid Suram's stare, and cracked the seal. He began to read the letter, the color draining from his face with every word until he swayed and sat down heavily in his chair. “Thank you.”

The courier bowed to him, turned on his heel and was back out into the evening. The houseboy closed the door behind him and was about to return to his place by the fire when Eldan summoned him over. “Boy, saddle my horse. I must ride to the castle tonight.”

As the boy snatched a lantern and flew out the door into the darkness, Suram watched Eldan as he set the letter on the table, covering it with his hands. She reached out and put her hand atop his.

“Eldan, what is wrong, what has upset you?”

He sighed, “I must go to the castle to speak with Eidra. She is there. She was brought there by Thor of Asgard. It would seem I have made a mistake.”

“Mistake, what sort of mistake?”

Eldan stood, taking the letter and putting it in the pouch he slung over his shoulder. “I cannot discuss it right now, not until I have spoken to my daughter.” He took his cloak from a hook on the wall. “There is no need to wait up for me. I will be late.”

Helgi was brushing Eidra's hair when there was a knock on the door.

“Enter.” Helgi shouted.

A guard stepped into the room and held the door open as Eldan walked though. Eidra smiled until she took in his grim countenance.

“I must speak to you privately.” His eyes moved to Helgi who rose from the bed.

“I will be outside, poppet.” She kissed Eidra on the cheek and left the room following the guard out into the corridor.

Eldan sighed, opened his arms and Eidra flew into them. “My little girl, what trouble have you wrought?”

“I did not know I had wrought any.”

Eldan pushed her back from him, “When I gave Lord Loki the Uruz, I did not expect you ever to use it. I thought of it simply as a gesture of kindness, however unusual, on his part and now I find that you have broken our sacred laws.” he hung his head, “It is my fault, this is entirely my fault. I should have told you when you were a child. I should have told you why you must remain pure. It was not enough simply to tell you that you had to remain thus.”

Eidra smiled, “But father, I have done nothing wrong save love a man enough to give myself to him. I am nearly twenty-two seasons, old enough. What can be wrong with love?”

Eldan took her by the forearms, “You know not what the laws say. Because you were to remain pure, the man who took you against your will must be put to death, you may reveal the man who deflowered you without ritual in the High Court.”

Eidra put her hands to her mouth in horror, “I cannot father. I will not.”

Eldan shook her hard, “Eidra, you must reveal him. If you do not, your own life is in danger!”

She broke from her father's grip then, “I know It is either his life or mine but is there no other way? Some form of apology? Some other ritual, a tribute?”

Eldan's face belied his answer.

“Father, I cannot, I love him. He is the father of my child. Would you expect Suram to be so disloyal to you were it her in my postion?”

“The man cannot be above the law.” Eldan threw his hands out to her,

“And I once said that I would give my life for him.”

“Madness,” Eldan put his hands to his head, “Do not make me a party to such pain as this. You are still a child and you would protect the man who did this to you?”

“I am not a child, father. I am a woman.” She seemed to want to say more but faltered.

“You are the only one who may reveal his name. You must do this at the High Court on the morrow. Think long and hard on this. Would he do as much for you?”

Eidra fiddled with the hem of her dress, “I believe he would, father, but I shall not ask such a sacrifice.”

Eldan's shoulders drooped, “Oh Eidra, I pray you search your soul this night for the truth of the matter. I will return on the morrow to sit with the High Court for it is I who also must answer for my actions.”

“How is it my father must answer at all?”

Eldan laughed ruefully, “It was I who gave the Uruz to Loki, I who broke the sacred laws in the first place.”

“Father,” Eidra took his hands, “Beg their indulgence as a parent. Play on their sympathies.”

“Were it that it was so easy.” Eldan leaned over and kissed her on the forehead. “I will speak with you again when morning comes.”

Helgi walked back into the room when Eldan left, bowing to her as he passed. “How goes it?”

Eidra managed a smile, “It goes well. I must appear before the High Court to tell them what happened.”

“That is all?”

Eidra nodded, hugged Helgi, “That is all.”


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