He had walked into the staff kitchen that morning with Eidra in tow and she had blanched to see Helgi and the others scramble to assist him. He had obtained a pair of breeches, a tunic and a pair of boots for her wear and when she had looked at him dumbfounded, he had waved her away with an order to change into them with due haste. She caught Helgi's stare as they left the kitchen.
Now she stood pressed against the railing at the edge of an open corral as Loki led to her, by the reins, a dark brown horse. He gestured to her to approach but her feet would not immediately move.
“Come, woman. You try my patience.”
She inched closer to him until he rolled his eyes and drew the horse closer to her. She gazed up at the massive head, the dark brown eyes regarding her.
“Come here,” he took her by the arm and swung her around to the left side of the horse, “put your left foot into the stirrup and hold the pommel.” When she stared at him,confused, he took her left hand and placed it hard upon a knob at the front of the saddle.
“Now place your left foot into the stirrup,” He lifted her left foot and placed it on the stirrup that swung at the side of the horse's body. “Push yourself up and swing your other leg over the saddle and you will have mounted the horse.”
She held her position until he gave her backside a resounding smack.
“Up, wench, will you have me stand here all day?”
She skittered forward, eyes wide until she heard him grunt in irritation and she pushed her body up with her leg until she could swing the other over. Suddenly she was astride the horse which pranced around a bit nervously at the new weight on its back.
“Take the reins and I will lead you around the paddock to get you used to the motion. Sit up straight, and hold the reins forward..not that far...yes, right there.”
She felt the sides of the horse between her thighs, marveling at the feeling of power as the horse snorted and shook its head. As they walked the paddock, Loki's hand at the bridle, he began to talk, though she was unsure whether to respond and so simply listened.
“I learned to ride almost before I could walk. I recall my brother laughing at me each time I fell from the horse. My spell casting came in useful then and he frequently joined me in the dirt of the paddock.”
She watched his movement, the way he walked, swaggered even in the soft dirt and began to relax her body. He glanced up at her, “Sit up straight, wench! Show confidence or the horse will not obey you.”
After a few rounds, he started to trot the horse and she started to falter, feeling as if her teeth were going to rattle from her head.
“Alternate your weight,” he called out, “Ride with the rhythm of the horse's gait. Use the stirrups on the up stride. And the saddle on the down step.”
She tried to hold the reins, follow his directions but she felt herself slipping, “Milord, please slow down, I cannot do this.”
He brought the horse up to a quick stop and she nearly pitched forward over its neck, holding herself on only by gripping the pommel and yanking the reins.
When she tilted her head he sighed, “Get off the horse, the same way you mounted him. Push up with your left leg and swing your right leg back off the horse. Hold the reins and the pommel.”
She alit on the ground and stepped back, gratefully handing him the reins when he held out his hand. He mounted the horse easily and broke into a trot. “Watch me, how I move with the horse, do you see?”
She was watching the movements of a practiced rider, a man who thoroughly enjoyed being in the saddle and once again, she found herself drawn by his grace and assurance. He brought the horse trotting up to her and dismounted.
“Did you pay heed?”
She nodded and he handed her the reins, “Mount him again,”
She had put her foot in the stirrup and was about to pull herself up when she heard the sound of voices. She saw Loki turn, his countenance change as he held her progress, heard him mumble, “I thought he had already ridden out this morning.”
She looked up at him, waiting. He waved her down as Thor and Magnus reached the edge of the paddock.
“Brother, are you teaching the servants to ride now? Do mine eyes so deceive me?”
Loki looked at her, moving her with his eyes away from the horse. “Does your houseboy not ride with you frequently?”
“Yes,” Thor laughed, “But he is a boy. He need know how to ride.”
“Do not let Sif hear you say such a thing. I daresay she can outride you.” Loki mounted the horse again and turned to Eidra. “Return to the palace and see to your chores.”
“Yes, Milord.” With a bow, she was scrambling between the slats of the paddock gate as she listened to Thor's ringing laughter paired with the thundering sound of a horse in full gallop.
It would be a long time before she saw the paddock again. That afternoon, Loki returned, dirty, drenched with sweat and in a foul mood. He threw his tunic on the bed and strode past her into the bath room. She heard the sound of the water starting to flow into the bathing basin and when she made a move towards the door intending to assist him, she had to step back as his breeches came flying out of the open door.
“Bring them to the laundress!” he called to her.
As she gathered the garments up, she heard him step into the basin.
She happened to notice a good sized tear at the shoulder of the tunic and a thin streak of blood as she trotted down the hallway with his clothes. She wondered if he had fallen from his horse. When she showed the shirt to Artra, the portly woman balled it up and threw it into the laundry kettle with a shrug.
She paused to speak with Helgi, then returned to Loki's chambers. It was quiet when she opened the door. She set a couple extra pieces of wood on the fire and tiptoed to the door of the bath room, her slippers muffling her steps. He was sitting on the submerged bench, his head back, eyes closed but she doubted he was asleep. She walked back to her pallet and picked up the dress she was working on, soon becoming lost in the stitching and her thoughts, only brought from them when she heard him yell for her.
“Woman, fetch my robe!”
She set her dress down and ran into the bath room where she pulled a towel from the wooden shelving and held it up to him as he rose from the water while she stared at her feet until she felt him take the towel from her hands. Then she scurried from the room ahead of him to take a robe from the wardrobe which she handed to him as he reached her.
“I desire my evening meal here in my rooms.” It was then that she recalled the tear in the shoulder of his tunic.
“Please, Milord. I noticed that you had a rend in the fabric of your shirt, it looked bloody. Are you injured?”
His head snapped up and he glared at her. “It is of no matter to you!”
His hand shot out to cuff her beside the head but this time instinct won out and she ducked, knowing as soon as she'd done it that what was coming was likely to be twice that.
She turned then and darted for the door.
“Please, Milord. I will return with your meal, forgive me.”
She chanced a look back to find him a step behind her and she closed her eyes tightly, feeling for and misjudging the distance to the door as she slammed full force into it, bouncing back into the room. She felt her back hit his legs and in horror realized she was going to knock him to the floor. She scrambled to her hands and knees in an effort to crawl for the door, her fingers scraping the wood of the frame when she felt his hand close around her ankle. She very nearly loosed her bladder as she felt him yank her back towards him. Terror filled her and she shoved his hand from her ankle with her other foot, managing soon after to get it underneath her and push for the door.
She grabbed the handle with both hands and pulled it open, propelling herself into the corridor with a shriek of fear, almost spilling to the floor again, but managing to get herself running towards the spiral staircase at the end of the corridor. Just before she hit the stairs, she she looked back over her shoulder but he was nowhere to be seen. She nearly tripped as she flew down the stairs until she reached the kitchen where Volsa stood, stirring an iron pot over the wood fire. Eidra draped herself over the long kitchen table gasping for breath, a high pitched whine accompanying each intake.
“What in Valhalla is happened to you?” Volsa put her hands on her hips and stared at Eidra.
“Oh Volsa,” She cried, “I kicked him!”
“Kicked who?.....ohhhh.” Volsa looked at the staircase as if expecting Loki to come gliding down the stairs at any time. “What possessed you child?”
Eidra proceeded to tell Volsa of the whole ordeal while Volsa fixed his tray, pulling the bread from the oven in the side of the fireplace, filling a bowl full of fish stew, a jug of fresh milk from the cold cellar.
“I am frightened, Volsa. He did not chase me because he knows I must return to him.” She looked behind her at the staircase mirroring Volsa's past concern, “And who knows what he shall do to me when I do.”
Volsa handed her the tray, “What can you do? Apologize and let him rail, he will spend himself soon enough. From here on out, you would do well to hold your tongue before you end up holding your head.”
All the way down the corridor, her hands shook so that she could barely hold the tray. She pushed the doors open with her back, wondering if he would pounce on her before she could put the tray down. She turned around to find him in the chair before the fireplace. His eyes darted to her but he didn't move. She walked over and stood before him until he gestured with a nod of his head for her to put the tray on the floor beside him. She did so and stood up.
“To your pallet.”
His voice was unnaturally even as he reached down, picked up the bowl of stew and began to eat. After a few minutes, she felt relaxed enough to pick up her sewing once again and they sat in silence, once in a while she would look up at him, or out onto the balcony where it was finally growing dark, then she would continue her work. She had almost forgotten about the incident until he finished his meal, setting the empty bowl down on the tray with a clatter.
She glanced up at him to find his eyes catch hers, the look of pure malice chilling her heart. “It is worse to wait for your punishment is it not?”
She wanted to cry. She wanted to do or say something that would stop him from hurting her but she knew the futility of such an attempt. On the way to Asgard, she had had lengthy discussions with her deliverer, her half-brother Danar. He had regaled her with stories of Asgard and the Aesir, of Thor and Loki. She had been relieved to find she was a gift to Thor. Danar had frightened her with his stories of Loki's reputation.
Now she sat mute, as Loki stood up, gliding towards her, kneeling down before her, a smile on his face. “Come with me.”
She thought at first that she was going to be sick on the marble floor before him but she swallowed hard and stood up, following him with mounting horror to his bed. He sat upon the edge and handed her a gold gilded brush with dark bristles. “Brush my hair.”
He took the handle of the brush and forced it into her palm, then patted the bed behind him. “I did not misspeak, wench. Brush my hair.”
She felt the tears at the corner of her eyes, sure he was toying with her. She knelt on the bed and positioned herself behind him, holding her hands out inches from the length of hair that, now damp, was well in the middle of his back.
“What keeps you, woman?” He snapped, though he didn't turn to look at her.
Honesty won out, “Milord, I am afraid to touch you.”
“As well you should be, however when it is an order given, you may assume you are safe. Brush my hair.”
She took a hank of his hair in her hands, admiring the ebony sheen, black almost to blue in the right light though it reflected the golden orange glow of the torches on either side of the bed. She drew the brush through his hair slowly, carefully, until she reached the end, returned to the top and drew it down through another hank. She could sense the tension in his body, in his posture, and she wondered why he was waiting, why he didn't simply dispense his justice and be done with it. She noticed then at the edge where his shoulder lay partly covered by his robe, that he had indeed sustained a cut. It was wide but cleaned. She sighed to herself, if he was going to punish her for her original question, she might as well restate it, perhaps she would spur him to action.
“Please, Milord. You did sustain an injury today. It looks to need a physician's care.”
She braced herself for his reaction but he raised his hand and touched the cut gingerly. “Does it indeed?”
“Perhaps a length of sinew to close the cut.” She gave his hair a few more strokes with the brush and he put his hand up.
She put the brush down on the bed, hopped to the floor and fled from the room to the staff kitchen. Finding it empty, she continued down the hall into another part of the palace she'd never been. The corridors branched out as she wandered, unsure where to go until at length she found a royal guard, his helmet in hand as he strode past her and she held up her hands to stop him.
“Please, I must find Clotho for Lord Loki but I do not know where to go.”
The guard appraised her and gave a nod,
They found the court physician hunched over a tome in his quarters, reading by candlelight.
He was a thin stick of a man. He sported a short beard and was completely bald atop his head with a rim of white hair around from side to side at his jaw. He stood as they entered and tied the belt of his tunic.
“This servant girl wishes to speak with you.” The guard announced as Eidra stepped forward.
“Lord Loki has cut himself while riding this afternoon and it is a deep cut indeed. Perhaps a few stitches will be needed.”
The physician chuckled, “Are you looking to replace me, young lady?”
“Oh no, I meant no impertinence.” but Clotho was already at a long set of shelves, gathering a bottle, a cloth and a small box.
“We shall see if the young prince needs tending to, but perhaps we should stop and gather a flagon of wine ere we treat him. It would put him in a more tractable mood.”
She shivered at the memory of the last time she had seen Loki drunk, “If it must be, then it must be.”
She followed Clotho, who moved with a speed belying his years as he sped down the corridor. She was careful to note the return path as she learned the maze of hallways in the palace.
Once at the door to Loki's chambers, Clotho knocked once and walked in. Loki was standing in front of the fireplace, hands at his side.
“Loki,” Clotho cried, “What accident has befallen you now? Might his name be Thor?” Eidra stood frozen, eyes wide at the familiarity with which Clotho addressed him but Loki merely smirked,
“He knocked me from my mount today while we were racing. I struck a rock. He was angry because I won the race.”
Clotho guided the young prince to the chair before the fire and waved a hand at him, “Where is the damage, then?”
Loki gestured to his right shoulder and tilted his head to allow the old man access. Clotho gestured to Eidra.
“Come child, pour some wine into the chalice.”
She handed him the chalice of wine and watched as he put it in Loki's hand. “Drink this, let the warmth relax you. I must stitch the wound.”
Clotho sat in the chair on the other side of Loki while he drank the wine and they chatted about events at court, the latest meeting of the High Council, until at last he'd drained the chalice.
“More?” Clotho looked to Eidra.
“No, I wish to be done with this, I grow tired.” Loki dropped the robe from his shoulder and turned his head away. “You may begin.”
As Clotho punctured the skin at the edge of the cut, she could see Loki clench his teeth together and shut his eyes. His fingers curled over the arms of the chair, his knuckles white, his breathing heavy but he was otherwise silent, though he flinched with each stab of the needle. Finally, Clotho wound the sinew around into a knot, took a small set of scissors and cut the excess close. “That should heal well but you will have a scar.”
“One among many. You have my gratitude.” He stood from the chair, flexing his arm to test the stitches.
“Now I shall take my leave. It is an exceeding late hour for me to be out and about. My old bones ache with the coming winter. Sleep well.” Clotho nodded to Eidra as he passed, the door closed, and they were left alone.
Loki walked to the bed and pulled down the covers. “Tomorrow I must pack. In three days time, my brother, myself and a contingent are to travel the realm gathering the year's supply of wine and mead. Father says it allows us to visit with our citizens, though he stays here in the palace.” Loki grunted in contempt.“I shall be gone for two weeks, until Mabon. While I travel, you may serve in the staff kitchen.”
“Please, Milord. Who will attend you while you are absent?”
“Young Silas, my houseboy, is more suited to a campaign such as this. A camp full of soldiers is no place for a woman. It incites them to lust, clouds their minds. Do you ken?”
“Get thee to your pallet, then. I am tired.” he climbed into his bed beneath his covers and settled in and yet she found she still couldn't keep her tongue.
“Why did you not punish me?”
There was silence from the bed, then, “Your assessment of my injury was correct. Therefore I shall overlook your indiscretion. Now go to sleep, woman.”