Descent-(The Path)

4

He had ordered Eidra to pack his robes, and his ceremonial armor in his trunks the following day having to show her how to do so properly all the while mumbling to himself that it would have been easier had he simply done it himself.

Thor had cornered him that evening after they'd set in attendance at a High Council meeting.

“Brother, come with me to the sauna this evening, we will talk of the impending trip.”

Loki peered at his brother.“We shall have two weeks to talk of the trip while we are on it.”

But Thor would not be discouraged and he finally gave in, following him through the palace, past the arboretum, to the communal baths just outside the palace gates. Once inside the columned building, attendants handed them towels and bowed as they passed the archway for the bath to the long wooden sauna. They disrobed at the benches just outside the wooden door and wrapped the towels around their waists, Thor holding the door for Loki.

Thor sat down and leaned back on one of the wooden benches, his hands behind his head, a beatific smile on his face. Loki closed his eyes and let the steam relax his muscles, beginning to think that for once his oaf of a brother had given birth to a good idea when Thor elbowed him.

“How fair you with your prize?”

Loki looked to Thor, then away.

“Have you had her already?”

Loki gritted his teeth as Thor elbowed him again, “You have! What is she like, brother? Is she as skilled as she is beautiful?”

“I do not know.” his voice was low, almost a whisper.

“What? How can you not know what she is like?”

“I do not remember!” Loki retorted a bit louder, irritated.

“How...”

“It was the night of the marking ceremony, I was drunk, I do not remember.”

“Then how do you know it truly happened?”

“I know.”

Thor sat there a minute, “We must jog your memory. Come, we shall share her tonight.”

Loki swiveled on the bench to face him, “Why must I share her? Have you not any number of women to choose from in the palace?”

“Are you worried that she will ask to be given to me afterward? “ Thor laughed, “You have not practiced your spells as of late. Perhaps you could enchant her so that she would love none but you.”

“I do not wish for love!” Loki spat, “I desire a hand maiden....”

“Wise choice of words, brother,” Thor interjected,

“.....Who will serve me, whether it be to see to my daily needs, mend my clothes, or fill my chalice and that is what I have. That I took her when I did was governed by lust born up by wine.”

“You must be fair, Loki. Would you bear another contest with her as the prize?”

“No!”

“Then I shall be at your chambers after the evening repast. Trust me, brother. It shall be a night to remember.”

Thor patted him on the shoulder and he winced in pain at the rub against his stitches. He watched Thor leave the sauna, with a smile though he stayed seated, brooding. The talk of sharing his servant had revolted him. For nearly a month now she had sat, a silent companion on her pallet, sewing or mending. One time or another he had gone to speak to her, then remembering that she was but a servant, and he had stopped himself. He had started to rely on her for his daily needs. At the very least, she alleviated the crushing loneliness he was often beset by.

He would need to leave soon, he dreaded the thought of Thor arriving at his quarters before he did. He put his hand to his forehead and rose from the bench, making his way to the door and out into the bath house.

Eidra had cleared the evening tray from his bed chamber. She had eaten a quick meal in the kitchen, then returned to find Loki already in his evening robe, pacing the floor. She was about to ask if he needed anything when there came a knock on the door. She turned around as the door swung open and Thor strode into the room, past her to his brother who now stood stock still. Thor whispered something in Loki's ear that made his eyes close, his mouth fall open. Thor unlaced the tie on the front of his tunic and turned towards Eidra.

“Come here, wench, let me look at you.” Thor advanced towards her, taking her hand in his and leading her to Loki who only stared at his brother who was rubbing the palm of his hand down the front of his breeches. Eidra averted her gaze from Loki's and kept it trained at the floor until she felt Thor's hands steal from behind her to cup her breasts, finding the buds beneath the fabric and rolling them between thumb and forefinger. “She is a fine woman, Loki.”

Her eyes grew wide then as she caught Loki's expression, a mixture of lust and shock upon his face as he slowly closed his eyes against the scene before him. She took that opportunity to shove herself backwards with all the force she could muster, throwing Thor off balance, causing him to momentarily loosen his grip as she shot forward, dodging around Loki, hiding behind him as Thor regained his footing.

“Please, Milord, I am not for him!” she cried.

Loki spun around to see her cringing behind him then back to Thor who wore a satisfied smirk on his face. “Perhaps you have used your spells already, brother?”

Loki sneered at Thor's remark. He took Eidra hard by the shoulder, squeezing until she yelped, leaned over and growled in her ear, “You will submit to my brother or answer to me, whore!”

He made to shove her to Thor's waiting arms but she dropped beneath his grasp and ran, straight arming the doors, causing them to slam open as she fled from the room. Loki and Thor exchanged glances, starting after her.

She was running as fast as her legs could carry her, so intent on watching behind her that she nearly bowled over the tall woman who had stepped from a room along the corridor.

“Odin's beard, whatever is wrong, child?”

The sound of fast footsteps coming towards them loosened her tongue. “Please, Milady. I am being chased by two men. You must hide me!”

The footsteps halted behind her and she clung desperately to the woman's legs, trembling, afraid to face the two men behind her.

“What in the name of the Almighty Allfather are you boys doing to this poor woman?”

Thor looked to Loki but Loki could only glare at Eidra.

“We were having a bit of fun, Mother.” Thor made light of the encounter but Frigga read through him.

“I have heard what you did, Thor. This woman was a gift to your household but you made a bet and you lost her,” she glared at Loki, “Loki, you should bring her to Odin, she may serve in the Great Hall. It would be better than fighting off the two of you.”

“She is a servant, Mother,” Thor waved to Eidra, “We were only toying with her.”

Frigga gazed down at Eidra who was now looking back at the two men.“Is that true, child?”

Loki could not keep his eyes upon her, instead training them on his bare feet.

“Yes, Your Majesty, I simply became scared and ran.” She rose to her feet and Frigga stroked her hair,

“Would you rather return to Thor or Loki, or be given a position in the kitchen? The choice is up to you.”

She shook her head, “I do not wish to work in the kitchens.”

Frigga paused, “Very well, then go to the master you wish to serve.”

Eidra glided to Loki's side, trying to hide from Thor's stare.

“So be it. My sons, you do dishonor our loyal servants with your play. Mind yourselves in the future or father shall hear of this.”

Thor and Loki bowed as Frigga headed away from them down the corridor. They started in the opposite direction back towards Loki's quarters, Eidra following close behind. When they'd reached the doors, Thor clapped him on the back.

“Now we shall teach her how to obey us!”

Loki whirled on him, “No, she is mine to discipline. Leave us be!”

Thor cast a look at Eidra, then at Loki, grumbled, “As you wish, brother.”, and stalked away down the corridor as they walked into the bed chamber.

Once inside, Loki closed the door. Catching Eidra before she could turn to him, he took her by the back of her dress and sent her flying to the floor.

“Run from me again, whore and I shall personally stripe your back with my lash.”

The hard marble of the floor tore at her skin. She got to her hands and knees, gasping. She knew she would have been better off in the kitchen, but fear of what he would do if she chose that option made her return to his side. The treatment she was now receiving, however, served to push her to her very limits and she stood up.

“Eidra!” she shouted as he strode away from her. He stopped, spinning about to face her.

“What?”

“My name is Eidra, it is not whore, or wench. It is Eidra!”

By the time she had finished her sentence, he was at her, the back of his hand across her face splitting her lip and she staggered back.

“I will call you whore if it pleases me, do not speak without my permission again!”

She saw the madness in his eyes now and it only fueled her own.

“You are a cruel master, ” she shouted, backing away from him, tasting copper as the blood from her lip slid onto her tongue, “You have darkness, hatred, in your soul!” she struck her chest above her heart.

“Because It is my right to discipline a disobedient servant?” He was before her again and made to grab for her but she darted away, further backwards toward the balcony.

“I have served you well and you would punish me for not giving myself to your brother? Your heart is made of stone!”

She could see the tall columns behind Loki and realized how close to the railing she was. She had stared into the depths of the river running past the sheer cliffs upon which the palace set many times. She wondered then, if she would die before she struck bottom. She turned, leaped to the top of the railing and pushed outward. An arm around her waist snatched her from the air beyond the railing and threw her to the marble balcony, pinning her there to the floor. Loki flipped her over on her back, crouching over her, trembling with rage.

“If death be preferable to serving me, I shall choose how you meet it.”

He took her by the wrists, dragging her toward the railing again where he loosened the cord belt around his robe, knotting it first around one wrist, slung it around one fat pillar of the railing and tied her other wrist so that she half sat, half lay on the floor, hugging the pillar like an old dear friend.

“I shall leave you to ponder your fate until morning.” He stood back from her, hands clenched into fists, trembling as if they had need of something to do. He spun around without another word and walked back into the warmth of the room. She had started to shiver as he stood above her, now she felt able to let the tears flow. She pressed her face to the pillar and sobbed, her tears trickling down the column to wet her bodice.

Loki lay there for a long time staring out at the balcony until the light from the fireplace died down and he could no longer see her. It had been quiet for some time. He rose from the bed, walked to her pallet and took up her coverlet, making his way out to the balcony where she had slumped forward in a fitful sleep, her head lolling to one side on her shoulder. He draped the coverlet over and around her body, his fingers brushing the handle of his dagger as he considered cutting her free. Giving a low growl at his moment of weakness, he returned to his own bed, falling into an unsettled sleep.

Frigga tilted her head forward as her lady in waiting, Tamarin, undid the diamond and emerald necklace, easing it from her neck.

“ Does my husband still see to the preparations for the trip?”

Tamarin bowed, “Yes, my Queen.”

She set the necklace carefully in a wooden box atop the dressing table, latching it closed before she carried it to a trunk at the end of the bed on which Frigga now sat.

Frigga stood, turned her back to Tamarin so she could unbutton her gown, easing it to the floor for Frigga to step out of. While Tamarin saw to the gown, she drew her evening robe over her head, adding the bed jacket that had been laying beside the robe on the coverlet. The older she became, the more sharply she felt the cold.

She watched faithful Tamarin fold her dress, place it gently in her woven basket to bring to the laundress then return to kneel before her, “Let me remove your slippers and tend to your feet.”

Frigga sighed and sat back down upon the bed as Tamarin slipped off the confining footwear. She wiggled her toes with relief. “Were it we could go barefoot in a peasant's dress at all times.”

“What would become of the finery in your wardrobe?”

“It would moulder.”she tapped her chin thoughtfully, “Except for the jade green piece. The seamstress who wrought that one was a miracle worker.”

Tamarin shook her head as she kneaded Frigga's tired feet, “The kingdom must have a king and queen arrayed in glory to look upon. Clothes make the person, I have heard said.”

Frigga shook her head. “ 'Tis the person makes the clothes.”

She leaned back on her hands paused, then looked down at Tamarin, “Would you tell me truthfully were I to ask a question?”

Tamarin glanced up at Frigga, “My Queen, I would answer as honestly as I were able to.”

“Have I indulged my sons far too much?”

Tamarin pursed her lips, “Tell me what my Queen considers indulgences.”

Frigga lay her hands in her lap, “Ignoring their escapades, their affronts. Making no effort to take them to task for their indiscretions?”

Tamarin patted her feet and stood up, “Discipline is a task for the Allfather is it not?”

“Should they not answer to me as well?”

Tamarin tilted her head, “Does something trouble my Queen?”

Frigga thought of the frightened girl at her feet. Her two sons standing before her breathless. Thor was infamous for his overzealous pursuit of women. Loki was equally infamous for treating his servants with cruelty, a trait which broke her heart. She had hoped she would find nurture a balm to his true nature but it seemed he was destined to travel his own path.

“Nothing troubles me, Tamarin. I was merely pensive. You may go. I am going to retire for the evening.”

Tamarin bowed, felt Frigga's hand atop her head, “Thank you, my friend, for listening to the ravings of an old woman.”

Tamarin stood and smiled, “I am ever yours.”

Eidra had been dreaming about her home. She had dreamed that she was back in her father's household playing a game of dice with him on the kitchen floor, one of the cats curled up in her lap. The dice had become heavier and heavier as she played until her arms ached with the effort of lifting them. That ache roused her from sleep.

Her arms were on fire. The shoulder sockets were numb, her elbows and wrists alive with pins and needles and her back ached with the strain. She wanted to call out to him to end her suffering but she was afraid to wake him. She tried to sit up further to ease the strain on her back, grimaced with the pain, felt a sting at her lip as it split anew. Sliding the cord further up the pillar to where it tapered down a bit, she felt something slip down her back to her hips. She could turn her head just enough to see that it was the coverlet from her pallet. She could not recall bringing it with her. Rather it had crawled to her itself because any other explanation was impossible to comprehend.

She heard the creak of a door hinge then footsteps across the bedroom floor and knew it was all about to end. She craned her neck about just in time to see him striding across the floor towards her, hair wild about his head, his robe flowing behind him. He knelt down in front of her, lips tight together, lifted the right side of his robe and withdrew the long dagger from his thigh holster.

“I have decided you shall have a choice.”

He put his hand to the back of her head, fingers gripping a hank of her mahogany hair. Tugging her head back, he placed the blade of the knife to the side of her neck and pressed it there just hard enough for her to feel the edge start to sear into the skin.

“Would you have me slit your throat to die, drowning in your own blood?” he pulled the knife away, brought it around behind her back, the point of the blade atop the vertebrae at the nape of her neck and tilted her head forward. She stared at his chest, refusing to raise her eyes to his.

“Or would you rather I plunged my knife through your spine, cutting that precious thread swiftly, speeding you on your way to Hel? It would be far more merciful.”

He had leaned forward, his breath heavy in her ear like a lover. She waited, not caring which method he wished to visit on her, simply closed her eyes knowing her pleas would fall on deaf ears. Finally she felt the tip of the knife stutter across the knobs of her spine and she winced with the pressure, felt the blade leave her skin as he backed from her. She looked up to see he'd raised the knife high and she turned her head away from him, unwilling to let the last thing she saw in this world be his face. Suddenly her arms dropped away from the pillar as the knife sliced through the cord. She cried out with relief, pulling her arms slowly to her body as the blood began to throb back into them.

He stood up then, watched her for a minute as she sat back on the floor rubbing the blood into her legs.

“Get up, wench. I require my garments be lain out.”

He turned, started to walk across the balcony into the bedroom as she rose on clumsy feet. It was then that she felt the length of cord still dangling from her wrist. She lifted her arm and flexed her hand, about to untie the knot there when she looked up at him. His back was to her. Before the thought was fully formed, she had started to sprint towards him, the other end of the slice now firmly in the opposite hand. Before he realized she was behind him, she had the cord around his throat and was starting to twist it tightly, throwing her weight backward to upset his balance.

His hands flew to his neck. She could hear him start to choke as he grasped at the cord, his knees buckling beneath him. He pitched forward to his hands as she tightened the rope further, her legs astride his back when a sound reached her ears, making the hair stand up at her neck and she considered making the leap for the balcony railing yet again.

He was laughing.

His hand gripped the cord firmly and yanked it from his throat hard enough to throw her to her side on the floor beside him. He lifted her up by the rope still tied to her wrist until they were facing each other on their knees.

“Your strength is no match for mine. You wish to speed me to my death...,” he withdrew his dagger once again but this time wrapped her fingers around the handle, covering them with his own and placed it against his chest just above his heart. “I shall help you.”

He began to put pressure on the knife even as she sought to pull her hand free, suddenly horrified at the thought of ending someone's life, even his, wondering now how she had ever managed to draw the cord around his neck.

“Come now, you were ready to stop the breath in my throat, now you hesitate? You lack conviction. Stab me through the heart and I could lie here for hours. You could be well away from here.”

She looked up at his face, his eyes staring into her very soul.

“You are not the first to wish for my death and you will not be the last.” A tear sprang unbidden, rolling down his cheek to quiver at his chin and she looked away, redoubling her effort to release the knife in her hand.

“It would then seem that we must both live to see another day.” He muttered as his hand relaxed over hers. She pulled her own hand free, scrambling back from him until he reached out, catching the trailing cord and yanking her towards him.

“Stop struggling.” He warned her, then setting the knife on the floor beside him, his fingers worked the knot at one wrist until one hand was free, then the other. He gathered up the cut cord and the knife and rose from the floor where she sat there stunned, immobile.

“Come, Eidra. We have wasted enough time today. Fetch the morning meal.”

His voice was low, almost sad but the word that drew her to her feet, hurrying her from the room towards the kitchens was her name, he had said her name.


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