Descent-(The Path)

5

That afternoon while Loki was out riding, she had seen, with Silas, that his trunks were well packed for his trip. She had then sought out Helgi, telling her of the events of that had unfolded the night before. Though she knew she should keep some secrets, she had no one else to tell them to and she needed to pour her heart out to someone who at least shared in her sympathy.

“Pray to the gods he comes back in better spirits. You can help us with the final harvests in the fields, we will have a blot when they return with the year's new mead and wine. If his mood remains black, beg the Queen to let you stay in the kitchens. It will be safer for you. Now rest easy child.”

“I told him my name was Eidra,” she picked up the bowl of broth before her and sipped it.

“And?”

“And he addressed me by my name. Perhaps he will continue to do so. I grow so tired of being called wench and whore.”

Helgi shook her head, “Even the basest worker in the field has some semblance of manners. He shames the royal family.”

“I believe he is unhappy.”

Helgi whirled around, pointing the poker at her with which she'd been prodding the fire “He is unhappy of his own volition. Do not entertain such thoughts. He chooses the life he leads, my child.”

Eidra drained her bowl and brought it to the wash tub at the end of the table. “I must go fetch his morning tray, I left it in his room.”

“Eidra, come back here afterward and we shall walk out to the fields.

“I will.”

When she returned from Loki's quarters with the tray, Helgi had wrapped her shawl around her shoulders.

“The air is cool today, do you not have a wrap for your self?”

Eidra shook her head, “I do not.”

Helgi took another wrap down from the pegs by the archway leading out into the palace. “We shall have to get you one. The palace gets cold in the winter.”

Eidra followed Helgi through the halls and into the arboretum where she marveled at the profusion of exotic flowers and plants, brightly plumed birds, fountains. She stopped to smell one particularly beautiful small white bloom. Helgi saw her, picked a blossom and tucked it behind her ear. “You are a lovely child, but then the light elves are a beautiful race.”

“I wonder if the humans are as well.”Eidra murmured, stroking the soft petals of the flower in her hair.

“I do not know child, there have been but a handful of humans who have seen the realm of Asgard. I hear tell they believe little of the ancient ways anymore and that is why we seldom travel to Midgard. It is all but dead to us now.”

Helgi opened a set of tall glass doors at the far end of the arboretum and they headed down a path tramped out in the tall grass from many feet. “I prefer the short cut through the arboretum to see the flowers and hear the beautiful birdsong.”

Eidra held her hands out at her sides, letting them drift over the tops of the grass. “I asked my father once how he came to find my mother when he lived on Asgard and he would only tell me that he met her when he traveled to Midgard on a night the humans called 'All Hallow's Eve'. My father told me that in ancient times, it was called Samhain. Now it serves as a night of frolic for the humans. It involves wearing a costume so that one may not know their own people. The Midgardians believed the costumes would protect them from harmful spirits and fairies” Here she giggled, “It afforded my mother no protection from my father.”

“Costumes? Like a masquerade? How curious.” Helgi shaded her eyes and scanned the fields before her where a group of workers were busy digging up root vegetables. They stopped among them and Eidra bent over to pick up a carrot. It was big and bright orange, speckled with clods of dirt. She put it to her nose.

“I have always loved the smell of the harvest.” She put the carrot in a wide woven basket, picked another one out of a basket beside it and turned it over in her hands, curious. “It is white.”

“It is a parsnip my dear.” The woman kneeling beside the basket with a spade in her hand smiled up at her. “It is like a carrot but sweeter.”

Eidra touched Helgi's arm, “I have never had one before. I wish to taste it.”

“Parsnips must be cooked. I will make some this evening as a dish with the meal.”

They continued down the field towards a large grove of trees where another group were busy in the tree tops picking apples and lowering them in baskets to the ground below. Eidra broke into a run, laughing.

“My home in Alfheim has a small apple orchard, we used to make cider every harvest and dry apples for pies. Our root cellar had bins of apples,” she breathed to Helgi. “Might I have one?”

Helgi took an apple out of the nearest basket and handed it to her but she didn't immediately bite into it, holding it cupped in her hands close to her nose. “It smells like home.”

Helgi clasped her hands over her round belly, watching the young woman, her eyes closed, a smile on her lips and she felt such an outpouring of love for her that it fair brought tears to her eyes.

“We will make a pie tomorrow after Lord Loki and Lord Thor leave with their retinue.” Helgi murmured, laughing when Eidra clasped her arms around her neck and hugged her.

“Helgi,” one of the workers called to her, “Is she one of your new workers?”

Helgi squinted into the sun and walked towards the voice until she could make out young Malek, Silas's older brother, in the lower branches of the tree before them.

“She will be helping me for the next two weeks in the kitchens and the laundry. She is Lord Loki's house servant.”

Malek nearly dropped the basket he was holding. “You serve Loki?”

Helgi frowned at Malek and put a finger to her lips, “Lord Loki you foolish boy. Do you wish to be flogged? Only let someone hear you and you may be sure to receive at least ten lashes.”

Malek laughed, lowered the basket of apples to the ground and climbed down from the branches. “I am hardly afraid of him. Is he here? No. Will the two of you tell him of my indiscretion?”

He looked at Eidra, “Maybe, but what are ten lashes to me? I have had my fair share, my back is nearly numb now.”

He held out his hand to Eidra who put hers out as well. He took her hand in his and bussed the top lightly. “Do you have a beautiful name to match?”

She pulled her hand away and shrank a bit towards Helgi. “My name is Eidra.”

He bowed in response, “My name is Malek,” and comprehension seemed suddenly to dawn upon his face. “My brother told me about Loki's new hand maiden, how he...” Malek looked to Helgi, “How he treated her so poorly when she first arrived here in Asgard. Are you one and the same?”

Eidra gave a quick nod, now practically beneath Helgi's right arm.

“I will not bite. What scares you so? Am I truly hideous to look upon?”

Helgi narrowed her eyes at Malek, “You will end up scaring her ere you keep talking to her like that.”

Malek laughed at her, took another apple and approached Eidra who seemed ready to burrow into Helgi's side.

“Here you may have another apple on account. Truly, what frightens you so?”

He looked up at Helgi who was now gazing past Malek's head to the figure who had walked his horse up behind him. Malek looked curiously at them. All at once, he felt a tap on his shoulder, looked to his left and saw the tip of a riding crop resting there. He stood up but didn't turn until the owner of the riding crop tapped his shoulder once again.

Loki stared down at the young servant from high atop his steed.

“Malek.”

“Yes, Milord.”

“My maid servant cowers beside my cook,” The tip of the riding crop hovered against Malek's cheek, “Might I inquire what you have done to scare her so?”

“Nothing, Milord. I asked her name...”

Loki waited.

“...And then I offered her an apple.”

When Loki dismounted and glanced at Helgi, Eidra hid her face against the soft knit of Helgi's shawl.

. “Does this man speak the truth?”

Helgi started to open her mouth but Loki put a hand on Malek's shoulder, the riding crop back at his cheek. “Is that all you have done?”

Malek had looked straight ahead at first, but his eyes flickered to Loki's for a second. “Yes, Milord.”

“You did not touch her?”

Malek stared at the field over Loki's shoulder.

His teeth bared, Loki reared back with the riding crop and brought it full force across Malek's cheek, slicing into the flesh in a jagged tear.

Malek's hand flew up to his face, his mouth open in an O. Loki knocked his hand away and grabbed him by the chin, blood trickling over his fingers as he shook Malek's face.

“Did you touch my maid servant?!” Loki shouted at him.

“Yes, Milord!” Came his shout as loud in return.

Eidra had ventured to peek at the scene from behind Helgi's back, watching as Loki took Malek's hand in his.

“Did you take her hand thus?”

Malek nodded and Loki smiled over his shoulder at them, “Ah, progress.”

He looked at Malek again, “And then?”

“I kissed her hand.” Malek's voice was barely a whisper.

Loki looked to Helgi, catching Eidra's stare and his smile widened. Eidra was alarmed to find no mirth there, however, only malice.

He swung his gaze back to Malek and started to squeeze his hand harder, harder still until Malek cried out in pain.

“Please, Milord!” Eidra called out. “He did not hurt me. He was only introducing himself.”

Loki stopped, looked to where Eidra stood now, beside Helgi.

“Milord, with a broken hand, he is of no use in the fields.”

Loki narrowed his eyes at Malek as he released his hand, watching as the young man pulled his injured hand to his chest.

“Today, you have been blessed with fortune,” Loki reached around to the back of Malek's shirt and spun him around, “You will thank the deliverer of that fortune properly.”

He tossed Malek to the ground in front of Helgi and Eidra. “Go on, you whoreson! Thank her!”

“Thank you.” Malek cried out.

Loki knelt in the grass beside Malek, snatching a handful of his shirt and pulling him up to his knees.

“For what, whelp?”

“I do not know!”

“Thank her, that you still have use of your hand!” Loki growled in his ear.

Eidra felt profoundly sorry for Malek; she had been on the receiving end of Loki's rage before.

“Thank you for the use of my hand.” Malek was shaking, terrified.

“Answer him, Eidra.” Helgi prompted her.

“You are welcome.” Eidra looked away from Malek as she responded.

Loki loosed his hand from Malek's collar for a moment, then his grip tightened on it again, hauling him up from the ground as he stood.

“Do not touch her, do not cast an eye towards her, do not wave in her direction, do not dare so much as to think of her. If I find you again in her presence, I shall personally flog you myself. Ken?”

“I ken, Milord.”

When Loki finally let go of him, Malek backed away, starting off at a lope past Eidra and Helgi, down the path in the direction they had come from. Loki bent down and picked up his riding crop.

“Helgi,”

“Yes, Milord.” She bowed to him.

“I do not wish Eidra to work in the fields while I am absent. You will occupy her within the palace.”

“Yes, Milord.”

He turned to Eidra now who had her hands clasped before her, eyes at her feet.

“Eidra, you will obey me. Stay away from the fields. You are a servant of the palace. These workers are below your station.”

Eidra glanced up at Loki, a quick peek, “Please, Milord. May I still work with Helgi and Volsa, and Artra?”

He gave her a lopsided grin, “Yes, they work in the palace do they not? Thus they are palace servants.”

Then his countenance became serious again as he waved the crop in Helgi's direction, “Helgi, I charge you with her safety while I am away.”

“I will watch over her as if she were my own child, Milord.”

“See that you do,” He nodded to Eidra, “I will return to the palace. Make haste to do likewise.”

He mounted his horse, pulled the reins right and galloped up the path, leaving them both standing there, stunned.

“My child, I have never seen Lord Loki act in such a manner.” Helgi kept staring at the path he'd ridden down.

“He has acted in such a manner with me. What startles you so?”

Helgi guided her down the path towards the palace. “No child, it is not that.”

Helgi huffed and puffed as they trotted past the workers digging up the carrots. Malek was nowhere to be seen. They reached the door into the arboretum but before she opened the door, she took Eidra's hands in hers.

“I have never seen Lord Loki come to the defense of a servant before. Not even his personal house servants. I fear for you, my poppet.”

“Should you not be happy for me? Perhaps he will protect me from now on.”

“To bring his attention to bear on you is dangerous whether it be good or bad. The higher he places you, the more severe the punishment should you fail him. He also has enemies within the palace who would use you to bring him low were they to hear of his actions today. I must ply Malek somehow to keep his tongue still.” Helgi opened the door and let her inside.

As they made their way through the arboretum, startling a pair of lovebirds into flight, Helgi cast her a backward glance. “Trust no one when you are so close to such a man.”

“Helgi, I am but his maidservant. You see more than what is there. Have no fear.”

Helgi gave her a wavering grin which Eidra returned. If she had been in doubt as to what had happened, if she had not seen it with her own eyes, she would have thought it was all a dream. If she could have put a name to his reaction, though she would dare not speak it aloud, and she only half believed it herself, she would have called it jealousy.


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