Descent-(The Path)

6

She had taken Loki his evening meal and he had told her to attend to hers for which she was grateful. After preparing the staff meals, Helgi took a piece of butter and put it in a pan hanging from a wire tripod inside the fireplace, slicing into it some parsnips from the field.

Eidra watched her, marking everything she did, the time she took waiting for the parsnips to cook, how she stirred them, tested them to see if they were done. In her father's household, she'd been merely a chamber maid, making the beds, emptying the chamber pots, doing the laundry and other chores like sweeping and mopping when she was called upon. Here, the lowest jobs like the chamber pots were done by Silas, the houseboy. The one place she had never been allowed to help was in her family's kitchen because of her stepmother. Full-blooded Alfari like her father, she claimed Eidra would taint the food because she was half-human.

Thus, cooking was new to her and she was eager to learn. The time Lord Loki spent away was going to be a chance to do just that.

She ate near half the pan of parsnips, savoring their earthy sweetness while Helgi looked on happily before she realized she'd been in the kitchen far too long.

“God's, Helgi, he will be finished with his meal and waiting for me.” She cried as she put her wooden bowl into the wash basin, “I will be back.”

Loki, was sitting in a chair before the fire, the tray on the floor beside him. He looked up as she came running through the door.

“Forgive me, Milord. I did not heed the time.” She gathered the tray and was about to cross the threshold into the corridor when Loki spoke.

“When you return, draw water for me. I require a bath to wash off the dust of the afternoon's ride before I retire tonight. We set out at dawn on the morrow.”

When she returned to the room, Silas was there. He'd brought two smaller braziers into the bath room. Loki was standing there by the bedside, undressed to the waist and he nodded in her direction.

“Make haste, I wish to be abed before the hour of midnight.”

“Yes, Milord.”

She started the water running. The coals in the braziers warmed the marble floors, casting a reddish glow, offsetting the golden light of the torchieres. The steam from the water began to permeate the room. She watched the water flow, letting the heat relax her, allowing her mind to wander, startled when she heard Loki's voice.

“The basin is full enough.”

She reached out and pulled the handle to stop the flow, being careful to avert her eyes as she heard him step into the water. When she rose to leave the room, Loki called her back, “Stay here Eidra, I desire company.”

She stopped. When they would sit by the fire, she sewing, he staring into the fire, reading or writing correspondence, they rarely spoke. She would let him draw her into conversation if he wished to and even then they only spoke of the most trivial things, the agenda for the following day, what clothes he wished laid out that morning. Never did he speak of personal matters. She thought about asking if she could fetch her sewing as she was starting a heavier winter dress and she feared nodding off in the soothing steam heat.

“Take the stool beside the stand and sit.”

She walked to the stool, dragged it over to the wall so that she could only see to the edge of the basin, and sat down, her knees drawn to her chest, her arms smoothing the skirt down.

“Tell me of your heritage.”

“Milord?” She tilted her head. Did he really wish her to talk about herself?

“Your heritage, woman. From whence you came. Speak.”

“I am half Alfari half human.” She hesitated, pushed her hair from her face and studied the marble floor.

“How is it that at times you will not be silenced and now I must pry your words from you?”

“What is it Milord wishes to know?”

“How came you to be a half breed?”

“I was born to a human mother, my father made frequent trips to Midgard in his youth. There, he met my mother at a frolic, or so he has told me.”

“And his name?”

She seemed to shrink on the chair. “Eldan.”

She heard the water slosh a bit. “I have heard the name.”

“He is the holder of the cup of Volundr which he and the High Court drink from when they meet.”

“So you are Midgardian born? How then did you come to live in Alfheim?”

In her mind, she could see herself standing before her father as he sat in his chair before the fireplace and told her the story of her real mother. She had been seven seasons old.

“He was with her on the day I was birthed. She became ill soon after and passed on, so he took me back to Alfheim with him.”

“A daughter of a High Court member. How came you to be a tribute to my oaf of a brother?”

She put her mouth to her knees trying to bury her answer, wondering if he'd yet remembered his drunken attack on her, “I was pure.”

If he recalled that night, he gave no indication, “How is it you are a servant when your father holds such a high place in Alfheim?”

“My blood is mixed. The High Court only let me remain in Alfheim on this condition, that I serve his household. The court picked me for tribute.”

“A daughter seems a high price to pay.”

She shrugged, “He considered it an honor that I was thought to be suitable for a position in the palace.”

The answer seemed to satisfy him. “What other skills do you have?”

“I sew, and I weave, Milord or rather I used to. I was made to leave my lap loom behind. It belonged to the family.”

“Of which you were a part.”

She listened to him as he moved about in the water and she raised her eyes. He was at the near edge of the basin, leaning on his arms, watching her.

“They did not think I would need such a thing here.” She fiddled with the hem of her dress, ill at ease now.

“I wish a new sash to be made in my standards, green and gold to replace the cord for my robes. I will provide you with what you need. See that you do well.”

She fought down the memory of the ill-fated cord. “I will Milord, thank you.”

She heard the water slosh yet again and found he had retreated back to the bench.

“The boy, Malek.”

She put her head up.

“Did he frighten you today?”

She wanted to say to him, 'no, you did', but she held her tongue. He had frightened her and all at once made her giddy, made her head swim.

“Do you believe I was too harsh with him?”

She chewed her lip, “It is for you to decide, Milord.”

“I asked you, thus I wished you to answer.”

“I believe you thought that you were acting on my behalf, Milord.”

He laughed then, “You are a servant, why would I do such a thing on your behalf?”

She sat up straighter, irritated at his rebuff, “What other reason did you have to do what you did?”

He stood up and climbed the stairs out of the basin while she scrambled to bring him a towel, keeping her eyes locked on the brazier near the door, half expecting him to cuff her for questioning him but he merely took the towel from her hand and started to dry himself. She walked from the bath room to the wardrobe and pulled out a robe for him then stood waiting to be dismissed. His reply as he tossed the towel in the laundry basket, caught her by surprise.

“You wish to know the reason behind my actions? I will tell you. It was a warning I gave to him. He will surely have returned to the servant's quarters with the tale of the cruel master. It will serve as a deterrent to any who endeavor to take advantage of you in my absence. They shall fear retribution.”

Eidra thought about Helgi's advice to caution.“Milord, you said yourself that I am only a servant. Why does it matter what happens to one servant?” She knew she was asking the bold questions but she wished to know if Helgi had been wrong. His countenance turned hard,

“I will brook no trouble with my household from within or without.”

“Milord, does not such behavior make enemies?” She knew she'd reached her limit as he grabbed her by the arm.

“You cannot imagine the depth and breadth of mine enemies, you would do well to stay close and safe and to that purpose have I done what I have done. Does this answer your question?” he relaxed his grip.

“Yes, Milord.” She hung her head.

“Foolish girl,” His tone had softened considerably, though he let her arm go with a shove, “Why must you have a reason for each action? To bed with you.”

She walked to the pallet and lay down, wrapping the coverlet around her to keep out the cold air and found sleep there, ready to take her away to the land of dreams.

The creak of the bedroom door awoke her and she opened her eyes, straining in the dim glow of the braziers to see Thor walking over to the bed.

“Brother,”

“Mmmph.”

“It is time to rise. We leave within the hour.”

She watched Loki sit up, wondered if he would call her to assist him. He ran his hands through his hair and pushed it back from his face as he swung his legs over the floor.

“Tell the servant girl to get her lazy carcass up and assist you.”

“Leave her be, Thor.”

She closed her eyes again, listening to them.

“You are far too easy on the wench. She should be at your beck and call as soon as you arise in the morning.”

“And so she is, however, it is not yet dawn and she will be awake soon enough. She goes to help in the kitchens while I am gone.”

She heard a thud and felt the floor shake. Thor had dropped his war hammer on the floor. She had seen it in his hand, glinting in the firelight as he had walked in.

“She is to be a scullery maid? I was of a mind that you would bring her on the trip, so enamored are you of her.”

“You are too bold! What must I do to prove to you that she is simply a servant? I value her services. Do you not rely on your household to see to your needs?”

Thor laughed loudly then, “My household sees to my needs though had I a hand maid as pretty as she, my needs would be better met.”

“Odin's beard, Thor, must you be so loud? You gambled her away in the first place. Though I shudder to think of the treatment she would have received in your chambers.””

She heard the wardrobe door creak and started to rise from the pallet, watching him take a tunic and breeches from the wardrobe.

“Can it be any worse than the treatment she has received in yours?”

She paused, waited for his answer.

“Discipline is necessary to see that they do not forget their place.”

“And you have a penchant for discipline. It is said that you nearly broke the hand of a field worker for daring to look at her.”

She could see Loki turn to glare at Thor.

“The boy was impertinent, crude. I rode up on them and watched the whole scene. He had her cowering behind the kitchen maid's skirts and I could not tolerate it, so I warned him off, and therefore others who would take advantage of her.”

“Others like you, brother?”

She saw Loki start to turn away towards the interior of the room and she rose to her feet, gliding over to him and holding out her hands to receive the heavy great coat, ready to assist him in putting it on.

“Hold you tongue, Thor.”

“No, I see no reason.”

Loki had been about to place the coat in her hands but was stopped by Thor's words.

“You have taken fair advantage of her yourself. You wish to keep her for your own use..”

Before she was aware of what was happening, Loki had dropped the coat into her outstretched arms and was now standing with two handfuls of Thor's tunic in his grip, face contorted in rage.

“Enough of this talk, you seek to goad me into a war of words and I will not have it. You are bitter that you lost the contest and thus you seek to belittle me, as you always have.”

Thor shoved Loki from him, “No brother, I seek to show you that there are eyes and ears in the palace that would take your treatment of her to be favoritism. You weaken yourself, make yourself vulnerable.”

If there had been a way for her to sink into the floor, hide under the bed so as not to be privy to this heated conversation on her behalf, she would have done so but it was too late. He had turned from his brother and put out one arm. She slid the coat on, held the other side out so that he could put the other arm in and adjusted the collar for him.

“I will be with you presently, Thor. Be gone from my chambers, we will discuss this no further.” Loki busied himself adjusting his sleeves as Thor scowled at him, then at her and stalked out the bedroom door.

“Make haste, Loki.”

He fastened the buttons at his wrists, watching Eidra as she eyed the floor, hands clasped behind her back.

“Eidra,”

She swallowed hard, apprehension taut in her gut.

“Yes, Milord.”

He paused, seeming to struggle for words.

“Milord?”

He shook his head, “I apologize for..”

“No, Milord, you do not need to apologize to a servant.”

“Be still woman!” He chided her, “You have heard a conversation you were not meant to hear and it greatly disturbs me. To that end I must apologize for my brother's lack of

couth.”

He sighed then.“Look at me, placating my hand maid...damn him, damn.”

She backed away from him, “Forgive me, Milord. I did not mean to upset you.”

“Faith you have done no such thing. It has been Thor who has vexed me. You should have stayed on your pallet,” he looked towards the door, “He shall not have me at odds again.”

Loki scanned the room as if trying to remember something, then grinned. “You shall have your loom soon. I spoke with the weavers who work for the palace. They will provide you with what you need, you have only to tell them. Helgi will bring you to them today.”

“Thank you, Milord. Have a safe journey.”

She chanced a glance at him and met his eyes but this time he made no move to rebuke her, instead, he lay a hand on her shoulder, “I will return soon. See that you behave and stay with Helgi.” Only when the door closed did she let a tear escape to rest on her cheek.

She wandered to the kitchen to find Helgi and dropped onto the bench before the kitchen table leaning on her arm, crying.

“I fear that if Thor continues to badger him about my presence that he will turn me out.”

“Perhaps, 'twould be the best thing for you. Thor is astute but also is he dangerous. I daresay more dangerous than Lord Loki because he is crown prince and has the Allfather's ear. He will soon be made king in my estimation and then the kingdom will suffer for it.”

“If he were to cast me out, where would I go?”

“You could work in the kitchens with us. Do not fear, you will have a place. Now dry your eyes and let us start the day.”

The week had passed swiftly, perhaps because of the grueling pace, the unseasonable cold that had settled on the land, the miles they rode to each village to receive tribute and the drop into warm cots at the end of the day. Exhaustion had been the rule of thumb and it had kept his mind occupied until one day Thor rode up beside him and reined in to keep pace.

“Are you still cross with me, brother?”

“Are you still pestering me about Eidra?”

“Yes but..”

“Then I am still cross.” He clucked to the horse to a trot but Thor kept pace with him.

“Hear me out. She is lower now than when you won her. Do you know of the customs among the Alfari with respect to their women? A virgin must partake in a ritual deflowering ceremony. There is a price paid to a man who does such a thing or a man is chosen from the community, a friend of the family. It allows the girl to become a woman. Your little maid was never meant to become a woman because she is half breed and now you have dishonored her, made her an outcast. You see, brother. That you elevate the lowest of the low to such a high status is near a slap in the face to the courts. If they were to hear of your treatment of her with little regard to their customs, they could take us to task.”

Loki's face had drained of all color as he listened to Thor. “You did not tell me that she was pure. I cannot remember what happened that night and it maddens me that I am guilty of such a thing that I cannot recall. I did nothing on purpose. I did not mean to offend. Is there a way to redeem her?”

“Now see, brother, there you go again. There is no need to redeem her, only treat her like the servant she is. Now that her status is lessened...”

Thor's debasement of Eidra removed what patience he had left.

“I forbid any more talk of my servant. I will speak not of her the rest of the trip.” Loki growled.

Thor gave a snort and spurred his horse on to join the head of the line far up. Loki gripped the reins like a lifeline. He could almost wonder that Thor had not allowed him to win the contest on purpose, so intent was he on pointing out everything that he was doing wrong in regards to Eidra. It would certainly fit with his way of thinking; set him up just to watch him fail. He reined in his horse and stepped from the road to let the contingent put distance between him and his brother. He wanted as much isolation as possible today.

The village of Rialo had turned out to welcome them. Loki gazed out over the crowds of people cheering Thor, seeing more than a few lovely ladies that the blond oaf would undoubtedly entertain tonight at the encampment. He dismounted and led his horse to the wagons where the guards were loading the tributes of wine.

He stood there, all at once yearning for someone to talk to. After observing them for a few moments, he led the horse further into the crowd to a row of vendors, stopping to finger some cloth, touching a piece of dark blue velvet, stroking the nap. It would play up the dark blue rim around the iris of her eyes. With a sneer, he took a few coins from his pouch and paid for the bolt of velvet plus another bolt of lighter blue linen, putting them in one of his saddle bags, 'To Hel, damn and to Hel with him,' he thought to himself, 'I will do as I please and this pleases me.' He mounted his horse again and rode through the crowd to find his brother.

Eidra looked at the smooth wooden shuttle in her hand, tracing the curve with her fingers. The young woman standing beside her smiled at Helgi. “My son carves the shuttles from oak.”

They had asked for the loom and shuttle to be made the morning Loki had set out and now it was finally finished. Eidra was eager to start the sash because she wished to have it finished when he returned.

Helgi returned the smile, “Such lovely work, Anna.”

“Thank you, Hel. Will you be able to carry the loom?”

Helgi put an arm up and flexed her muscle. “I could carry Eidra and the loom.”

To demonstrate, she hoisted Eidra , laughing, over one shoulder.

“Oh Helgi, you are going to hurt your back!”

“Nonsense, child. I heft sacks of potatoes heavier than you.” But she set Eidra down and picked up the loom. “We must return to the kitchen to prepare the evening meal. Thank you Anna. Good eve.”

By dark fall a soaking rain blanketed the land. Eidra sat at the table in the kitchen weaving the shuttle between the warp and beating down the weft, using first the dark green then the gold linen thread. Helgi sat on the opposite side of the table mending a pair of stockings.

“Are you enjoying yourself?”

“Very much, Milord....oh my goodness, Helgi, listen to me.”

Helgi laughed long and deep, “It becomes a part of you, does it not?”

“It does indeed, and yes Lord Helgi, I am having much fun.” They laughed again.

The rain had built to a thundering roar and Eidra stopped weaving, listening, looking up as if though she could see the sky through the roof. Helgi noticed her and stopped her sewing as well.

“Eidra.”

“Yes?”

“What are you thinking about?” Though she suspected she knew, she felt it only polite to give her a chance to answer.

“I am wondering whether he is warm and dry, If they have made camp yet.”

“Oh Eidra,” Helgi sighed, resuming her mending, “Do you think he is wondering whether you are safe and dry?”

She didn't answer immediately, smoothing the yarn in the loom with her hand. “I know he is not. I am no fool but it does not stop me from wondering.”

“Even after all he has done to you?”

Eidra squeezed her eyes shut, “I try to forgive what he has done.”

“Forgive Eidra, just never forget.”

Eidra looked up again to the roof..

...and sighed. The rain thundered on the canvas of the field tent. Loki lay on the cot crossways. The troop had been feted in the village longhouse with some of the finest wines. He had only partaken of a couple steins and begged off, complaining of a headache. Thor had monopolized the entire evening with the village leaders, not that he had been particularly interested in their petty grievances and charming stories but not once had Thor acknowledged his presence. Being a prince, he thought he would figure in somewhere. He had wound up stein to stein with the local tavern owner, discussing the year's harvest which had brought his mind to Eidra.

He had thought to call Silas to attend him, to draw water for his nightly ablutions, help him out of his field dress. The hard armor plate was nearly as heavy as that he wore into battle, but instead chose to be alone. The sound of laughter and the slosh of boots cut through the sound of the torrent outside, getting louder and louder until they stopped just outside the entrance to his tent. He sat up, listening. The tent flap fluttered once, twice, then came giggles until a young woman, a tall, beautiful, full breasted redhead with flashing dark green eyes came stumbling into the tent, Thor following suit with another woman under his arm, a shorter but equally beautiful brunette with dark eyes.

“A gift for you brother, or would you prefer the raven haired one?” Thor cried before breaking into another fit of laughter.

The redhead sidled over to where Loki now stood, aghast. She spread her hand over the hard breastplate, curling her fingers over the top edge and caressing the skin along his collarbone at the limit of his tunic. “Sire, you did not tell me he would be ready for battle.” She glanced back at Thor and winked then turned back to Loki, running her tongue along the side of his neck until she reached his earlobe and teased it into her mouth gently with her teeth. Loki closed his eyes and clenched his hands to fists as he sought to still the blood rush in his loins.

Thor chuckled, giving an approving nod, “Come my lusty wench, let us leave them to their adventures.”

Loki thought to throw a retort at him about inciting Sif's anger but his tongue would not obey. Thor led the brunette then out of the tent and into the pouring rain, leaving Loki alone with the young woman who had now pushed him back to his cot and was kneeling in front of him.

“Your brother wished you to have a night to remember.” She started to unlace the tie at the front of his breeches.

“It is only to placate me for his slight..” He breathed. Her fingers had found him, full hard. She rubbed her thumb over the tip to smear the fluid of his arousal down his length. He gripped the edge of the cot, his teeth set, hips upthrust into her touch only to repeat the action when he felt her mouth take him inside. He made to raise his hand, to put it atop her head but the sensation of her hands, her tongue, the soft hum in her throat infiltrated his mind, his body concentrated into one white hot spot of pleasure and all he could do was let her overwhelm him..

She let him go for a moment, regarding his prone form with a smile. “This pleases Milord?”

His eyes were open in an instant, his hand around her throat as he drove her backwards from him to the hard dirt floor.

“Do not speak those words to me.” He growled, kneeling to one knee beside her as she stared wide eyed in horror at him, her mouth working to say something. He pulled her up from the ground to stand before him,

“Milord?”

He grimaced, “Do not address me as Milord. Ever again, do you ken?”

Something then brought him back to his senses and he let go of her so swiftly that she nearly fell backwards to the ground again.

“Gods!”

“My...Sire..” The woman pleaded, “Forgive me. I did not mean to offend you.”

He put his hand up to silence her and walked to the stool where his saddlebag lay, “It is not of your doing.” He pulled out the pouch of coins he had therein and took out two gold coins. Then, re-lacing his breeches, took the coins and turned her hand around them.

“Tell my oaf of a brother that you were successful in your seduction if he questions you. Only keep this to yourself.”

“I..did you..”

“Please go.” He drew back the flap revealing the darkness. The rain had ceased, the torches had been relit. The redhead pressed the coins to the bodice of her dress and hurried out into the night. He dropped the flap, his face a mask of shock.

It had been too much for him. In his mind, all he could picture was Eidra addressing him, touching him as a lover, asking him if he was pleased with her. He shrugged off his long coat, undid the leather straps of his armor and drew it over his head, sat on the cot and pulled off his boots, setting them to the side for quick retrieval as needed. He lay down then, a million thoughts running through his mind.

If he were to send her to the kitchens to work, he would still encounter her. He wouldn't even consider returning her to Thor. There was then the possibility of returning her to her family in Alfheim. That would undoubtedly be the safest, surest solution. He would have her brought back to her family as soon as they returned from the trip. It could be no simpler than that. Thor would no longer pester him about her and she would be out of his sight, out of his mind, out of his heart.

And yet when the spires of Asgard rose into view, he could only think of seeing her, angry at himself for the rush of excitement at the thought. Thor, riding beside him, prodded him in the side with the handle of his hammer. “We are home, brother, now for a feast and more good wine.”

“Did you not have enough these past two weeks?” Loki shook his head, urging his horse to greater speed.

“Yes but now we will be among friends and family. Come, race me to the edge of the fields.”

Loki tapped his horse's flank and followed Thor down the road towards the palace fields at full gallop.

“They are coming!” Eidra cried, nearly slipping down the spiral staircase, catching herself at the bottom.

“They are here, Lord Loki, the guards, the tributes. I can see them coming through the fields!”

Helgi smiled at Eidra's joy. “Yes child, now come, we will all go into the courtyard to help them unload the casks and bottles and tomorrow we will prepare for Mabon.”

Eidra could hardly contain herself as the south doors into the courtyard swung open to cheers among the Aesir and the citizens of the city. When Loki and Thor finally trotted through the gates on their horses, Eidra had to hold back a gasp. They both sported short beards, and were dressed in their full armor. If their accoutrements were designed to strike fear into the hearts of an enemy, they would certainly have done so this day. Odin and Frigga had come to welcome them back and stood in the courtyard in a cleared circle where the two men dismounted. Odin hugged Thor and then Loki, giving them a hearty clap on the back.

Eidra watched them lead the horses through the crowd before the carts rolling in after them. When Eidra turned to leave, intending to meet Loki in his chambers to attend to him, Helgi caught her arm.

“They will speak with the High Council first, it will be a few hours before they are able to rest. Come help with the wine.”

Eidra gave a last look at Thor and Loki as they pushed through the welcoming crowd then followed Helgi as she headed for the wagons.

She was sitting on her pallet, the finished sash in her hands when Loki walked into his chambers late that evening. She'd been sure to have a fire crackling merrily in the fireplace, the house servants had lit the braziers to block the cold coming in from the balcony. She leaped up and stood waiting, the sash behind her back. He was carrying something large, wrapped in paper, which he set on the bed and turned to see her behind him, smiling.

If there had been any thoughts left, of sending her home to her family upon his return, they dissolved from his mind as if they had never been there. He gave her a calm smile in response.

“Eidra, have you kept yourself busy?”

“I have, Milord.”

She held out the sash then, the green thread a soft glistening hue, the gold a bright shimmering image of an undulating snake along the length of the sash, the ends in green and gold tassels. He held it up to the firelight. “Beautiful work, truly. I will provide you with more thread, I would like another in different colors.”

He draped the sash over his arm then and crooked a finger at her, “I found this for you while we were on the road. I hope you will be able to work magic with it as you have the loom.”

She unwrapped the two bolts of cloth, her mouth dropping open as she passed a hand lightly over the fine nap of the velvet, the softness of the light blue linen.

“For me, Milord, Why?”

“To make a dress with, woman, whatever else would you do with two bolts of cloth?”

“Forgive me, Milord, I meant why did you get the cloth for me?”

He stood there, caught in her gaze, trapped by her question, “I have missed your endless questions woman but perhaps some of them should remain unasked. After all, one need not always have a reason to give someone a gift for a job well done. You have learned to serve me well and I wished to express my gratitude.”

She broke into a wide grin. “Thank you, Milord. I shall make a dress from it. I will use the light blue linen for the top and the dark velvet for the bottom...” She hesitated.

“Come, woman, what do you wish to say.”

“A dress as fine as this will not do as an everyday dress. It would only be for special occasions though I do not know how many of those I will encounter here.”

He put his hand out, wanting to touch her cheek, stopped just short, pulling it back before she could take notice.

“Perhaps you might wear it during Winternights, if you finish it soon enough.”

She nodded , setting the bolts down on her pallet, noticed he had started to remove his great coat and she helped it from his shoulders, then held out her arms for his tunic. As he handed it to her, he caught her staring at him.

“Speak, woman, what is on your mind?”

“Forgive me, Milord. I have never seen you with a beard. It is strange.”

Loki chuckled, “It will soon be gone, I will remove it after I bathe.”

Eidra put the clothes down on the bed and ran into the bath room to start the water, “I am sorry, Milord. If you had told me sooner I would have had it ready for you.”

Loki followed her into the bath room. “It is quite alright. I am simply happy to be home.”

“I am happy that you are home as well, Milord.”

“Are you, truly?”

“Yes, I have no one to wait on when you are gone.”

“Ah.”

She heard the tone of his voice and was surprised to hear disappointment.

“Was Milord well cared for by Silas?”

Loki nodded, removed his boots, then his breeches and stepped into the water.

“He is young, the subjects we speak of are therefore young in nature. Did you miss our conversations?”

She was taken aback by the questions, the need in them and it only served to tug at her heart.

“Of course, Milord. I missed our nights sitting in front of the fire.”

Loki looked up at her, a sad smile on his face that quickly turned serious, “Fetch my clothes and bring them to Artra, then come and get my evening robe out.”

“Yes, Milord.” Eidra nodded, perplexed at his change of mood, “Thank you again for the cloth.”

“Use it well.”

She bowed, missing his intense stare, “I shall Milord, I will return soon.”

“See that you do, I am exceeding tired tonight.”

She had placed the bolts atop the clothes to be washed and now she fairly flew at Helgi hugging them to her.

“Look at the cloth Loki gave me to make a dress. Is it not beautiful?”

Helgi felt it.”It is exceeding fine. Lord Loki gave this to you?”

“Yes, he did, and he was pleased with my sash as well. I shall make him another.”

“Eidra, it is time you begin to realize that this in no mere man you are endearing yourself to. Sit down and listen to me. You have seen it for yourself, you have told me, he is capable of great cruelty.”

Eidra's smile started to fade.

“I have warned you about the palace intrigue and now I beg you to distance yourself from him, my poppet. Does this not frighten you? Does he not frighten you?”

Eidra looked at the cloth on the table with growing trepidation and no small amount of irritation. Helgi was right. This complete turn around had caused her to let her guard down. A mere month previous she had been simply trying to stay alive in his presence and now she was prancing about him like a loyal hound, ignorant, foolish, ready to crawl back every time it was chastised.

She stepped back from the cloth. “What would you have me do? Should I bring it back to him and tell him I cannot accept it, that it is not right to give servants gifts?”

Helgi put a hand on her shoulder, “No my child, you do not want to offend him.”

“Whatever I will do shall be wrong.” she buried her face in the velvet, enveloped in the smell of the leather saddlebag where it had been stored on its way to Asgard. Helgi gently took the bolts from her hands and set them on the table.

“Use the cloth, make your dress but temper yourself now, no more giddy foolishness. Be the servant and let him be the master.”

By the time she returned to his quarters, Loki was already out of the bath and dressed for bed.

“I did not stay in long, do not trouble yourself,” he said as she started to apologize.

She nodded, retreating to her pallet, sitting back against the cold marble wall. His curious gaze followed her.

“Eidra, are you well?”

She nodded again, “Yes, Milord. I assumed you were ready for bed.”

He drew down the bed covers, “I am at that, there is much to be done tomorrow. Sleep well.”

When she finally gave in, the last thing she saw before slumber hit her was his prone form far up on the bed, firelight casting shadows on the headboard behind him.


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