That morning when she took the tray for his morning meal, he announced to her that she would be an attendant that evening at the feast of Mabon.
“It is high time you learned. You will be pouring wine for myself and for other guests. You shall have need of a better dress than that of a chamber maid. Have Helgi provide it for you.”
“Milord, I do not know how to be an attendant. I am just a chamber maid.”
Loki rose from the bed. “You will learn. I have ordered it, thus you have no choice. Now go, bring the tray to the kitchen and speak with Helgi. I have a meeting with Father and the oaf so I shall expect to see you at the feast tonight, wine ewer in hand.”
She bowed, “Yes, Milord.” and, minutes later, was standing in the kitchen while Helgi stared at her, arms folded.
“An attendant? You will have to pour the wine, replace chalices if needed. It is not a hard job, granted, but it is tricky. You will be among a room full of drunken fools. This you must keep in mind. I cannot imagine why Lord Loki wishes you to be there. He did not ask you to attend him personally?”
“No, he said I would be an attendant, that I would be pouring wine for himself and other guests but he never said anything about being a personal attendant. He told me to ask you to find a finer dress than this for me to wear.”
They walked down the corridor to the laundry rooms where Artra was sorting linens into large baskets. She clapped her hands when she heard the news.
“An attendant! You will get to see the High Council, the Great Hall, you will be allowed to eat at the feast as well when you are relieved. I have just the right dress for you.”
Artra opened the doors to a large, long wardrobe where the staff uniforms were kept and picked out a dress, handing it to Eidra. It had a light green satin bodice with dark green ribbon lacing and a flowing dark green linen skirt that would fall just at her ankles.
“You will shine in this. You must bathe and I will fix your hair up for you. Come.”
“Freyr may be overreacting. Why are the Dökkálfar breaking off relations?”
Thor was pacing the floor. Odin stood on the bottom step, the throne high above them.
“I only know what Freyr has told me in his correspondence. I do not wish to be involved in their petty war but we are honor bound to assist lest we become guilty of breaking our own truce. Let us hope it does not come to that.”
“What do we have to fear?” Loki interjected, “Nothing. It would be madness for those black elves to march on the Alfari. Perhaps I should go and speak with them, to see if we could come to some term of agreement to stop this show of aggression.” Loki looked to Thor.
“No,” Thor boomed, “I do not trust you.”
“Ah brother, thank you. I would hope you did not. It would be so out of character for you.”
Thor strode up to Loki and stared him in the eye. “Do not make me recount the last time you had to travel there.”
Loki sneered “Did I not do as I was asked? That the results were not as you wished do not blame me. Perhaps next time you should not delegate such important tasks.”
Thor dropped his hand to his sword, “Perhaps you should take the tasks more seriously, and the consequences should you fail.”
“It would seem you should take your own advice. I am not the only one to forget the consequences of their actions. Do not make me tell Sif of your various transgressions, perhaps that petite brunette..”
Thor's hands drove hard into Loki's chest. His boots slipped out from underneath him and he landed hard on his back, his head bouncing off the marble floor with a resounding smack. He rolled to his side holding his hands at the back of his head. “Hel's fury! You troll's child!”
“Loki, you are too bold,” Thor stepped back from him, “Bring up our personal business here in front of Father? Do you wish me to speak of your own dalliances?”
Loki sat up, one hand still at his head, “There are none to speak of, feel free.”
Thor bent over with a hand extended to help Loki up, at the same time mouthed the words, 'Your servant girl'.
Loki glared at him, refusing his hand as he struggled to his feet.
“Very well then, you may deal with them on your own.” Loki started to walk from the throne room when Odin's voice stopped him.
“Loki, your brother is right.”
He rolled his eyes, “As always.”
“No, but in this. Leave the Alfari and Dökkálfar to their own. If they have need, they will call on us. Until then, we wait.”
Eidra held the cloak up for Loki so that he was able to fasten it to his shoulders. He adjusted the outer vest and the short coat and turned around. “You must change your dress and hie to the Great Hall.”
“How do I look?”
She stopped with her hand on the door, “Milord?”
“I wish to know how I look.” His tone was patient, exacting.
“Like yourself, Milord.”
He walked up to her and she cringed.
“Either you do not wish to answer me or you are of a mind to play games. Which is it?”
“I do not know what you wish me to say, Milord.”
His eyes narrowed, he clasped his hands together, “The truth, Eidra.”
The truth, she swallowed hard.
“What does it matter what your servant thinks, Milord?”
Loki stepped back, angry at himself asking her opinion.
“It matters not. It was simply a question. Off with you before you are late.”
She ran down the corridor to the staircase, stopping as she heard the door close far behind her and turned, watching the most beautiful man she had ever seen, striding down the corridor, his long hair triple tied down his back, dark green cloak flowing around him.
Helgi had explained to her what she was to do with the ewer, where to refill it, how to pour it, but she was still terrified as she walked into the Great Hall among the Aesir and visiting dignitaries. She recognized a few of the guests, friends of her father, Alfari High Court members. She avoided them as best she could, feeling that if they saw her in her present position, it would somehow diminish him in their eyes.
She managed, for the first hour, to circulate well, keeping the wine flowing. The din in the hall was deafening, the laughter, clinking of chalices, steins, shouts, roars. She did not encounter Loki until the night was well along. He was talking with another Alfari, an ethereally lovely blond woman, nearly the same height as him. She tried to blend into the crowd before he noticed her but out of the corner of her eye, she saw him gesture to her and she started to make her way towards him with the ewer.
He knew he had been about to make a point to the Alfari woman, a Guild leader in Alfheim, but could now scarce remember her name as Eidra glided through the crowd. The green dress had been a perfect choice for her, setting off her fair skin, her blue eyes sparkling in the torchlight and myriad candles about the room, her hair done up off her neck in a chignon. All he could do was hold out his chalice to her for her to fill, unwilling to tell her that she looked beautiful. She glanced up at him before she moved away, quickly, no more than a flicker.
“Eldan's youngest. The half breed?”
She heard the Alfari woman speak, and was suddenly seized by the urge to run.
“She is my personal servant.” Loki replied,
“I remember her. I remember you, Eidra, is it?”
Eidra nodded, staring at the ewer in her hands.
“It has been many seasons since I last saw you with your father during the Mabon in your village. How old are you now?”
“I have seen twenty-one winters, Milady.”
“I heard you were given as tribute to the crown prince of Asgard.” The woman's eyes passed to Loki and back to Eidra, “I was mistaken.”
Eidra was unsure whether the barb was directed at her or Loki but it was surely missed by neither of them.
“My brother is frivolous in nature,”
'Oh please do not tell her I was gambled away!'
“And he gave her to me because he had no use of her.”
The woman looked back to Eidra,
“And does she do well in your household?”
Loki paused, words all at once failing him.
“I serve as best I can, Milady,” and suddenly realized she had spoken for him, catching his glare as she curtsied to the woman.
“Excuse me, I must serve..”
She spun about, eager to free herself of the situation, failing to notice Thor behind her with Sif upon his arm. The ewer made a great metallic clang against his heavy breastplate, the contents following the natural course up and out of the mouth to splash onto the armor and breeches of the Crown Prince and Lady Sif's white dress. She dropped the ewer straight down at her feet where the contents sloshed onto the floor, shock stilling her breath in her chest.
“You clumsy whore!” Thor growled and with a great shove, propelled her backwards to land at Loki's feet. “Brother, this is your responsibility. Dismiss her at once ere I punish her here in front of our guests.”
Aesir and Alfari, dignitaries, citizens, had all stopped to stare at the confusion happening behind them. Loki squatted down to where Eidra still sat facing Thor, tears glittering in her eyes “Wench,” the word, though spoken quietly, hurt so much to hear that she had to bite her lip not to cry out.
“You shall get up, take the ewer and bring it to the kitchen. Then you shall change and return to my chambers to await my arrival. See to it that you are there.”
If he had shouted at her, it might have been preferable to his even tone, so frightened was she by his calm in the face of this glaring indiscretion. She rose, picked up the ewer and disappeared into the crowd, knowing he was watching her go, the thought hastening her departure.
Sif shook her head, “I must now change, Loki, if you do not punish her, I will.”
Loki drained his chalice, holding it out for a passing server to refill, “I will discipline her.”
“He will pat her head and tell her that she did not mean to spill the wine, then he will kiss her forehead and send her to bed.” Thor muttered.
Loki stood there, blinked once or twice, nodded to the Alfari Guild member and melted into the crowd without another word.
He would be drunk and the thought almost made her stay in the kitchen regardless of how angry he would be when he found her absent from his chambers. However, she knew eventually she would have to return as she always would and so she sat on her pallet listening to the footsteps approaching the door. As soon as he stepped across the threshold, she was on her knees at his feet.
“Forgive me, Milord, I did not mean to spill the wine!”
She stared at the tips of his boots, suddenly aware that her apology had made no difference as she felt him grab her by her hair. She squealed in pain as he drew her to her feet.
“You did not mean it, however, the deed was done.” He shook her head hard, “Perhaps Thor was right, perhaps I should dismiss you altogether. Make you a part of the kitchen staff. Then I would not be made to suffer your incompetence!” She could smell the wine, his eyes bloodshot, terrifying and fear broke through her demeanor. She could not stifle the sob that rose from her as he clutched her hair, holding her head fast, his hand shaking, and that release brought another until she was crying, her hands folded to her chest in prayer.
“Please forgive me, please. Do not send me away. Punish me, yell at me, only do not send me away from you.”
He wanted to unhear her words, her pleading. He shoved her away from him with a shout. “Stop your weeping, woman. I cannot bear it.”
She stood there before her pallet, her hands pressed to her mouth in a desperate attempt to still her sobs, her eyes squeezed shut.
“Stop,” He cried again, “Silence yourself!”
She nodded, trying to still herself but making no headway.
He stepped up to her then, unsure of what to do, the wine a buzz in his head, clouding his judgment as it always had. He wrapped his arms around her, his hand behind her head.
“Shh, stop your crying. Stop.”
The warmth of her body against his was like a soothing balm, a mother's kiss and he held her tighter. “All is forgiven, shh. I am not going to send you away, only you must be more careful.”
Her sobs had dwindled to hiccuping breaths as she lay her head on his chest, listening to his heartbeat, all too soon taken away as he held her then at arms length.
“Now, to your pallet, we must rest. It has been a long evening.”
She bowed to him then, crawling under the coverlet on the pallet and wrapping it into herself. Only when she had settled down did he allow himself to fall to the bed.
He had been unable to punish her, curse that great oaf of a brother. He should have sent her to the kitchens for good but he could not bring himself to do it. 'Do not send me away from you.' Not away, away from you, she had begged him, pleaded with him. The wine was robbing him of his rationale, he needed sleep. His head would be clearer in the morning, his ability to make a conscious decision restored. He closed his eyes to stop the world from spinning.
If his ability to make a conscious decision was restored, it had not changed the decision itself, the only decision he had made being to ignore his brother's chiding, to do what he wished and damn to Hel anyone telling him to stop.
As the weather turned colder, he procured a full cot for Eidra so that she would not suffer the drafts of the floor, he saw to it she had a proper winter wardrobe, complete with a heavy green cloak trimmed with black fur and a set of leather boots lined with rabbit. He had even resumed her riding lessons, ignoring Thor's as he lectured him about the futility of teaching her to ride. He took special pleasure garnering a reaction from Thor. One cold autumn day, Thor had come to the arena and found Loki showing Eidra the proper way to hold a short sword, he had later cornered Loki in the corridor outside his rooms.
“Will you now arm her so that one night she might run you through with your own broadsword?”
Loki had laughed and waved him away until Thor had threatened to tell Odin and he had promised to cease and desist, instead taking to teaching her on the balcony in the privacy of his own rooms. In short order, she was able to perform the most basic moves though with no great speed.
“At the very least, you will be able to defend yourself should you find the situation arises.” He had told her one night as they sat on the balcony railing, cooling off in the refreshing breeze gliding over the city.
During the day he was preoccupied with his role in palace life, but his evenings had become dedicated to Eidra. Where once he had been content to sit in quiet contemplation with her, they would now talk about their day. He often told her the latest gossip and she would sometimes fill in the gaps from what she had heard, occasionally they would exchange stories about Alfheim and Asgard.
She had as of late been endeavoring to teach him Gaelic, a language the Alfari preferred to keep to themselves as a way of speaking amongst outsiders in relative safety. She would try not to laugh as they sat on the floor facing each other, she pointing to objects around the room and he trying to remember the correct word for them. One night, when she could no longer hold back her laughter at his pronunciation, he had reached out, putting his hand over her mouth time and again until they had both laughed themselves breathless.
She had set before the fireplace one cold night with a small set of dice she'd had made for her by one of the carvers. Loki had watched her curiously until she had bid him come join her. At first he refused and she shrugged, saying that it was impossible to play many games by oneself. But he would only watch.
Finally, one evening, after she had asked him yet again to play, he slid from his chair to sit across from her in the firelight.
“The first player to reach one hundred is the winner, Milord, it is very easy.” Eidra handed him one die. “We need a piece of parchment and quill to keep score with.”
Loki leaned over to his chair, withdrawing a small wooden box from beneath. He opened it, produced a small quill, inkwell and a sheaf of parchment, pushing them over to her.
“Will this do?”
She nodded, “The object, Milord, is to roll the die and keep adding up your points. You may stop at any time and let the other player go for if you roll a one, you lose your points. It is a game of chance.”
He nodded, “I ken, who will start?”
When his first roll was a one, she slapped her hand to her mouth, hiding the smile that became wider as he eyed her in mock seriousness.
“It is the way the die rolls, Milord.”
She rolled once, twice, three times stopping at fourteen, then handed the die to him, “I shall stay, Milord. It is your turn.”
She wrote her score on the parchment and watched him roll five times, reaching twenty and she shook her head when he picked up the die yet again.
“Be careful, Milord, the odds are against you now.”
He looked up at her then, “Eidra, while we are in the privacy of my chambers, you may call me by my given name.”
She returned his gaze, “I do not think I could, Milord.”
He waved his hand at her, “You know it, why can you not say it?”
“I am afraid to,” She took the die that he held out to her and wrote his score down, “Good choice, Milord.”
She tossed the die but it never reached the floor, caught in midair, landing in his palm. “I shall play no more until you speak my name.”
She pursed her lips together defiant, as he tossed the die in the air, “Come now, you are holding up the game with your reticence.”
She sighed, then, “Give me back the die, Loki.”
His name was barely a whisper and he tilted his head, “Give me back the die? To whom are you speaking?” He made to look around the room as she put a hand to her forehead,
“I shall simply use the other one.” She picked up the spare die beside her, holding it above her head as Loki made to dive for it though he missed. He crawled over to her while she tried to hide it from him, changing the die from hand to hand, laughing, finally turning over onto her stomach while he tried to pull her arms from beneath her.
“I could cast a spell over you that would make you obey my every word.” He whispered in her ear as he knelt over her.
“But Milord,” She gasped, “I already do.”
He managed to pull one arm free but her hand was empty. “You little minx,”
He had nearly pulled her other arm free when she cried, “I surrender.”
She turned over as he sat back.
Loki crossed his arms and looked away.
She sighed, “Loki,”
“It is my turn.”
He dropped the die into her hand with a smile.
“I am afraid that I will make a mistake and say your name at the wrong time.” She rolled the die.
“You will be careful, I know you shall.” He watched her roll again.
“I am happy you think so.” She scrawled her score on the parchment.
She watched him toss the die, lost in the game, his face open, relaxed, and she smiled as he gave the die to her.
“Your smile gives me great pleasure.” He said all at once.
“As does yours, Loki.”
She picked up the die and handed it to him but his hand curled around hers and held it. When she glanced up, startled, their eyes locked and she could feel her heart start to thunder in her ears. He was leaning towards her now and she had all of three seconds to decide whether to bolt from him before his lips met hers in a soft brush.
She couldn't think, couldn't move. His thumb caressed the line of her jaw, coming to rest below her earlobe, a whispered, relax, against her lips, the taste of mulled wine from the chalice beside him, the warmth of the fire, the sound of their breathing, stronger with each passing second. All sensation seemed to stand out in sharp relief, his scent, the slip of his tongue against hers in a slow, undulating dance. She felt his fingers a slight press at her chin and finally she began to follow his lead, her hand hovering above his shoulder, afraid to touch him lest the spell be broken and thus end her first kiss too soon.
When they parted, staring into each others eyes, she was suddenly afraid to speak, afraid to move. She swallowed convulsively.
“I am sorry, I have never...”
His fingers pressed to her lips stilled her words.
“Do not apologize.”
He handed the other die to her then, kissed her forehead and rose from the floor, she following him.
“We will keep this between us. Do you ken?”
He put his hand to her cheek as she gave a vigorous nod, “Thank you, Eidra.”
If he were to beat her for any gesture, she would be content with this; she wrapped her arms about him in a strong embrace which he allowed himself to savor, then he gently pushed her from him.
“The hour grows late, we must retire. Draw the drapes.”
She walked to the balcony and pulled the heavy green drapes across the room to shut out the cold air from the balcony, noticing that it had begun to flurry.
“Winternight is coming.” She heard him say.
As she settled upon her cot, she noticed that he'd placed his pillow at the closer end of the bed and was stretched out on his stomach, head on his arms, looking across the room at her.
He lay on his back, silent, listening to her even breathing, the crackle of the fire, a hand pressed to the hardness between his thighs. She had become essential to him and he hated it even as he craved it. It was easy to order, to discipline a servant but when they ceased to be such was another matter. Now he had kissed her. He groaned at the thought.
The kiss had sent his senses reeling like no other had before, sweet, soft, exquisite and for a moment he wondered if she had in fact enchanted him. Gods, he could still taste her upon his tongue and it was all he could do to keep himself still, not to fall upon her right then and there. He stood up from the bed.
“Milord, are you well?” He turned to see her up on one elbow, peering at him.
“I am. Go back to sleep.” He started towards the door. Perhaps a walk would clear his head.
“Do you wish me to attend you?”
“No I simply cannot sleep, I will return. Rest, Eidra.”
She dropped back down onto her pillow with a muffled ,“Yes, Milord.”
He stood, looking at her for a moment, eventually opening the door and stepping out into the cold corridor, to be alone with his thoughts.