Descent-(The Path)

9

It was not long before he returned. She had brought some mending to occupy her and was sitting cross legged on her cot when he threw the tent flap open and walked in with a cloth bundle in his hands. He knelt on the rug before her and set the bundle in her lap unwrapping it. Inside lay half a loaf of bread, a small capon, and a baked apple wrapped in it's own pastry.

“I daresay this is better than soldier's fare.” He tore off a piece of bread and held it up to her lips.

She took the bite from his fingers gingerly, “It surely is, Milord. Were other High Court members present at the feast?”

He looked up at her, “You mean to ask did I see your father? Yes, he was there but I only saw him from afar. Eldan, am I correct?”

“Yes, Milord,”

Loki rose from his knees, went to the tent flap and lifted it, staring out into the darkness at the high ridge where a line of large fires burned. “Perhaps you will see him before we leave for home.”

“You are worried about the coming battle, Milord.” She picked at the capon, savoring the crackling roast skin.

“Would you not also be? In the morning before we march, I have provided for you to go to the castle and therefore you will be safe behind the battlements.” He fingered the handle of his dagger strapped at his thigh, “Why now must they wage war, of all times, I ask you.”

“The Dökkálfar are an enigma to us, Milord.” She watched him scan the tent interior until his gaze came to rest on her and he returned to her side, sitting on the cot beside her.

“Eidra, in battle, there is ever the chance that we will not see the dawn of the next day.”

She nodded, pulled a piece of warm apple from the crust and held it up to him but he put his hand up and shook his head.

“You are become precious to me. If ere these words are the last you hear, know that much.” He put a hand to her head and stroked her hair, “So very precious.”

He leaned over, softly kissed the top of her head and had just leaned back when Thor threw the tent flap open and strode in. His face contorted in disgust when he saw them sitting together on her cot.

“Enchanting, brother, will you soon be the servant and she be the master?”

Loki glared at him, “What have you come to talk of, Thor?”

“I merely wished to bid you good night and to tell you that we assemble at dawn.”

“This you have done, now leave me be.”

Thor, his eyes narrowed, threw his cape back over one shoulder and bowed, “Milady,” then threw the flap hard as he exited the tent.

Eidra closed the cloth over the remains of the food and set it on the rug as Loki stood, still staring at the tent flap.

“Retire, rest, and be ready to move with the sunrise.”

Impulsively, she reached out, took his hand and pressed it to her cheek, “Be safe, Milord.”

Her eyes rose to his, bright with tears when he leaned down and gave her what she had craved two days hence; he met her lips with a soft quick kiss.

“Now to bed with you, my little minx.”

She lay down, burrowed beneath the heavy coverlet and watched him pace back and forth. Finally her eyes could not stay open and she knew no more...

...Until the sound of rending fabric and loud thuds nearly made her pitch her from her cot. She sat up and looked across at Loki who had adopted the same pose, both of them staring at the ground between them where two arrows stuck quivering in the ground. There were sudden shouts all around them and another arrow shot through the tent to hit the end of her cot, nearly upending it.

She was up, already grabbing for his scabbard as he struggled into his boots. She hoisted his armor with one arm and he yanked it from her, throwing it over his head, trying to fasten the sides with trembling hands.

“Stay here, do you ken?” He shouted at her, grabbing his helmet from the ground at the foot of his cot. He drew it over his head, dropping the mouth guard as the tent flap was thrown open and Thor rushed in.

“Brother we are under attack!”

“I know this, do you not see the arrow just there? I am coming.”

Thor disappeared back out of the tent with a roar as they heard the clash of metal upon metal.

He withdrew the dagger from its holster and handed it to her.

“If anyone comes through that flap, you are to defend yourself come what may. I expect to find you alive at the end of this horror with the dagger buried to the hilt in the chest of your enemy. Give no quarter. Do not disappoint me!” His hand lingered a moment on her shoulder then, and he was gone.

She backed from the tent flap to crouch at the end of her cot, dagger clasped in both hands, expecting at any moment for another stray arrow to fly through the canvas and end her life. She listened, stiff with fear, to the sounds of shouts, the clang of metal, the twing of bowstring, screams of the dying and wounded until the sounds started to fade, grow further and further distant. Occasionally, there would be a loud roar of voices raised in triumph but the battle had shifted farther away and her body worn from fear, she fell into a light doze.

The sounds of voices close, shouting, opened her eyes as she recognized Thor's voice. She took the dagger and shoved it under the mattress of her cot shuddering to think what he would do should he find her with a weapon in her hand no matter what the circumstance.

She needn't thought about it, for the tent flap was thrown wide and Thor together with none other than her brother, Danar, their hands locked together, carried Loki into the tent and laid him on his cot. Thor pulled his brother upward and started to undo the straps at his side as Eidra struggled to get closer. She could hear Loki, breath a ragged panting, see the front of Thor's armor wet with blood, droplets staining the rugs leading from the tent flap to the cot, and the smell something familiar above the coppery scent of blood, something sweet.

Thor tossed the armor to the side. She heard the sound of fabric ripping as he rent Loki's tunic down the middle and stepped away to search for a cloth to stem the flow of blood. It was then that she saw the wound, a diagonal slice from his collarbone to just under his left breast, jagged, deep, the edges of the wound covered in a dark blue fluid.

“Call for Clotho! We need him, now!” Thor shouted from the tent flap.

Loki seemed to be trying to speak, his hand raised towards Thor when suddenly his back arched fit to break, body rigid, his face contorted in a spasm of pain and Thor moved to stop him from pitching to the ground.

“Brother,” He groaned through clenched teeth.

“I am here, Loki! Where in Hel is that physican? Wench, run, tell him to make all haste if you wish to serve your master on the morrow!”

“Thor, you must clean the wound of the poison.” Danar picked up Loki's discarded tunic and tore a piece from it, Thor trying to and finally managing to hold Loki still until the blue fluid was wiped from the wound.

“We must wash it from his skin. I will fetch water.”

Danar looked at Eidra and she to him. When she ran from the tent, he followed her, finding her waiting just outside the entrance.

“Danar, please go find the King, the old physician will not be able to help Loki, not with the poison from the Dökkálfar blade. Tell him Lord Loki is in great danger.” She heard shouts and could see the old physician running from a large tent far down the field. She started running toward him as fast as the muddy ground would let her.

Clotho leaned over Loki whose color had faded, become ashen as he lay struggling for breath. The physician looked at the bloody cloth in the bowl on the floor beside him which Thor had used to clean the wound.

“We must find out what was on the sword before he can be treated. Is there no one here who knows what those black nightmares use?”

Eidra stood back so she could see through the tent flap she'd propped open to watch for her brother. She turned to look at Loki and was nearly knocked down as Thor strode through the tent flap. “I will find out.”

Eidra watched Thor trot down the road to where a number of guards had assembled, only then did she sidle up to Clotho.

“It is Strychnos. I sent Danar to fetch King Freyr. He has a ready supply of the antidote.”

Loki convulsed against Clotho's hand as he tried in vain to hold him to the cot. Eidra lay across his chest then, to no avail as she was heaved to the side by the ever growing spasms.

The sound of clanking armor and chains turned her attention to the tent flap to see Thor enter with a tall charcoal-skinned young man with long grey hair, rough in the face but graceful in body, his armor blue black to match the shackles he now sported on his wrists.

“I see death has come to claim the dark prince.” The Dökkálfari chuckled as he watched Loki thrash about the cot, his breathing labored.

“And you will join him if you do not tell us how we may save him.” Thor growled, shaking the man hard enough to rattle his armor and his teeth simultaneously.

The Dökkálfari's eyes scanned the tent and settled on Eidra, “Ask the Alfari woman, she knows.”

Thor scowled at Eidra, “Is this true wench?”

She opened her mouth to speak but the words stuck, leaden in her throat.

“Your master will die and you lose your tongue?” Thor reached for her, catching her by the shirt. “Tell me or you shall be the next to join the march to Hel!”

“I...I sent for the King, he has the antidote!” She cried, shoving at Thor's hand to no effect.

“Ah but will it be too late?” The Dökkálfari mused, rocking on his heels.

Danar threw open the tent flap as Freyr stooped to enter the tent, still in his armor, its shining silver surface now muddied with dirt and blood, his brown-gray hair wild atop his head, beard tied with a leather thong. Thor let Eidra go and approached Freyr,

“Your Majesty, can you save my brother? He has been wounded...”

Freyr held up his hand to Thor, pulling from a pouch at his side, a small bottle which he unstoppered. He then nodded to the Dökkálfari standing beside him, “Jagen,” and turned to Thor. “Open his mouth, he must swallow this.”

Thor took Loki's face in his hands. His skin had grown cold, slick with sweat, his hair now plastered to his cheeks. Thor jabbed his thumbs into the hinges of Loki's jaw, forcing it down as Loki fought him.

“Brother, you must let me open your mouth.” Thor grunted with the effort but at last, his teeth parted and Freyr, bent above him, emptied the contents of the small vial into his mouth. Loki began to choke then.Thor lifted him upright from the cot as he threw his head back in another spasm.

Eidra stood in the background, arms wrapped around herself, eyes wide with shock, sure she was watching him die before her very eyes.

Thor let him back down to the cot as the convulsions continued and they stepped back.

“Now we wait and see if I was too late.” Freyr boomed.

“If I were willing to bet, I'd put my coin on seeing the dark prince in Hel.” Jagen piped up.

Freyr smiled broadly, threw his arm heavily about Jagen's shoulders and shook him, “It is so good to see you, I have been waiting to talk to you, let us go outside shall we?”

“Wait, if this is about..”

The Dökkálfari's response was cut short as the tent flap swung closed. Clotho and Thor looked at Loki who lay there panting, eyes closed, finally Clotho sighed, “I cannot sew his wound until he stops thrashing around, I will return with fresh linen.”

Thor watched his brother intently, his face a mask of concern as Eidra sat on her cot. Suddenly she felt Danar's hand on her head. “Outside little sister.”

She stood and followed Danar out of the tent into what had now turned to full night, the torches blazing along the muddy road through the encampment. The castle high above them shone in the light of the full moon, blue white.

“Father did not know you would be here with the Adgardians. Do you wish me to tell him?”

She shook her head, “It would bring him dishonor to see me like this. How fairs he?”

Danar smiled, tugged his short blond goatee, “He is well, he fought in the battle. It has been many seasons since he saw action such as this.” He looked up at the soaring walls of the castle, “You serve the Crown Prince?”

She bowed her head, “I serve the dark prince, Loki.”

Danar's steel blue eyes grew wide. “You were sent as tribute to Thor. How in Hel did you come to serve in Loki's household?”

She wondered whether to tell him the truth or devise a lie, not knowing the outcome of either path, she waited until he asked the question again.

“Eidra, why do you serve the dark prince?”

“Thor played a bet with his brother and lost. I was the prize.”

Danar drew himself to his full height, “I will report this to father, he must know of it. Thor has done a great dishonor.”

“No, brother, please.”

He drew his fingers through his long blond hair, “Eidra you were not meant for the likes of Loki.”

“If you tell father, he may want me to return,” Eidra took Danar's hand and held it, “Leave it be please.”

“What does the prince hold over you that you would beg to remain with him?”

She squeezed his hand tighter, “Danar, he treats me well. I wish to stay and serve him. I implore you, say nothing. I shall be in you debt.”

Danar shook his head, “As you wish, little sister. Only say the word and I will come to fetch you away,” he bowed, “I will take my leave now. Peace to you.”

She watched him walk down the road towards the Alfari encampment, unsure whether she should have told him what she did. Only when she could no longer see him did she turn and re-enter the tent.

Clotho had returned with fresh linen. She was relieved to see Loki had stopped his thrashing about though his color had not returned. He lay still, drifting in and out of consciousness while Clotho, had begun to sew the gash together with heavy sinew. She noted that the older scar at his shoulder had faded to a dark pink line.

She sat on her cot and let Clotho do his work, “Where is Lord Thor?”

Clotho let loose a laugh, “He said he was going to inform the Allfather that Loki still lived. I must question why the old goat could not be bothered to come see the boy himself.”

Eidra wanted to go to Loki, wipe his fevered brow, stroke his cheek but she stayed upon the cot for fear that Thor or worse, Odin would see her though she needn't have worried as the night wore on and they remained the only people in the tent. She heard the sound of heavy equipment being moved, men, soldiers talking, at one point the lilting sounds of Gaelic passing by. Clotho stood and moved the short stool he'd set in front of Loki so that he could sew his wound.

“We have done all we can do for him now. Watch over him, child,” Clotho laid his hand on her head, “Summon me if he worsens.”

“I shall do so, thank you.”

Clotho smiled warmly and ducked out of the tent. Eidra approached Loki and knelt on the ground beside the cot, watching his chest rise and fall, then she took the sleeve of her wool shirt and wiped his forehead. She felt hungry, nauseatingly so, she hadn't eaten since sunset the day before the battle but she refused to leave him and so she swallowed her hunger down until she recalled the bit of bread and remains of the capon wrapped in linen beneath her upended cot. She drew out the food, reset her cot and sat down to eat. When she'd had her fill, she set the linen on the ground, wrapped herself in her blankets and waited.

The coughing started her awake. She sat up to see Loki leaning over the edge of the bed looking as if he was going to be sick. She jumped from the cot, ran to the water bucket parked beside the tent flap and shoved the bucket up to his cot just in time. He retched, folding in on himself, his body purging the contents of his stomach into the bucket. She sat on the cot beside him, holding his hair twisted around her hand, the other rubbing his back as he continued into dry heaves, his hands gripping the edges of the bucket tight enough to whiten his knuckles. All at once, he leaned back on the pillows, taking in great lungfuls of air, and she rose from the cot.

“Milord, I will get some fresh water for you.”

She could have shouted for joy when she heard him respond, “No, Eidra, call for it. Do not leave the tent.”

“Yes, Milord.”

She stuck her head out of the tent and pulled it back in. “Milord, there is no one to call save for the sentries. I will be back.”

“Where is my dagger?”

She knelt beside her cot and drew the blade from underneath the mattress, “Here, Milord.”

He closed his eyes for a moment, looked up at her as she held it out to him, “No, slide it into your shirt sleeve. If you find yourself cornered, make quick work of them. Now go, and hurry back, or I shall come looking for you.”

She stuck the dagger up her sleeve, shuddering to think what would happen if Thor found her with it on her person, then slipped out of the tent into the torchlit darkness.

Moments later, she returned with a fresh bucket of water, trying not to slosh it as she walked over to his cot. She withdrew the dagger from her sleeve and slid it beneath the cot then picked up a pewter dipper of water from the bucket and held it to his lips.

“Do not drink it so quickly, it is too cold and you will only sick it up again.” She pulled the dipper from him and set it in the bucket.

“Rest now, I will stoke the brazier, it is so cold out. I will get you a fresh tunic.”

She dug in the trunk at the head of his cot.

“Sit up.”

She pulled the brown tunic over his arms, down over his head.

“Thank you, Eidra.” He murmured, exhaustion threatening to close his eyes.

Eidra returned to her cot and lay back down, “Good night, Milord.”

“Mmmm,”

Her eyes had started to drift shut when she heard him again, “Eidra?”

“Yes, Milord.”

“I am cold.”

She sat up, glanced over at him, his coverlet pulled to his chin, curled into himself on his side. She could see him shiver from across the tent.

“I will move the brazier closer.”

“Would you share your warmth with me?”

Eidra hesitated, glanced at the tent flap, to him, then rose and walked to the side of his cot where he lifted the coverlet. She slid in, facing him as he wrapped his arms around her and pulled her close, her cheek pressed to his shoulder, her arms crossed before her. He pressed his lips to her hair, breathing in her scent, the comfort of her heat, the weight of her body as it settled against his.

“We are safe now,” He murmured. She felt the hum of his voice at her hands which she had opened against his chest.

“Yes, Milord. Will we be able to return to Asgard soon?”

Despite her trepidation should she be discovered in such a position, she was becoming sleepy, her eyes drooping shut. She felt safe, content as she snuggled closer to him.

“We shall see what tomorrow brings.”

She had settled into the crook of his arm and was soon adrift in the ether. He lay listening as her breathing slowed, pulled her head forward and tucked the covers around her, joining her in slumber moments later.


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