A Web of Deceit
The following days passed even slower than before for both Aska and Loki, and this time, neither of them had it completely easy. The two tried to keep to their respective tasks of usual housework and helping with preparations for the upcoming ball, but for both, especially Aska, if the days had seemed like months only previously, now they felt like years. Everyday while she did her usual chores of cooking, cleaning, and anything else Ylva had in mind, Aska remained a silent hostage to the unfamiliar, yet strangely nice – even, at times, blissful – feelings that remained in her mind ever since that most momentous night, when she not only fought alongside Prince Loki once again, but also somehow kissed him.
What was she thinking? This was the question she had been asking herself day after day. How could she, a mere peasant girl, have managed to receive a kiss from the son of the mighty Odin? And furthermore, how could she possibly entertain the notion of his Highness actually wanting to marry her once he found out who she was? True, she was somewhat used to Ylva and Brynja being the way they were toward her, with their near constant demands and almost never thanking her for them. But to suddenly receive such treatment by someone she had come to care for so much – it was too much to bear. Even she might not be immune from the heart-wrenching lows of such a betrayal.
And yet, almost every night since, as Aska sat by the familiar fire which in the past managed to warm her on even in the coldest of evenings, sometimes, in the bright, burning flames which moved almost as if they were themselves alive, she thought she could see the prince's face. So kind, so warm, so friendly it was. Indeed, had she not realized at the right time that it was a trick of her mind, she very well might have reached her hand toward the image in the fire in an attempt to touch one of his cheeks. But of course, once she knew that she was only seeing things, and that these bizarre feelings might also be a drifting mind's trick, she wanted nothing more than to be able to fall into the fire without burning, but to be purified of this nonsensical dreamlike state instead.
Unfortunately, the strange state of her heart lingered like a soft but unbreakable presence within her, day after day, night after night. Such was how she spent the next few days which slowly turned into weeks, until, before she completely knew it, the day before the masked ball arrived.
That afternoon, Aska was pressing her lips together in frustration, for she was now attending to one of her easier chores on a particularly difficult day. Easy because it only required taking down the day's laundry from the clothes line in the backyard after it all had dried. Difficult because the day's weather seemed to be out of her favor, as the winds came at her from all directions like birds that did not know how to fly, which only meant chasing after runaway clothes like a silly madwoman at the risk of dirtying them once more. At least Ylva and Brynja were not here. Had they been witnesses to this otherwise embarrassing scene, she was more than certain that they would never let her hear the end of their near tormenting fun-making.
But this afternoon, Aska was lucky. As this was the day before the ball Odin was holding, Ylva and Brynja had decided to go together to the afternoon tea his queen had invited them to. They had left about an hour earlier, and hopefully wouldn't be back for another. At least by then she would have all of the clothes off of the line and back in their rightful places – that is, if both they and the blasted wind would be willing to cooperate.
In fact, she was unpinning the last piece of clothing, a long white shift worn underneath dresses, when it was suddenly caught by yet another gust, and swiftly sailed away from her grasp. Aska had to bite her lip to keep from muttering something naughty, but she nonetheless took off after it anyway. "Oh, come back here you confounded…thing, you!" she exclaimed, as though it would actually help her in catching it. Eventually though, after a few unsuccessful attempts, she finally managed to snatch it back into her hold. But just then, seeing as the pile of clothes in the last basket looked as though they might be getting loose, Aska rushed over to it and quickly stuffed the shift inside before hastily picking it up, and then hurrying as fast as she could into the house.
She slammed the door shut, quickly shutting out the wind with it, and leaned on the wall beside it in order to press her head against her hand and catch her breath. But her relief at escaping the more than agitating weather was short-lived, as she then she remembered that her job wasn't done. Letting out a sigh of frustration, she held the basket against her hip and ventured out of the kitchen and into the hallway.
Aska was wondering whether or not she'd regain her relief once this chore was done, when suddenly, she heard three knocks on the front door once she made her way into the foyer. A puzzled expression quickly crossed her face. Who could that be? she thought. She and the others – at least, to her knowledge – hadn't been expecting anybody. Nonetheless, she moved to put her basket down. But apparently she wasn't the only one who heard the knocking, as she then heard Regin running down the stairs as fast as she could.
"I'll get it!" she said. For a moment, Aska wondered whether she should even try to get to the door first. Not only was Ylva not here, but Regin seemed rather eager to beat her to it. Perhaps she was expecting someone. But who? Her question was quickly answered though as she watched Regin open the door. There before her stood what appeared to be a young woman, a messenger perhaps, though she wore a maid's dress similar to Aska's.
"Yes?" Regin asked, "Can I help you?"
"Is this the home of Lady Ylva?" the woman asked.
"Yes," Regin nodded, almost excitedly, Aska noticed.
"Then, she would be pleased to know that her packages have arrived," the woman said, "May we bring them in?"
"Oh yes, of course!" Regin nodded again, even more enthusiastically than before, "Thank you!"
Aska continued to watch as the woman nodded back, turned around, and snapped her fingers. With now curious eyes, Aska then saw Regin help the woman get inside the house four medium-sized woven baskets much like the one she was just carrying. One by one they placed them at the foot of the stairs. Such was her interest with which she watched them that she forgot to offer her assistance as she otherwise usually would have done. Those baskets obviously carried some rather important things, but why were there four instead of three? Could the fourth one possibly be for her?
"Thank you for bringing them," Regin told the woman once they were done, "I'll be sure to let my mother know."
"And a pleasure it was doing business with her," the woman said in response, "Good day."
Regin nodded, and as she closed the door, Aska let a slight smirk sneak past her lips, as she could only wonder how anyone could have a pleasure doing business with her perfectionist mistress. But just then, as she was picking up her basket of laundry again, she noticed that Regin was heading towards the baskets, and remembered this time to offer help. "Are you going upstairs?" she asked Regin.
Regin turned to her with a curious face and asked in return, "You want to help me with these baskets?"
"Of course," Aska replied, when she suddenly reminded herself that those weren't the only things she had to get upstairs, "Let me take care of this first though, and then I'll come down to help."
Regin nodded and then stepped aside to let Aska go up the stairs. Once she was at the top, she made her way to Ylva's room – which she was also never allowed into unless she was permitted or doing some chores – and set the basket down on the bed where she would fold the clothes and put them away later. She then went back to the stairs and saw that Regin already had two of the baskets in her arms. Though Aska couldn't help but release a slight chuckle at the sight, she walked briskly down the stairs and then took up the other two baskets in her own arms. The two then made their way to the next floor together, and set the packages down once they were inside Ylva's room. Though they weren't particularly heavy, that didn't stop Aska from speculating on what was inside.
"What are these for?" she asked Regin.
"Didn't I tell you?" Regin said with a confused look, "These are the dresses we're wearing to the ball tomorrow. Mother had them made by the local seamstress."
"Oh, oh of course, I remember now," Aska nodded in understanding. But suddenly, her eyes caught a mischievous expression slowly sneaking onto Regin's face.
"What do you say we have a look at them?" she then asked her.
Aska raised her eyebrows. Could she take the risk of stealing a glance at Ylva's and Brynja's dresses? Something in the back of her mind told her they might eventually find out, but something else told her she might never get an opportunity like this. Without being completely aware of it, a sneaky smile of her own made its way across Aska's lips.
"Well, I'm not terribly crazy about fashion," she admitted, "But, why not?"
Regin only chuckled in response, and, in an uncharacteristically daring move, Aska was the first to open the package closest to her. Immediately, she beheld what appeared to be lace across what looked to be the neckline of the dress. And before she even had a full look at it, she instantly knew whose it was by the color.
"Must be Ylva's," she concluded, "It's black – as usual."
"Open the next one!" Regin urged her.
Now that she was caught up in the excitement, Aska wasted no time putting the lid on the first package, and opening the second one. This one contained a pale peach colored dress with golden glitter across the neckline, and short, poof-shaped sleeves. Somewhat elegant, but otherwise silly looking.
"Easily Brynja's," Regin said before letting out a chuckle.
"Who else?" Aska snickered in agreement. Even so, she quickly put the lid on this package as well, not wanting the think of the consequences should either Brynja or Ylva eventually find out. But now, fortunately, only two packages remained.
"This one must be mine," Regin said eagerly as she reached for the one closest to her. Aska watched with even more intense interest than before as she tossed the lid aside, and her eyes unexpectedly widened at the exact same moment Regin's did.
The two also let out the same short gasp as she then pulled out her dress. It appeared similar to Brynja's, but had far more class. Silver glitter adorned the neckline and the bodice was made of teal velvet, Regin's favorite color. The sleeves, made of sparkling, translucent material of the same color, descended down to the knees. And the skirt, made of the same material as the sleeves, seemed to flow when Regin placed the dress against herself and couldn't help but twirl in a full circle.
"What do you think?" she asked.
"Absolutely lovely!" Aska smiled.
"Do you think Jarl would like it?" Regin then asked, a slightly dreamy look in her eyes which caught Aska somewhat off guard.
It took her more than a moment to reply, "He would think it perfect."
Regin smiled greatly, as that was exactly what she was thinking. But as she folded the dress and put it back inside, Aska's eyes drifted over to the mysterious fourth box, which had captured her attention from the moment she saw it. "What about that one?" she asked, pointing at it.
"Oh," Regin raised her eyebrows when she saw what she was referring to. She then quickly rushed over to it, and she managed to barely contain the laughter Aska could see threatening to erupt from her lips, she replied, "Don't tell Mother, but I had a dress made for you too."
Aska's eyebrows shot up instantly as she said in surprise, "You didn't!" So that package was for her after all. But how did Ylva not know?
Nonetheless, Regin kept her naughty smile as she let out another chuckle. It proved to be so charming that Aska couldn't help but return it.
"Shocking girl," she scolded her in a fake manner.
"But you must see it!" Regin exclaimed, waving it off.
Despite her previous humor, Aska suddenly regained her intense curiosity as Regin opened the final package, the one that contained her own ball gown, a gift she never imagined she could receive. And indeed, her expectations were not only met, but very likely surpassed, as her eyes widened even more so than before and her mouth fell open as she beheld for the first time the most beautiful dress she'd ever seen.
"Oh, my," she then managed to say in near disbelief, "Regin."
Feeling the urge to touch it, to hold it for herself, Aska took it carefully from Regin, who was almost as amazed as she was. She then stood in front of Ylva's vanity mirror, and pressed the dress against her own less-than-plain one she was already wearing, marveling at how even more beautiful it seemed.
The low neckline and the girdle around the waist were made of purple and silver glittering material, and embroidered to resemble flowers. The pale-yellow bodice sparkled in the front, and the girdle had two bands of translucent, purple material descending from it. The skirt, also a pale-yellow, was painted purple at the waist and at the ends. The purple coloring at the ends curled up slightly, almost as if to resemble tree branches, each with a diamond at the end. And as a finishing touch, the sleeves, the same color as the bodice and skirt and sparkling with thousands of tiny gems, reached down to the knees much like the sleeves on Regin's dress did.
Seeing the more than surprised, almost speechless look on Aska's face, Regin asked, "Do you like it?"
For a brief moment, Aska seemed to have lost her voice, so enchanted was she by this dress. She quickly remembered that she had one though, and replied, "Oh, Regin, I've never seen anything so, amazing!"
Regin chuckled happily, as she once again knew what Aska was going to say. But suddenly, realization donned on her face as she remembered another important detail. "Wait!" she exclaimed, "I have something else for you!"
"What?" Aska asked as she quickly turned around. She then saw Regin take out from inside the basket another, smaller one. Curiosity once again aroused her, and she carefully folded the dress and put it inside the larger basket, her eyes remaining on the small one. "What's in there?" she asked.
"Just a moment," Regin assured her as she opened it. Once she did, Aska watched as she quickly reached her hands in, but then slowly took them out, now that she was holding a somewhat lovely, but also rather odd pair of objects. She was about to ask what they were, when Regin, who seemed to have read her mind, said, "Glass slippers!"
"Wha-, glass?" Aska asked, her confusion having returned to her. She admitted though, the "slippers" were almost as pretty as the gown. They too were a pale-yellow, with a flower and a small set of diamonds on the toe-end of each. Aska was about to suggest otherwise, but it quickly became clear to her that they were indeed made of glass.
"The seamstress suggested them to me," Regin explained, "She's friends with the glassblower."
"But, surely they'll break!" Aska objected.
"Oh she assured me they wouldn't," Regin shook her head, "She said they're made of the strongest glass possible."
Aska raised her eyebrows again, more softly this time, though why anyone would wear slippers made of glass was beyond her. But soon, as she continued to gaze as the wondrous slippers, and then at the dress that she was sure was too lovely for her, her smile slowly began to fade, turning into a grim frown. As the reality of the ball being only a day away sank deeper inside her, so too did the reality that even if she did look as beautiful as she admittedly desired in that dress, it would not change who she was underneath it, it would not change the truth. She then breathed a heavy sigh, and shook her head sadly.
"I can't go," she said.
"What?" Regin asked, clearly surprised, "What do you mean you're not going?"
"I know what you're going to say," Aska told her, "that Prince Loki is going to be there, and once he sees me he'll trip over himself trying to get to me."
Regin widened her eyes and nodded slowly in response, as that was almost exactly what she was going to say.
"But, think about it Regin," Aska continued, nearly imploring her, "Once he finds out who I am and, what I am, there's no possible way he'll even think about continuing his relationship with me."
Now Regin frowned too, though it was more one of pity rather than sadness. And being the hopeful, helpful one she was, she couldn't help but put her hand comfortingly on Aska's shoulder. "If he really loves you, why would he care?" Regin asked, "So what if he's a prince? And besides, you may not be a peasant after all."
"But I still can't remember hardly anything of my former life!" Aska exclaimed as she shot to her feet, "What, do you suppose I can just magically regain my memory after five years?"
"You can try," Regin suggested, raising an eyebrow.
At that, Aska could only blink at her. At first, she wanted to protest again, but just as she was about to, the memory of pressing her lips against his Highness's in the strangely comforting darkness of that night, the memory of her heart beating as fast as a hummingbird's wings as she did so, and the image of appearing before him in that most amazing of dresses, dancing with him, kissing him once again…all of them filled her mind until she could deny it no further. No matter how much she pushed it away, the desire remained. She wanted to see him again, she wanted to hear his voice again, she wanted to feel that familiarity that emanated from him whenever she was around him.
Perhaps, perhaps there was more to all of this than met the eye.
Pressing her lips together, Aska closed her eyes, and closed her ears to all possible sounds as she began to implore herself, Think Aska. Think really hard. There must be something you can remember before this life, something that will bring you back. She formed her hands into fists, burying her nails into her palms, so intense was her concentration, her need to know who she once was. And yet, after a few moments which felt like hours, she opened her eyes again and, looking at Regin, threw her hands in the air.
"Nothing!" she exclaimed.
Regin's once hopeful face quickly disappeared. All she could now do was watch as Aska turned and headed toward the vanity mirror, her head down and her eyes to the floor. "I suppose it's going to take a miracle for me to recall anything at all," she then said. But then, as she became only one step away from the mirror, all of a sudden, out of nowhere it seemed, Aska felt as though she slipped on something. Instantly, she let out a cry of surprise, and fell forward until she managed to catch herself by grasping onto the vanity. Incredibly, none of Ylva's potions and such fell to the floor and broke, otherwise she would have been in monumental trouble.
"Aska!" Regin immediately exclaimed. She then rushed over and helped her good friend back onto steady feet, but it soon became clear that neither knew what just happened. "What was that?" she asked.
"I don't know," Aska shook her head as she then looked down again, "It felt like I stepped on something, but, nothing was there…" Her voice trailed off suddenly, as somehow, curiosity once again set off within her. But now, instead of remaining a simple spark, it was slowly fanned into a growing flame, as Aska remembered another important event that took place on that night only two weeks ago, other than being kissed by his Highness. Something was definitely out of sorts here, and she intended to find out what.
She did not have to wait long though. Aska knelt down and reached her hand out, feeling for anything other than the hard, polished wood. Soon, her fingers tingled as she finally had her suspicions confirmed, and touched what felt like velvety fabric. She reached out her other hand, and once she received that touch a second time, she curled her hands into fists again, and immediately knew she was clutching something. As soon as she knew she had a good hold, Aska pulled on it carefully but sternly, until she was holding what appeared to be a dark red cloak in front of her. Instantly she thought it odd, as this was not at all what she was expecting, but she jumped as soon as she heard Regin give a startled gasp.
"Aska!" she exclaimed, "Your body's disappeared!"
"What?" Aska asked. Quickly, she turned the cloak around to have a look at the other side, and her eyes widened like saucers once she beheld the same sight Regin claimed to see. Now her body was the one that disappeared. Aska turned it around again, but this side remained opaque and dark red like it was before.
"It's, it's an invisibility cloak," Regin then realized.
Aska nodded slowly in agreement, trying to take all of this sudden information in quickly. But just when it seemed that she just about had it all in her head, her eyes caught something white on the bottom left corner of the visible side of the cloak. She looked instantly, and her eyebrows shot up even faster at what she saw.
"Look!" she urged Regin, "Look at this."
She then turned it so Regin could see, pointed at the odd little symbol on the corner of the cloak, and watched as her eyebrows too shot up in great surprise. "What is that?" she asked, sounding more confused than she had probably ever been in her life. But since she herself had that question in mind, Aska looked more carefully at the symbol. Slowly, once she recognized it, her mouth began to gape open, and she blinked once, then twice, at what she believed she'd figured out. Clearly, someone was trying to shove this cloak – or rather, hide it – underneath the vanity, and Aska had a feeling she knew who it was who tried to do so.
"No," she breathed.
"What?" Regin asked.
Slowly, somewhat hesitantly, Aska turned to face her. As she looked at her concerned face, she decided she must choose her words carefully, as she did not know exactly how Regin would take it once she heard her theory. She breathed a sigh in order to prepare herself, and then forced the words out of her mouth.
"Regin," she said in her calmest voice, "I believe, your mother may be working for the Frost Giants."
"What?!" Regin instantly asked, clearly shocked as Aska imagined she would be. Indeed, she herself could hardly believe what she was saying. But considering her mistress's strange behavior and the fact that she'd felt unusually somewhat bizarre around her lately, Aska didn't think there could be any other reasoning. She'd remembered those rather frightening red eyes, and the almost noble air that Jotun woman put on that night, and now that she put all loose ends together, it very much seemed to make sense.
"What makes you think so?" Regin asked, clearly more than anxious to know.
Deciding that she might as well at least try to explain it to her, but without important but unrelated details, Aska took another deep breath before she finally told her. "Well, about two weeks ago, I went out on patrol for the night, and, I ended up getting into a fight with a Jotun woman in an invisible cloak, just like this one."
"And since we found a cloak much like that one in here, almost like it had been purposefully hidden, that might mean…"
"My own mother," Regin then said, not quite interrupting her since Aska once again seemed to have lost her voice, "has allied herself with Asgard's enemies." She then put her hand to her forehead, and Aska watched as she quickly found a seat on the end of the bed, and clearly had even more trouble than she did processing such life-altering information. "I'd always known her to be a bit rough around the edges but, I never thought she'd do this!" she nearly exclaimed.
Indeed, Aska feared she might begin to hyperventilate. In an effort to compensate for her now seemingly irresponsible actions, she then pointed out, "Wait a minute. We still might not know for sure. We could question her once she comes back."
"And how do you think she'll respond?" Regin asked, believing Aska would already know the answer.
"True, she might deny it or even lie at first," Aska nodded, "But, once we present our evidence, she won't be able to say anything other than the truth!"
"Well, in that case, I suppose I might have to hide our dresses," Regin spoke up, "I doubt we'll be allowed to attend the ball after today."
"Oh, pardon me but could you please forget the ball for once?" Aska asked, her frustration quickly reaching its peak, "If you must hide them, go ahead, but please, let me think!"
"Alright, alright," Regin quickly nodded nervously. Though once she went off in search of a hiding place, Aska immediately felt sorry, as she hardly ever acted that way in front of one of her closest friends. But still, she did have to try and figure out how things might go once Ylva and Brynja returned home. She knew that she could expect a shouting match if not an all-out battle, but one plaguing issue stood out more than any other. Now that she'd found the ironically exposing invisible cloak, could it also be possible that Ylva knew about Aska's identity as the Purple Phantom? It seemed rather likely. And if she did know, what could this mean for her? What would Ylva do? Well, whatever the outcome, whether or not she knew about Aska's secret identity, Aska knew that she'd have to carefully plan her words, and her actions, in the future to come.
Meanwhile, as momentous secrets were being discovered at their very own home, at the palace in the center of Asgard, which was otherwise bustling with activity in preparation for the upcoming ball, in an outside room overlooking the realm, Ylva and Brynja were waiting, not so patiently, for the queen, as they had done so for the last half-hour. Both were wearing their usual tea dresses. While Ylva's was black and slightly plain, Brynja wore one as red as her cheeks were becoming. Not only had she not seen Prince Loki yet, but sitting still for such a long period of time was not part of her daily routine.
"Can't we ask for tea yet?" she asked her mother with gritted teeth.
"You know we're not supposed to until her Majesty arrives," Ylva replied with the good patience of a cat.
"But it's been far too long since we've arrived!" Brynja nearly sneered, "I thought the queen was less rude than this!"
Ylva's eyebrows shot up instantly at her stubborn-as-an-ox daughter. "Bite your tongue!" she quickly said, "You will behave like a lady willingly or I will take you outside and beat it into you!"
Brynja immediately raised her eyebrows back, not only because she had been threatened with such a punishment, though, by now she had almost come to expect it, but because she also she saw a finely dressed woman, somewhat older than her mother, with her long red hair swept in a flowing braid, now heading their way, with two other finely dressed younger ladies behind her. Brynja instantly knew who she was looking at, and just as quickly sat as straight as she could. Once Ylva saw her reaction, she turned toward what she was looking at, and mimicked her preparatory actions, obviously wanting very much to impress the woman who had thought to invite her old acquaintance for an otherwise routine event.
"My dear Lady Ylva!" the queen smiled instantly, "I'm so pleased that you could join me for tea!"
The woman in black quickly returned the smile and replied, "As am I my queen! It is always a pleasure to receive such a generous invitation from an old friend."
"And is this who I think it is?" Frigga asked once she saw the young woman sitting beside her.
"Indeed," Ylva nodded, "my elder daughter, Brynja. She has grown much, has she not?"
"Very much so!" Frigga admitted, "Such a lovely young lady she's become. How do you do child?"
"Very well, thank you, your Majesty," Brynja smiled and said in a manner befitting that of the young lady she'd been trained from childhood to be, "And might I say you yourself look rather lovely this afternoon?"
"Why thank you, my dear. And, do please forgive me for keeping you waiting," Frigga then said as she took her seat next to Ylva.
"Oh it was no trouble at all," Brynja quickly spoke up, though Ylva silently knew that such a statement was a lie.
"Well then, shall we have tea at last?" Frigga then asked, "I believe you two have waited long enough?"
"Indeed," Ylva nodded, "Now that you mention it I am quite thirsty."
At about the same time, outside the knowledge of all three women, the queen's younger son, Prince Loki, a title he wished so badly to abandon yet knew he could not, was making his way through the halls of the palace, aimlessly almost, like a ghost searching for his lost soulmate. Indeed, he himself felt somewhat lost, or at least a part of himself felt lost, ever since that appropriately named phantom in purple disappeared into the night, taking his heart along with her. As he made his way through the large, golden halls of his home, he felt rather smaller than he usually did. Who could that woman possibly be? What woman could make him feel as he did the past two weeks, perhaps even longer?
It had to be Sigyn, it just had to. When he kissed her, it was as though she might as well have simply reached inside his chest and tugged as the deepest, most golden threads which wove through his heart. And such valiance and bravery she had shown during battle, having managed to separate that menacing Jotun woman from her protective invisible cloak. He had known that Sigyn had been trained in a rather similar style of fighting before she disappeared. If his hopeful theory had proved true, and his beloved was alive after all, he would be determined not to lose her again. But if the previous theory was true, and she was indeed gone, out of his grasp forever, then at least he had someone he could just as well be matched with.
All Loki knew was that he was filled with anxiety. For once, in all the time he had been awaiting the arrival of the day of the ball, he had been excitedly anticipating and yet somewhat dreading it, now that it was only one day away. He hoped desperately that the Purple Phantom would come, and if she didn't, he knew that only one fate awaited him, one that he was sure would make him miserable for the rest of his days.
But before he think about his troubles much longer, he suddenly heard his name being called by a voice he knew well.
"Loki!" He turned to see that it was his mother, sitting at a small table with what appeared to be a familiar looking lady dressed in black, and a younger one dressed in red – her daughter perhaps – right beside her.
"Oh, good day Mother," he immediately replied, quickly straightening his posture, and catching the surprised expression of the lady, and the wide-eyed, mouth-gaping-open one of her daughter. "I'm sorry," he then apologized, "was I interrupting something?"
"Oh we were just having tea," Frigga assured him, "Do you remember Lady Ylva? She used to live at court with us."
Loki raised his eyebrows. "Oh! Oh, yes of course," he said once he now remembered who she was. Being the polite prince he was, he strode over to her seat, where he took her already reaching out hand. He quickly took it up and kissed her fingertips. "How do you do Madam?" he asked.
"Very well, thank you your Highness," the lady replied with a voice as smooth as milk. She then gestured toward the younger woman sitting next to her. "May I introduce my daughter Brynja?" she went on, "She's quite an admirer of yours."
"Mother!" the girl somewhat snapped at her. Even so, she quickly turned toward Loki and flashed him a smile, despite her cheeks which he noticed were becoming a bright red. Well, he had no reason to overlook her. Loki took her hand and kissed it as well.
"So lovely to meet you Miss," he said.
"And you, your Highness," she replied, her voice even smoother than her mother's.
"If I may suggest an idea your Highness," the lady then said, "would you be interested in giving my daughter a short tour of the palace? It has been years since she last set foot in it and she practically begged me to take her with me once the invitation arrived."
"An excellent idea!" Frigga agreed, "But, what do you think my son?"
Loki took a moment to consider Lady Ylva's request. He saw that her daughter looked rather eager to join him on this walk, perhaps too eager, especially considering that her mother had just said that she esteemed him highly. He feared this trip would go badly the moment he set off, but, his mother had agreed to the idea, making it seem so reasonable that he simply couldn't refuse.
Reluctantly, he turned to Frigga and said, "I suppose she could accompany me for a few minutes."
"Oh wonderful!" the girl, Brnyja he remembered she was called, instantly exclaimed, shooting up from her seat so fast he barely had time to blink, "Let's be off then!" Just as quickly, she offered her arm, clearly expecting him to take it. Somewhat alarmed by her speed and anxiousness to go so hastily, but nonetheless still trying to remain polite, Loki took her arm in his. The two then strode off together, but what Loki failed to notice was the way Brynja waved eagerly at her mother, pointing at the man she so madly claimed to love beside her, before turning around again.
Being with a young woman he'd only just met, as he'd expected, Loki caught the suspicious looks of quite a few people, which he tried, somewhat unsuccessfully, to ignore. In another attempt to do so, and noticing that it had grown rather awkwardly quiet between him and his escorted, he decided that he might as well try to strike up a conversation with her.
"So, you and your mother used to live here at court?" he asked.
"Well of course!" Brynja exclaimed, "She is a lady after all. Why she had to leave all those years ago I cannot imagine!"
"Um, uh…" Loki stammered, not quite knowing what to say. But she quickly interrupted him.
"And I'm so looking forward to the masked ball tomorrow night!"
"Oh, you're going to the ball?" he asked.
"Why wouldn't I?" Brynja asked incredulously, "Especially since you will be there?"
Loki pressed his lips together, trying to hide his growing discomfort at being around this woman. "Indeed," was all he could managed to say.
"You know, I heard that you were looking for, the Purple Phantom," she then said.
Hearing those last two words instantly made Loki look at her. "I am," he said, "Do you know where she might be?"
"Oh, believe me, you don't want to bother with her," Brynja replied in a somewhat mocking tone.
Loki immediately frowned at her. "Why not?" he asked.
"Because I'm the one you want!" she said, looking straight into his now wide eyes, which reflected his increasingly nervous state.
"And, why is that?" he asked, not sure if he could hide his true feelings at being around this woman much longer.
"Because, I don't hide myself from you," she replied. As she did, Loki then noticed how she was leaning slightly toward him. He leaned back a bit for good measure. "You actually know who I am, and I know all sorts of things about you," Brynja continued. She leaned closer in, making Loki lean even further away from her, until he was sure that if he did so anymore he might lose his footing.
"And just think!" she then said, an intense look in her eyes, "If we were wed, think of all the wonderful things we could learn about each other…"
By now, Loki felt so anxious to leave this intrusive woman he couldn't help but swallow. He hoped she didn't hear it, and it was all he could do to try to smile and reply. "That, that sounds…" Suddenly, as though in answer to his most desperate wish at this moment, Loki heard his name being called by another voice he recognized instantly.
"Loki!" He immediately looked to see that it was just as he'd hoped it would be, his brother Thor, who he knew could drag him out of any trouble just as quickly as he could into it. Loki quickly turned back to the all-too-eager girl, and bid her a hasty farewell.
"Do please excuse me," he said, "I have business to attend to."
Without another word from him, or her, Loki instantly let go of her arm and rushed toward Thor, leaving Brynja to watch with near disbelief, which slowly turned into grave frustration. "Very well," she said through gritted teeth, "Then I shall have to let you go." Without bothering to try and chase him down, as she otherwise would have done, she instead turned swiftly on her heel, and flounced back the way she'd come.
Before long, and refusing help from any of the passing stewards and servants, she found her way back to the tea table, where she found her mother and the queen carrying on a conversation. Fortunately, she remembered just in time to retain her appearance as a proper young lady. Instead of flouncing, she walked with her still hands by her side back to her original seat, and she buried her frustration underneath a half-smile.
"Back so soon?" Ylva asked once she finished a sip of tea.
"Unfortunately," Brynja replied in a respectful tone, "He had some, business, to attend to."
"Oh, well, that's how it's been these past few weeks," Frigga nodded in understanding, "I myself have been rather busy. I'm surprised we've all managed to keep our heads on our shoulders."
Ylva nodded again before taking another sip of tea. And when she noticed that she had a full cup of tea sitting before her, Brnyja decided to take a sip as well. Both continued to listen as Frigga continued to speak.
"You know, I believe he's given up his search for the Purple Phantom," she said.
"That most scandalous vigilante?" Ylva asked.
"Indeed," the queen nodded, "It seems as though his passion for her has dropped significantly. Of course, I am only an observer. Well, at least he's managed to make a friend or two who seems to support him."
Ylva then raised her eyebrows in interest at that last sentence. "Come again?" she asked.
"Oh, about two weeks ago," Frigga said, "I saw him in the front courtyard carrying on a conversation with what appeared to be a servant girl. I did not recognize her so I thought she might be a servant to someone else."
Ylva didn't know whether to smile or frown. All she knew was that intense curiosity drove her to ask an important question. "What did she look like?"
"She was slightly shorter than him," Frigga replied, "she had long pale hair wrapped in a braid, and she wore a dress that was covered in places with soot. Most peculiar it was."
Upon hearing that description, Brynja's smile instantly dropped like a dead fly. She slowly turned to Ylva and asked in an odd voice, "Mother, isn't that Aska she's talking about?"
"Why, I believe it is," Ylva replied, doing her best to keep her own smile.
"She is your servant then?" Frigga asked.
"Indeed she is," Ylva nodded, trying to hide her intensely unpleasant state by taking another sip of tea.
Just then though, Brynja pushed back her seat and stood up. "May I be excused for a moment please?" she asked.
"Of course dear," Frigga nodded as she herself took another drink of tea.
The two women then watched as Brynja walked briskly away from them and into the adjoining hallway. Once she was out of their sight, the two then heard what sounded like fitful and rather angry screaming and shouting, along with kicking of feet, and ruffling of skirts. The event only lasted a few short moments, but once Brynja walked back looking about as composed as before, all Frigga could do was stare at her with a frown on her face and rather startled eyes.
"My goodness child," she said once she took her seat again, "Are you well?"
"Forgive me your Majesty," Brynja replied, a small smile having returned to her face, "I tend to be given over to short fits."
"Oh," Frigga nodded uneasily. In an attempt to calm herself, she took yet another sip of tea, and, for the rest of the visit, failed to notice the unsavory inner state of her regal guest, which was just how Ylva preferred it. She would have plenty of time to unleash it once she was home, plenty of time to deal with that pest of a girl once and for all.
Later that day, at the lady's home, Aska and Regin were discussing, somewhat nervously, how they were going to confront Ylva. Regin had hidden their dresses in a rather clever place, which she hoped her mother would not discover. But for now, all they could really do was wait to see how future events would unfold before them once the lady in black returned with her favorite daughter.
Fortunately, or rather unfortunately, they did not have to wait long. Before the sky began to darken, both girls jumped at the sound of the front door slamming shut almost as soon as it opened. Even so, they stood their ground in Ylva's room and waited patiently – though not completely without a sense of fright – as they heard two pairs of stomping feet coming their way. Before long, in walked a tall, black, crow of a woman, her face seething with clearly red anger, and her daughter right behind her narrowing her eyes at both her sister and Aska.
"How dare you keep secrets from me!" Ylva said in a low ominous voice, one Aska knew could be raised at any moment, "How dare you be so deceitful! The day you receive mercy from me will be the day pigs fly!"
Hearing those words, though she dared not show it, Aska instantly feared the worst. Had her mistress discovered her possible relationship with his Highness? Or worse, had she discovered her secret identity? In order to gain the answer to either question, Aska had to reluctantly ask one of her own. "What are you talking about?"
"At tea this afternoon her Majesty brought up your little interlude you and his Highness had two weeks ago," Ylva wasted no time explaining. She then looked at her with eyes that clearly reflected the fury she obviously wanted to release, and spoke in an intense voice with gritted teeth, "You were strictly told not to speak to anyone!"
So intimidating did those eyes immediately feel on her, that Aska couldn't help but lower her own. "Yes, I know," she replied in a submissive tone. But suddenly, just as she couldn't help lowering her eyes, she also couldn't help but raise them again, this time with determination as fierce as her mistress's anger. No longer was she simply going to be tossed and bossed about like a slave. No. Today was the day she would finally show her true colors.
"You're one to talk though Madam!" she exclaimed.
"I beg your pardon?" Ylva asked, clearly not used to being spoken to in this manner by a servant.
"Tell me," Aska said as she then took out the cloak from behind her back, holding the invisible side in front of her, "What's this?!"
Once she saw the condemning evidence, Ylva's face grew so red Aska for a moment feared she might explode. And indeed, she was set off almost immediately. "Why, you horrid little sneak!" she sneered, "You've been searching through my things haven't you!"
"No!" Aska replied rather angrily, "I was simply putting away laundry when I slipped on something sticking out from underneath the vanity, which obviously confirmed my suspicions! I knew you were hiding something and you were!"
Ylva gave her a look so intense it was almost as if she could see right through her. But by now, Aska didn't care. She'd had it with how this woman had been treating her all these years. "If you speak that way to me one more time…"
"You'll what?" Aska asked as she returned the stare, daring Ylva to do something bold to her, when Brynja suddenly spoke up.
"And I suppose you've also found out about her grand plan for tomorrow night."
"Brynja!" Ylva yelled furiously at her, instantly causing her to flinch. But the cat had been released from the bag. Now Aska had more than just the invisible cloak with which to convict her.
"Oh really?" she said, "And what is this grand plan of yours?"
Spinning around swiftly to face her again, Ylva replied, "Do I look like the kind of person who would so willingly tell you?"
With the same intense tone of voice, Aska dared to ask, "Do I look like the kind of person one would call stupid?"
Ylva crossed her arms at her, and replied in a semi-angry, semi-mocking voice, "Well, if the shoe fits."
Hearing that, Aska pressed her lips together. Now was the time to take serious action. She could no longer simply stand around arguing incessantly with her mistress. "I have a right mind to report you to his Majesty the king myself!" she declared, "He will deal justly with you!"
Ylva's eyebrows instantly shot up, and she moved in front of Aska just as she was beginning to leave the room. "You are not leaving this house!" she insisted.
Without thinking, which was something she often did in almost all situations, Aska blurted out, "You cannot lock me in here!"
Once the words escaped her lips, Ylva widened her eyes, as she suddenly got what she considered a rather brilliant idea. "Oh can't I?" she asked. Without waiting for a response, she instantly grabbed Aska by the wrist, and began pulling her down the hall and then down the stairs with such force that Aska nearly fell. Regin, knowing she couldn't simply stay behind, tried to catch up with them, crying, "Mother, stop!" But despite her best efforts, Brynja grabbed her by her own wrist and followed her mother through the house.
"Shut up!" she said, "I might enjoy watching this!"
Meanwhile, Aska tried again and again to regain her footing, hoping to somehow break free of her mistress's hold, but to no avail. "Let go of me!" she shouted, "Where are you taking me?!"
"Somewhere where you'll no longer bother me!" Ylva replied, clearly intent on seeing her mission to the end. Before long, all four began traveling down a hallway that Aska usually only traveled through, and at the end of it stood a door on the floor that made her eyes widen instantly, for she knew where it led to. The cellar.
Again, she tried and tried like a captive animal to break free, but Ylva only pulled harder and kept her grip, which now began to pain Aska. Before she knew it, they had arrived at the cellar door, which was made of metal and often heavy to lift. Ylva quickly took up the key from its hold, and turned to Aska one more time.
"You may come out when you're ready to behave!" she sneered.
With a great swiftness of movement, before Aska or Regin could try to stop her, Ylva unlocked the door, lifted it up, and then shoved Aska inside, where she landed about three or four feet below on the dusty, earthy floor. The only light that penetrated the darkness of the small room came from a small candle on the wooden ceiling that was often kept burning, and from the daylight seeping through the nearby window. And before Aska could even think of trying to get out, her mistress slammed the door shut with a loud bang, and her heart sank as she heard the key locking it.
In that moment, Aska knew that despite being able to usually escape the things she'd sometimes managed to land herself into, there was little to no chance of escaping this trap. Indeed, it seemed that she had underestimated Ylva. For a brief, crushing moment, she felt the great weight of being bested by the woman who'd suddenly become her enemy. Oh, the agony.