Eris watched the woman write. She recalled overhearing a conversation between two women as the King addressed the citizens in the great square, his pregnant Queen at his side. They were, the two of them, older ladies, likely prone to gossip but Eris listened anyway as any girl would.
“A Midgaridian as our Queen. I still don't trust 'er,”
“Nor do I dear, nor do I. She's not one o' us.”
“I hear tell Lady Sif is still imprisoned beneath the palace. Now she was a good fit. She knew the proper way to act at court. She was a vision in her youth. Confident, strong as any man. The Midgardian, why she barely ever appears at any o' the royal functions. The King claims it's her condition keeps her sequestered but I hear she prefers to be alone, that she don't ken the Asgardians and their ways.”
“What did it matter if the Lady Sif took a consort? The King's bed was rarely cold when Lady Sif was absent. Palace eyes and ears told me so though I'm for wondering if it's cooled down now. I bet the Midgardian keeps his Majesty on a short chain.”
“Too true. Too true!”
The women had moved on through the crowd then, their conversation lost among the thousand others around her. Could this be the same woman they were talking about? The former Queen?
“If you are to be brought before the King, do not hesitate to ply him with your charms. He has a soft spot for beautiful women.”
Eris looked up to see Sif had moved from her desk to her cot and was now laying on her side staring at Eris.
“You mean flirt with the King? Isn't he sort of off limits?”
She chuckled to herself. No man was off limits to her but for now she decided discretion would be a better option. She certainly didn't want Sif to be angry with her. Thor was her ex-husband after all and she might still love him.
“Off limits?” Sif laughed, “What strange words you use.”
“I've been told that before,” Eris sighed, “Isn't the King untouchable? I mean I'm just a barmaid.”
Sif sat up on her cot, “Barmaid, servant, scullery maid, field worker. He has had them all. I should not wonder he still does as weak and pale as his Midgardian princess be. Were it my choice, I would endeavor to get close to the King, in his bed if possible. I would please him, lull him to sleep and when all was quiet, I would slit his throat and escape to a far realm. But this is my wish. Yours may be very different.”
Nope, no love lost there.
Sif lay back down on her cot, playing with the hem of her long sleeve, “Giving yourself to him may well be your only chance to escape a life of servitude in the palace or worse depending on his mood and I would so love to see poor Jane Foster heartbroken at the sight of Thor with his arms about a lovely young maid.. She is well past due for her share.”
Should she let loose her secret to a total stranger, a former royal at that? She was quite obviously bitter about being imprisoned down here beneath the very palace where she was once free to roam but that didn't mean she had no loyalty to the realm. If Eris were to confide in her, she might very well turn informant to cast herself in a more positive light.
Eris lay back on the cot curious as to whether Sif would give her more information if she were to play dumb, another skill at which she was quite adept. Men loved ignorant women, it made them feel superior, in control and it was a card she'd played many times to her advantage.
“The Queen is a bit dull but she doesn't seem a bad sort even for a Midgardian. How do you know so much about the King's intimate escapades? Is that why you're imprisoned down here?”
Eris heard a loud hollow scraping sound and lifted her head to see Sif standing, her cot shoved against the wall, “The gods wept! Has he erased all memory of me from the people's minds? Oh that I could meet with him once more. I would leave him a eunuch....no, I would remove his balls, then I would unzip his entrails and leave him to die a SLOW DEATH!”
Her shriek brought a curse from the doorway at the other end of the cell block, “Shut it, ye harpy. I've a bucket o' water here at my side for the likes a ye!”
Sif glared in the direction of the doorway as Eris rose from her cot, “Were you one of the King's consorts?”
“I was Queen of Asgard!” Sif growled opening her arms wide.
Eris waited for a moment just to be sure Sif was listening for her response, “Then why are you down here?”
“Because the King is vain, jealous, cold hearted! He destroys that which he cannot control. Season after season did I lie in a loveless bed, good for nothing save the need to produce an heir and when he failed to do so, he rejected me instead, mooning over that weak Midgardian woman. So I, too, took a lover but when the King could have been benevolent, when he could have admitted ours was a marriage of convenience, he condemned me, sentenced me to rot here in these cells apart from my son, my baby, endeavoring to poison his young mind with hatred!”
“Kind of Henry the eighth isn't it,” Eris murmured more to herself though Sif stared at her through the bars.
“Who is this Henry the eighth?”
“Oh, just a story I've been told. So the King keeps you here locked up because you slept around on him?”
“How dare you speak so base of a former Queen?” Sif cried, “You, a common thief!”
Eris swallowed her sharp reply, “I meant no disrespect, your Majesty. Forgive me, I spoke most vulgarly.”
Sif moved to the bars of her cell, “I can see still, the day he sent me to these cells, his contemptuous brother Loki at his side, smiling as I was flogged. Oh to make them to suffer as I have.”
Eris's mind was working furiously. Would her loyalty be weak enough to help Eris find the reliquary? She stood up from her cot, strolling up to the bars to tap the large lock.
“I don't intend to suffer here very long myself. In fact I can guarantee I'm going to walk right out of here without so much as batting my eyes at your King.”
A smile grew on Sif's face and Eris was struck by how very lovely the woman was, even in rough robes with her hair tied in a plain plait at her shoulder, “Indeed? You will find Skiver is not so easily moved by a pretty woman if that is your intention. His loyalty is unquestioned throughout the palace.”
Eris waggled her finger at Sif, “Oh no, Skiver's going to let me walk right out of this cell on his own and I won't even have to blow him a kiss. I am no ordinary barmaid, you see?”
Eris stepped away from the cell door, letting herself fade, the color drain from her body until Sif gasped, “Great Odin!”
“And that's not all I can do,” Eris whispered as she took hold of the cell door.
“The door, it is disappeared!” Sif hissed, her hands gripping the bars of her own cell, “What magic is this?”
Eris let go of the cell door and it reappeared before her eyes as she let herself return, “Where I come from, it's called a mutation.”
“A mutation. Loki's spawn, Brenna, she has used such a term before regarding the ilk from that place of learning on Midgard. You are Midgardian!”
Shit. It was all over now. Sif was going to call for Skiver and they would haul her away to see the King. She was heading to a much larger prison than this one. She'd overplayed her hand.
But Sif was silent and Eris rushed to fill the empty space, “I have a mission, a reason to be here. I am looking for some place within the palace but I don't have the slightest idea where to start.”
Sif said nothing.
“....so I need help.”
“As do I.”
Eris nodded. After all, she'd discovered long ago this realm was no different than Earth. You weren't going to get something for nothing.
“...anything you touch cannot be seen. Items, people?”
“Anything. I could make the whole palace disappear though it'd require a whole lot of energy. The farther I have to stretch myself, the harder it is to maintain.”
Sif's face was now pressed against the bars, “My son resides in the palace above us. Help me escape with him and I shall aid you in your quest. What is it you seek?”
Eris took a deep breath, “I need to know where the reliquary is.”
Sif retreated back into her cell. It was Eris's turn to wait now as Sif stood there, hand to her mouth. Finally she returned to the bars.
“And you will bring me to my son? You will help us escape from this prison?”
“I swear to it,” Eris smiled.
“Very well. What must we do?”
Eidra was awake, had been awake though she felt not the urge to stir as of yet. Loki had been restless through the evening, tossing about, readjusting the covers. He would find a position, hold it for a time as he drifted to sleep only to waken with a start, bringing her from her slumber along with him. She lay there listening. Even though he was still, she knew he was not asleep, could feel his body quivering like a yearling ready to break stride. She pulled her pillow closer, rolling to her stomach with a heavy sigh.
She felt him shift position, draping his arm across her back, his leg spooned against hers, lips pressed to her shoulder, “Forgive me. I fear I have kept you up this night.”
“You have,” she murmured, her eyes still closed against the growing light outside the window, “What is it steals my mate's rest so cruelly from him? Come tell me so I may offer comfort or whatever else will smooth your furrowed brow.”
He began to rub her back, his attentions stirring her to snuggle against him though soon enough his hand stopped, resting in the middle of her back, “I know not what disturbs me.”
“Is it your injury pains you again?”
As of late, the old battle scar across his chest had been sore, keeping him even from hunting as much this past season. He had brought home unguents with him one night from the new palace physician under old Clotho's close tutelage, given from his bedside. Loki had taken the small pot from the young man's trembling hands with a mixture of delight tinged with wonder that he still engendered such fear in the hearts of the palace denizens. The salve had eased his pain though not the stiffness. But such physical ailments were far from his mind.
“ 'Tis nothing flesh and blood. It is a feeling of unease, I suppose.”
Eidra reached up to hold his hand at her shoulder, “Concern over the ritual? Do you expect dissent?”
Loki shook his head, “No, Colin is a familiar face at the palace. The Aesir pay him no mind. I doubt they shall reject his request for citizenship, especially when approved by their king.”
“Are you worried about the children? Brenna, perhaps?”
“A parent forever worries about his brood, especially his headstrong eldest daughter but I do not believe my apprehension stems from concern over my family. I know you are safe.”
Eidra turned over to her back to stare into Loki's eyes, brushing a few stray locks of hair away from his face, pressing her palm to his forehead, “Are you becoming ill then? Perhaps you should stay home.”
“I cannot stay home today, you know very well I must accompany Colin to the palace as his representative. No, perhaps it is as you said, I am simply concerned over the ritual. I would you could come with us.”
Eidra studied his face, stroking his brow, smiling as he closed his eyes to settle his head on the swell of her bosom, “I have housework to be done...”
“Which you should let Ingrid tend to. I employ her as a servant and nursemaid do I not?”
Eidra played with a strand of his hair, studying the glossy black intermixed with a smattering of gray, “Old habits are hard to break. Without Vesta, the work load is double what is used to be.”
Loki raised his head, “My heart, shall I ever make a noblewoman of you?”
“I do doubt it,” Eidra laughed as he rose to crawl atop her, wrapping his arms about her neck to cradle her head, kissing the tip of her nose.
“As do I. It matters not though. Your light, your love is all I need. It comforts me, gives me reason to rise each day from our bed.”
“Loki,” Eidra pressed her forehead to his, “All light, all love you perceive is a reflection of your own devotion. I am forever yours, my prince.”
Their lovemaking, slow, wrought with heartbreaking passion, drove his unease into the depths of subconsciousness where it lay curled into itself like a viper poised to strike.
Colin loosened his cloak and drew it off, draping it across the pommel of Agathon's saddle. Agathon shook his head at the strange weight though he kept his pace.
“It has been unseasonably warm as of late. I shouldn't wonder we will have a mid-winter thaw,” Loki looked about the dripping branches overhanging the road as they passed.
“I wouldn't put away me woolens yet,” Colin shivered as a chill burst of wind flew across an expanse of hibernating fields, “But I'm ready for warm weather again.”
“Are you nervous?”
Colin shook his head, “No, I guess not. You've told me what I need to know. How I should respond to the questions from the High Council. I'll manage. Only this ritual. Tell me again what it consists of, just to be clear.”
Loki brought Blackberry to a walk beside Agathon, “You need not worry about it today. We are to stand before the High Council where you will pledge loyalty to the realm.”
“I know, I know but nothing like being prepared and all, don't you agree?”
“Indeed,” Loki grimaced, “If you do insist. It is a blood ritual. We will first purify ourselves with fire in the sweat huts as we did for Fen's coming of age. Then we shall immerse you in the waters of the Western sea.”
“Sort of like a baptism?”
Loki paused, tilted his head, “Aha, yes. I recall Chris telling me how they would pour water blessed by their holy men over a newborn child to welcome it into their religion. I suppose it is an acceptable comparison. Afterward, we will bring you to the palace where you will kneel before the king and proclaim your loyalty. The king himself with prick your palm with Odin's staff, Gungnir, to draw your blood, you will press your hand upon the book of the Ancients and seal your vow so you will forever after be a citizen of Asgard. Finally you will be marked and recognized as are all Asgardians so you may call for Heimdall wherever you might be, hang your portals.”
Colin gazed ahead at the spires of the palace dominating the skyline, “All this only after the High Council accepts my request. Then I have to deliver my letters to Earth. I'm not at all afraid of this ritual of yers. Not in the face of what they're going to say back on Midgard. I've half a mind to ask Lily to do the honors. What if they don't let me return? I wouldn't put it past them.”
“Then we would come to Midgard to fetch you,” Loki looked at him, “As a citizen, you are under our protection...” here Loki gave a soft chuckle, “Though I profess no great love for Midgard and this you know, how ironic is it that, in my lifetime, I find myself to have befriended not one but two of its denizens?”
“About as ironic as an agent turning in his badge to move to another world,” Colin gazed about the countryside, It's okay though, you'll get used to it.”
“As will you,” Loki laughed, spurring Blackberry into a gallop, “Come along, we must race the sun!”
Colin urged Agathon forward with a hoot as they sped toward the distant city gates.
“I think I am going home to fetch Chase.”
Sophie and Rachel looked up from the menu they were hunched over, “What?”
“I am going back to Asgard to get Chase,” Brenna stirred her iced tea with the straw, watching the light overhead cast a wavering orange strip across the white tablecloth, “And to see my parents. They were less than happy with the fact I wanted to stay on Midgard for a moon. I thought I would placate them with a visit.”
“What are you going to do when you start college?” Sophie cried, “You won't be able to just pop on home. You'll be too busy with schoolwork. Let them get used to you being gone.”
“I most certainly can just “pop on home” with this,” Brenna fingered the Uruz, “In fact, I could live on Asgard and attend classes every day.”
“But you're not going to are you?” Rachel reached across the table to take Brenna's hand, “I mean half the fun of being in college is what happens after classes. The parties, the study groups, sports, all that stuff. You want to miss out on it all?”
“No,” Brenna murmured, “I was merely stating a fact.”
“You're homesick aren't you,” Sophie sighed, “I knew spending so much time away would do it.”
Brenna looked out the window at the people walking by in their heavy parkas, collars turned up against the frigid wind racing unchecked through the city streets, the cars lined up, waiting for their chance to hurry through the red light at the next corner. Sophie wasn't completely wrong, She had become used to the quiet of the country again, the bucolic landscapes, the smell of the fireplace, reading by candlelight and a million other things. The city was a wonderful, fascinating place to visit but at this point in time, it was jangling her nerves something terrible.
“Perhaps I should choose another college outside New York. I am not sure I could keep pace with life here anymore.”
“There's New England College in Henniker, New Hampshire” Rachel piped up, “That's in the countreeee! Hey!”
Sophie glared at Rachel, “She's going to school here in New York. She's already enrolled.”
“Alright fine, you don't have to punch me to get your point across, damn,” Rachel grumbled.
Brenna said nothing, picking up her menu again with a smile she hoped seemed genuine. Rachel and Sophie had been at her side from day one and she loved them for it. The blare of a car horn followed by the screech of tires made her flinch, looking up at Sophie and Rachel who were buried in the restaurant menu again, oblivious to the outside world. She glanced out the window then to see two men out of their cars arguing in the middle of the street while people gathered around them. She set the menu down on the table, her appetite all but gone. When she returned to Asgard, she would talk to her father about a position at the palace, perhaps in the royal court. Maybe a courtier to the Queen. What with the baby coming, she'd need the extra pair of hands. Her father would no doubt be ecstatic but it wasn't about him anymore really, it was about being happy with her position in life. At a shout from the patrons in the booth behind them, Brenna's attention was drawn back to the scene outside the window where the men were now engaged in fisticuffs. With a scowl, Brenna realized she was starting to see Midgard as her father often did, an angry, barbaric, self-destructable, self-serving realm.
A chipper voice drew her from her reverie, “Ladies, are we ready to order?”
“We are,” Sophie smiled up at the young waitress, “What about you, Bren?”
“Yes, I'm ready.”
The words “to go home” echoed in her head like the deep reverberation of a bell, over and over again.