It was full on dark when they'd awakened, shivering with the cold in the abandoned cottage. The fire had burned down to coals, ineffective against the harsh Asgardian winter chill. By Simon's watch, it was after two in the morning and so they hurriedly gathered their belongings and started out for the city. They hadn't gone very far when Simon asked why they couldn't just pop into the palace from where they now stood but Brenna refused, explaining to him that she wanted as much intelligence going in as she could gather and thus she needed to set eyes upon the city first. So they kept on, racing against the sunrise until at last they came to the ridge from which Simon and Lelia had first watched the attack. The horizon had begun to lighten ever so faintly. Torches burned along the city walls, around the palace, rising into the sky. To their left, from the forest floor below, came a faint blue glow.
Brenna stood there on the ridge, scanning the walls, finding faint movement, likely guards at their posts. She hated going in blind. Where would be a safe spot to appear unnoticed by the enemy if they were indeed inside?
“ 'Tis going to be light soon,” Lelia nodded toward the west where the line of light was now more obvious.
Brenna walked through the palace in her mind. The Great Hall, the Library, the Throne room, her grandmother's bedchamber, the servants quarters....
“I have it. No one will be in the arboretum at this hour,” she held the Uruz up between her thumb and forefinger, “When the portal opens, walk through but stay close so you can retreat if the enemy be present, do you ken?”
“We do,” Simon answered, taking Lelia's hand.
“Alright. The city of Asgard, The palace, the Arboretum.”
The air before them shimmered, the view of the city fading as a large circle coalesced before their eyes, the image within a silhouette of tall trees and low lush bushes. A small bird flew out of the portal, squawking into the forest behind them.
“Go on. I will follow you.”
Simon squared his shoulders, tightened his grip on Lelia's hand and they stepped through, turning to the portal.
“Come on,” Simon whispered, “No one's here.”
With one last look about her at the forest, she hefted her duffel bag and left the freezing cold ridge for the warmth of the glass enclosed garden, the portal closing behind her with a soft whump.
“This is beautiful,” Lelia breathed, “Look at the flowers, bloomed out of season!”
“It is one of my favorite places in the palace. Do you know how to shoot a crossbow?”
“I was near born with a bow in me hand. 'Tis Asgard, who does not know how to handle a bow?”
When Simon raised his hand she clucked her tongue, “Present company excluded and that is a subject we'll broach soon enough.”
Brenna untied the crossbow and the bag of bolts from her duffel and handed them up to Lelia, shoving her duffel underneath a low lying bush, “Do not shoot unless I give word.”
“How do they keep it so warm in here?” Simon bent to study a large orange specimen but Brenna was already making her way along one of the pathways, her dagger unsheathed in her hand but before she'd gone more than a few steps she heard Lelia cry out.
“Simon! Look at yer cloak!”
Rays of gold and green light emanated from beneath Simon's cloak, bright enough now to cast their shadows tall along the mosaic inlaid walkway. Simon undid the cloak at his throat and let it slide to the ground, un-shouldering the pack.
“ 'Tis the runes!” Lelia opened the flap, squinting as she peered inside.
“And the Uruz, Brenna,” Simon pointed to the necklace which was now glowing a brilliant white beneath her sweater.
“The gods wept!” Brenna hissed, pulling her necklace out of her sweater and over her head. She dropped it into the open pack, pointing at the glass ceiling overhead, “Shut the flap, quickly before we are found out.”
Simon shut the flap, clicking it closed, shook his head. Beams of light shone through every pinhole, thin spot, seam. At last, Simon set it in the middle of his cloak and wrapped it up into a bundle, effectively damping the glow.
“How are ye going to carry that? Ye need yer hands free for what may come,” Lelia tugged at the bundle, “Just put the pack back on and pull yer cloak tight. We're all in for it anyhow.”
Simon looked at Lelia, then to Brenna who shrugged, nodded, “Whatever you do, do it with all haste. We must hurry.”
Simon unwrapped the pack, and donned it once more as Lelia draped his cloak around his shoulders, “It's not perfect.”
“We have no time for perfect,” Brenna gestured to them, “We must find the King.”
Colin sat straight up in the cot, his heart racing as he gazed about the corridor. The tall windows had started to lighten with the dawn. It looked to be a sunny day too, a complete juxtaposition to what he expected would be Asgard's last sunrise. The corridor was mostly silent save for light footfalls here and there, doors opening and closing. The palace was waking up for the day. He swung his feet over the floor, glanced at the closed door beside him.
Tony had returned earlier that evening with a bowl of barley porridge topped with dried berries, trying in vain to coax Eidra to eat but nothing would move her. She simply curled up into a ball and turned away from them, not even Helgi could convince her to take a spoonful. He'd retreated to his cot, defeated.
He rubbed his face, stretched. Maybe he would visit the children in the nursery, comfort them. If only his heart would stop pounding. He stood up, headed down the corridor, trying to focus on the positive, finding none.
Brenna slid up to the end of the corridor, easing a bit further along so she could see the entrance to the Throne room. What she saw made her fairly leap with joy. There were two royal guards standing on either side of the double doors. The guard on the left she didn't know but the guard on the right was Silas.
She rushed from her hiding place, “Silas! Oh Silas thank the gods! I need to see my uncle!”
Silas had brought his pike to the ready as she emerged from the shadows, immediately dropping it as he recognized her, “Your Highness? I did not know you were returned from Midgard!”
Spying movement behind her, he lowered his pike again, “Who goes? State your name!”
“They are with me. Silas. 'Tis Simon Foster and his companion, Lelia,” Brenna pushed his pike to the side, “They have come to see the King.”
“Master Foster?” Silas stepped forward, “Can it be?”
“It can and it is,” Simon pulled his cloak tighter around him, “I have returned and I must see King Thor.”
Silas glanced at his fellow guardsman who wore a look of shock upon his face until Simon cleared his throat, “Excuse me but is there something wrong?”
“There is much wrong, Master Foster,” Silas reached for the door handle, “The King will tell you.”
“Wait, Silas,” Brenna took him by the arm, “Where are my parents? My brothers and sisters?”
“Take him,” she laughed weakly, “Put your hand behind his head...yes like that. See? 'Tis simple.”
He gazed down at the squalling infant in his arms then back up at the woman. The same woman from the palace, the woman who had been screaming his name, laying siege to his mind.
“Fenris,” she lay back on the pillow and closed her eyes, “Such a lovely name. Our little wolf pup.”
“Who are you?” The words sat ready upon his tongue though they came out much different, “The odds are now even. Two women, two men.”
“What of Helgi?” the woman chuckled, “You are yet outnumbered.”
“Yes,” his voice sounded far away, “I stand corrected.”
The baby in his arms sneezed, shuddered. He was so pale.
“Give him back to me so I might keep him warm.”
“Here now,” a voice at his elbow, the baby being lifted from his arms, “Off with you, let them rest. There is a pot of mulled wine on the hearth for yourself and Chris.”
A lady of middling age, a kerchief tied about her white hair, laid the baby in the woman's arms. The name Chris tore at him though he had not a clue why.
“Drink up lad.”
He looked about the room, spied a heavyset bearded man sitting in front of a large roaring fire, a mug raised in his hand. He returned the gesture, surprised to find he was holding his own mug, gave the man a smile.
“The son you've been waiting for. He'll fill the void left by poor Silas, not that he'll take the angel's place, mind you. Here's to his memory.”
He felt joy and profound sorrow all at the same time as he sipped the warm, sweet liquid.
“Where am I?”
“Who are you?!”
“Now to your current predicament,” the heavyset man leaned forward in the chair, “Hold fast to what you were lest you lose yourself forever.”
From behind the door to his left, the baby began to cry again. It was maddening. All so familiar and yet so alien.
“Who are you?”
The man reached across the void, put his hand upon his knee, “I was your dearest friend, you were, for want of blood, a son to me. I warned Colin of what was coming, the good Lord knows I did....”
The name echoed in his head, faded.
“...and he did all he could, bless him,” the man squeezed his knee, “Now the Protector is coming. The runes have returned....”
He stared at the form her bare back to him, dark hair spilling across the fur robe. He put a hand to her shoulder, fighting desperately to recall the face of the woman in his dream, He pulled her toward him but as her head rolled backward he saw, illuminated by the cerulean glow from the grate, the face of the Midgardian woman. He squeezed his eyes shut as if to hold onto the dream, the old man, the pale little baby, the.....the.....
He opened his eyes again, sat up. After a moment, he stood up, striding from the shelter as the Midgardian woman gathered the blanket around her with a grunt.
As Loki neared the perimeter of the encampment, the sentries came to attention but as he attempted to cross the boundary, the sentry nearest him stuck his massive lance into the ground at his feet.
“Menyir has decreed no one shall leave the camp.”
“I must speak to the Asgardians,” Loki stepped around the lance only to be met with another, crossed like an x in his path.
“And so we will when the sun rises and we return to the city but not before.”
“How dare you?” Loki shouted, enraged, “I am brother to the king! I demand you allow me to pass!”
“We will summon the king,” the sentry nodded to one of his fellow guards, “If he says you may pass then so be it.”
The guard started for Menyir's shelter, only getting a few steps away from him when Loki called out, “Stop!”
The sentry regarded him, “Very well but you cannot pass.”
Loki shook his head, confused, irritated as the last vestiges of the dream disappeared, leaving only a profound sorrow to hang over his head like a heavy mist.
“Do not trouble yourself. I will speak with the Asgardians when the time comes,” Loki turned about, head down, staring at the frozen ground as he traced his path back to the shelter and the strange woman sharing his bed.