Colin stepped out of his tent and squinted up at the sun as he draped his jacket over his arm. It was an unseasonably mild day, turning the roads into a mix of icy slush and mud. The walk to the manor would be laborious. He hiked his satchel higher on his shoulder and set off toward the front gates.
By the time he stood at the end of the manor drive, the sun had disappeared behind gray clouds and the temperature had dropped considerably. He stared down the lane where he could just see the manor door and the windows on either side of it. All was quiet. It had been a few days since Vesta's passing and he felt like an ass for cutting out at the worse possible time. Any chiding he received would be well deserved. Maybe they'd tell him to return the way he'd come but he wouldn't find the answers standing here in the roadway waiting to get trampled by a passing wagon. With a heavy sigh, he started down the lane toward the manor.
Upon the second knock, there came a click as the latch was withdrawn and Hal appeared in the doorway. He looked drawn, moreso than normal, his face pale, somber. His eyes rimmed with red.
“Master Denehy. May I help you?”
Even his voice was flat, toneless.
“Let me say first off that I am so very sorry about yer wife, Hal.”
Hal managed a thin lipped grin and a slight bow before his demeanor was once again locked away behind sad eyes, “Thank you, sir. The gods saw fit to let her sleep her life away. A fitting reward for a life of servitude.”
“Indeed it is. Um, Hal, I'm looking for Loki. I need to speak to him.”
Hal looked over his shoulder into the manor then gave a nod to Colin, “His Highness is in the stables or he was as of this morning.”
“Thank you,” Colin turned about on the doorstep in his haste to find Loki but Hal's next question stopped him.
“Have you come back to the manor to stay, sir?”
“I don't rightly know, Hal, but I'm aiming for it.”
A high whinny followed by a loud rattle and a curse echoed out of the stable doors into the early afternoon air. Colin crept forward until he could see inside. Eldred stood holding Blackberry's head by her harness while Loki knelt to the ground behind her left flank and lifted her hoof into his lap.
“As cantankerous as any woman she is,” he grumbled, “Keep her still, Eldred, ere she separates my head from my body with a kick.”
Loki lifted a file from the hay strewn stable floor and began to file the edge of Blackberry's hoof. She gave a snort but didn't move. Colin watched Loki work, thinking of the shock and disbelief such a scene would cause back in New York.
“Um, your Highness?”
Colin glanced up to find Eldred staring at him.
“What is it?” Loki set the file down, groping about beside him for the trimmers.
“You have a visitor.”
Loki looked up at Eldred then turned his head to look at Colin. He held his stare for so long, Colin considered backing away from the stable and returning to the encampment but finally Loki resumed his search for the trimmers with a murmured, “Where in the gods are they?”
Colin fidgeted a few moments, moving his weight from foot to foot until Loki lifted the trimmers from the hay, “What brings you to the manor, Master Denehy?”
Colin felt his heart sink though he attempted a half hearted jibe, “Thought I might be missed, I suppose.”
Loki said nothing, continued to snip at the edges of Blackberry's hoof. At each click of the heavy tongs, the horse shuddered.
Emboldened by Loki's admission, Colin moved closer, “It feels good to know people are wanting to see you.”
Colin wiped his palms on his breeches, “I missed the family something terrible meself. And I thought hard upon what I did,”
Loki picked up the file again though he paused, waiting.
“....but it wasn't that I didn't think Kane could help Vesta, it's just that I wanted to give her the best chance for survival. I mean even you have to admit our medicine is far more advanced than yer own,” Colin watched Loki's jaw clench but there was no stopping now, he had to say what he was going to if he was going to be honest, “And as it was, nothing could be done by either doctor. What does it matter if one man is better at his job than another when the call for all hands on deck comes as long as it gets done in the end?”
Loki began to file at the edge of Blackberry's hoof again, “Do you know Hal defended you? The day after you left, he begged me to let him visit you to thank you for your concern, your effort to save Vesta. He saw deeper into your actions than any one of us, deeper even than I did. Perhaps I have been blinded by my encounters with Midgard and become too quick to pass judgment. Eidra has been on me every day though I assured her you would return. After all, you left some of your things in your room.”
“Well that's not the only reason I came back,” Colin smiled, “Though I'm grateful you let me alone.”
Loki looked up at Colin, “Oh?”
“Aye, it gave me time to think about my decision,” Colin undid the flap of his satchel and stuck his hand inside, his heart pounding as his fingers at first felt nothing save rough leather, finally he laid hold of the letter and drew it out, passing it to Loki who wiped his hands on his tunic and took it from him, “I'll lose me job, of that I'm sure, or at least reasonably sure. They'll claim they could never fully trust me and that's fine. I'll probably have to petition them every time I want to visit Midgard. I was after thinking I'd like to bring me parents for a stay. Da would be up for it, I'm not sure about Ma. Maybe they'd like it enough to stay. Doubt it though, Ma loves her telly and her electric range...”
Colin bit his lip in an effort stop his nervous babbling though Loki said nothing, merely continued to read the letter. At last he pushed himself up from the floor and stood there gazing at the letter in his hand.
Before Colin could say another word, Loki was gripping him by the shoulders, a half grin lighting up his face, “We shall bring this letter to Thor on the morrow, my friend. He will give his approval and we will formally welcome you as a citizen of Asgard at the next meeting of the High Council.”
“H..how...what...do you think Thor will...say yes?” Colin stammered as Loki let him go, taking his forearm in a hearty shake.
“How can he refuse the only other Midgardian he has come to trust save his agent friend Coulson? It will be done, I will represent you before the Council. Come let us retreat to the manor, you must tell the family of your intentions. Eldred, finish shoeing Blackberry.”
“Yes, your Highness,” Eldred bowed as Loki guided Colin out of the stable and up the road toward the house.
“Eidra!” Loki called up the stairs, “Come here, quick!”
The creak of a door opening and the sound of rapid footsteps made Colin smile as they looked up to the second floor balcony railing, “Good Freyr! Whatever is the matter?........Colin!”
Eidra hurried down the steps, her skirt bunched into her hands, “Colin, oh it is so wonderful to see you!”
She wrapped Colin into a tight hug then held him at arms length, “I told Loki to fetch you but he has a will hard as any rock. Come to the sitting room.”
“Eidra,” Loki took her hand, drawing her to him, pressing the letter into her palm, “Colin has written a letter to the King.”
Eidra unfolded it, frowned, “Loki I cannot read Midgardian, you know this.”
“I do and so I will tell you. Colin has requested to become a citizen of Asgard.”
Eidra put a hand to her mouth, “Like your scientist friend, Simon Foster?”
“Simon asked for asylum. That's a bit different. What I'm doing is defecting. I'm relinquishing my Midgardian citizenship for Asgard,” Colin shook his head, “Kind of hits home when I say it aloud.”
Eidra handed Loki back the letter, hooking her arm into Colin's, “Such wonderful news deserves a special meal. I will speak with Gretten.”
“Is everything alright?” came a voice from overhead. Ingrid was standing at the bannister, Cait at her side, lifting herself up to stare down at the group.
“Everything is fine. Colin has returned. He is to become a citizen of the realm!” Eidra called.
“How grand!” Ingrid cried clapping her hands together.
Colin spied Edie's face between the banister rails and waved to her, “Ah don't be celebrating yet. I've not gotten the go ahead.”
“There will be no opposition from the royal adviser, rest assured,” Loki put his hand to his chest.
“Perhaps finally you might settle down and find yourself a fine Asgardian woman, one who will bear you a family. Oh I must tell the Queen. We shall scour the court for eligible maidens. I am so very excited!” Eidra wrapped her arms about herself.
“Go speak with Gretten, woman,” Loki gently prodded her along, “As you intended.”
Eidra sailed from the foyer, talking to herself as she went. Loki winked at Colin then, “She does so love to play matchmaker. Be prepared.”
Colin smiled, “After this, I think I can handle about anything.”
Agent: Colin M. Denehy
When I first wrote up my defection, I showed it to Mister Stark. Of course he had little reaction save for the fact that he claimed to have known all along this was going to happen. I invited him to join me but he declined. Says he's too attached to his stuff. I know there was more he wanted to say but I was discrete enough not to pry further. He's become a bit paranoid since the rejection of the new longhouse. I think he expects Fury to come storming through the portal with a battalion ready to commandeer the whole operation. He worries about spies in the encampment. Me, I think he needs a vacation.
As I said, Stark's reaction I expected. Loki's was a bit more of a surprise. I honestly thought he was going to rip the letter up and toss it in my face, I guess because no one had come to bring the petulant child back home. I figured they were happier with me out of the picture but they welcomed me back with a haunch of venison and all the trimmings. I was overwhelmed. I also felt confident in my decision. Eidra is full of ideas in which Loki willingly indulges her. For instance, she says they will have a cottage built for me in the spring, Loki nods, adds that the manor has extensive grounds and I should have placement wherever I like. She insists upon a fete at the manor as well where she intends to invite the eligible ladies of the court. Loki grimaces at the suggestion though he approves of it with a wave of his hand and a nod. Myself, I've been thinking about Noni as of late but with my defection, it seems pretty likely all hope of a relationship there has been buried deep. Still and all, I knew this. I thought long and hard on it when I decided I wanted to remain here on Asgard. So I'll play along with Eidra, who knows, maybe I will find a beautiful Asgardian woman who won't mind the fact I'm a simple man from Midgard. Might even be attracted by the novelty of it all.
The next morning, we traveled to the palace and delivered the letter to Thor who read my request and assured me the matter would be presented to the High Council at the meeting in a few days. I am expected also to attend and state my intent to defect as well as my reasons for doing so. May I add here that I hate the term, defect. It sounds so old Cold War era. I prefer to call my choice a change of address. Takes away that derogatory edge. Anyhow, I will have to write up my reasons and read them before the King, Loki and the whole council as well as any spectators who wish to join us, and as Loki tells me I am the first Midgardian to change sides so to speak, I expect there will be no dearth of company on that day.
But harder still than stating your case before a jury of strangers are the things you have to do for yourself ...like informing your parents about your decision to take up housekeeping in another realm which actually wouldn't be so bad if AerLingus booked inter-dimensional flights. But seeing as that's not going to happen right off, I'm going to have to weather the storm. Da will likely be okay with it considering as he knows what he knows. He might even attempt a visit. With Ma, I'll probably be the one taking a day trip here and there and that's fine. For the time being however, I'm putting off the whole affair. I'll write it up if I'm approved. I say if because nothing is definite yet. It all depends on how the High Council votes. Loki has said he'll be my sponsor, substantiate my character, confirm my dedication to the Asgardian way of life. Of course that brought up another spate of questions. What would I do here on Asgard? I mean I not much of a farmer though Eidra assured me herself and Ingrid would help plant me a garden, procure a cow and some chickens. But I have to find a way to make my living, I said to Loki. Then it came to me, I would become a scholar. Before any of you start laughing, consider this, I could educate the Aesir about Midgard. Become a true ambassador in the sense of the word, not the militants in disguise the war mongers back home intended to send here. Write all I know about the world I came from, and perhaps it will work both ways as well. In time I'll be able to expound upon the simple beauty that is Asgard, send my writing to Midgard and educate them in the process, however, I'm putting the horse before the cart in all actuality. First I have to become an Asgardian and I've taken the first step.
Eris scanned the crowded square, her gaze drifting over Sulyir, sitting at the edge of the fountain, his face shrouded behind his cloak. She turned, looked down the street from which she'd emerged, watched the Oak and Thistle's wooden sign sway in the chill breeze surprised at the grief she felt knowing she would likely never again see the interior of the tavern or sit at the bar and talk with hard headed, soft hearted Perth. And poor misguided, sweet Neve. Her throat stung with tears as she faced the square again and her intended target, one of the vendors a few stalls away. The proprietor, a stout woman dressed in a dark green shift and a leather apron which covered her from shoulder to kneecap, was a silversmith. Eris had watched the dark prince himself stop at her stall from time to time, probably to purchase a trinket for his wife or one of his children. Eris eyed the black cloth covered bench at the front of the stall where was displayed an intricately wrought necklace, a few bracelets and a bowl of various rings. The necklace, done in silver with red and green stones in the shape of a knot, was her target. It looked expensive enough to gain her entrance into the palace cells and she didn't expect to keep it in any case. All she had to do was wait for the right time.
A deep laugh turned her attention to her left where two square guards were making their way through the crowded marketplace, talking with the people they passed. They were close enough that any commotion would fall under their radar. Eris slipped into the stream of patrons passing by the stalls. Her hands were trembling, her feet numb from standing on the cold cobblestones. She'd be lucky to get very far. She took a deep breath. The silversmith tossed her long red braid over her shoulder and leaned over the small forge at the back of the stall. She had to turn around or Eris would be able to waltz away with the necklace and the whole affair would need to be repeated.
She passed the alchemist's tent. The next tent down was the confectioners then the silversmith. Eris clenched and unclenched her hands, avoiding eye contact with those around her as she moved nearer to the cloth covered bench and the necklace. Someone said something in passing to the silversmith and she looked over her shoulder with a grunt. Eris's hand shot out and swiped the necklace from the cloth, knocking over the wooden bowl of silver rings as she pivoted about and began to charge through the crowd, elbowing people aside, shoving them out of the way.
“THIEF! THIEF!” came the smith's roar over exclamations of surprise and cries of “I saw her. She went this way!”
“No, that way! There she is!”
Where should she run? Away from Sulyir. She didn't want to implicate him in any way whatsoever. She would have enough trouble getting out of the palace with the casket without having to rescue him as well. She charged through a couple who were holding hands, knocking them to the ground in her haste.
Eris glanced behind her to see one of the guards running toward her, the throng parting to let him pass.
“HALT! BY ORDER OF THE KING!”
All at once, she was in a heap beside a wagon, her ears ringing. She'd hit the clapboard side at full speed, her head was starting to swim. She groped about the stones for the necklace, found it and rose to her feet, swaying dangerously before she could get her legs to move again. She'd only managed a couple steps further when a meaty hand closed around her arm. She shrieked, threw herself about struggling to break free as her other arm was taken and she was lifted off her feet.
“LET GO OF ME!” Eris screamed, proud of herself for such a convincing performance and, she had to admit, a little frightened. She was in it for the long run now.
She'd dropped the necklace to the ground when the guards had grabbed her. The guard who'd reached her first, now bent down and picked up the necklace, holding it in front of her face.
“We are going to return this necklace to its owner, then you will answer for your actions,” he grumbled as they headed back in the direction she'd run from, dragging her behind them. She caught Sulyir's eyes as they passed by, saw the look of concern on his face and suddenly she wasn't so sure about the plan anymore but it was far too late to change direction. She closed her eyes, letting herself be guided forward to the silversmith's stall.
“What 'ave we here? A wee girl? What has she done now? Called ye names? Thrown a rock at yer helmet?” Skiver laughed.
Eris was well and truly frightened now. When the guards had brought her into the palace and straight to the throne room, she was certain it was all over but luck was with her as the sentinels outside the throne room doors refused them entry.
“The King is holding a private session at this time,” the sentinel had growled, “The woman will have to wait in the holding cells until the King is ready to give audience.”
“She stole a piece of jewelry from the stall of Smithy Abben. She is to be held here until the King is able to see her,” The guard who'd first captured her, shoved her forward toward the great hulking jailer who put his heavy arm around her shoulders.
“Oh aye, I'll take care of her. I've plenty a room.”
The guards gave a stiff salute, disappeared up the wide stone steps to the palace and she was left alone with the jailer and his silent leering partner.
“Name's Skiver,” rumbled the jailer as he escorted her down the row of cells, “And this here's me apprentice a sorts, Gundrun.”
Eris looked at Gundrun who winked at her with a grab at his crotch.
“Yer gonna like it here. It's quiet, yer fed somewhat regular and ye get a cot and blanket to ward off the cold.”
“Lessen we could help keep ya warm,” Gundrun snickered, earning a backward swipe from Skiver.
“ 'Ere now. There'll be no fraternizin' with the prisoners, I've said it before. Not even one as bonny as yerself,” Skiver gave her shoulder a heavy pat which almost buckled her knees, “Here we are, yer own little patch o' Asgard.”
They had halted before a dark cell and Eris watched Skiver lift the large keyring in his hand, fitting a thick iron key into the keyhole. The tumblers made a thick click as they slid into place and the door swung open. Eris stepped inside, flinching as the door shut with a metallic thud.
“The evenin' meal will be forthcomin'” Skiver bowed deeply as Gundrun gave another guffaw, “Everything is on that cot behind ye. Don't hesitate to shout if ye need something else.”
Their laughter echoed about the cells as they headed back to the old table they'd been sitting at when she arrived and she was truly alone. She leaned forward, her head against the heavy iron bars, exhausted. She doubted she would be able to maintain transparency even if she decided to attempt escape at this point. She'd not been sleeping well during the past week, so stressed had she been. She peered between the bars at the cell across the way as her eyes became adjusted to the dim lighting and was startled to see two eyes staring back at her, set in a gaunt, regal face. The woman looked to be a true beauty though whatever ordeal she'd been through had taken its toll on her in the form of crows feet, pale skin, an ever present scowl that didn't quite subside as she smiled, her hands gripping the iron bars of her cell.
“How lovely. They've brought company for me.”
Her face faded from the bars as she retreated to a small writing desk upon which sat a thick candle in a small metal dish. She sat down, her back to Eris as she picked up a quill resting in an ink bottle and began to write upon a piece of parchment, the scratch scritch sound leaving Eris feeling she'd been summarily dismissed.
Eris turned to the cot behind her, lifted the blanket and sat down, holding the threadbare item in her lap as the seconds ticked away to minutes and beyond until the pen scratch stopped. Eris looked up to see the woman standing again though she stayed away from the bars.
“What pray tell is your name and how have you come here to the bowels of Asgard?”
Eris stood up and approached the bars again, “My name is Eris. I was brought here because I stole something from one of the stalls in the square.”
The woman's head tilted to one side as she stared across the corridor at Eris, “You are not Asgardian.”
Eris had been practising for a long time now, ready with the standard answers but now she couldn't see how it really mattered anymore who believed what. Pretty soon she would be out of this cell and on her way to a better future. Still she gave her requisite reply, “I'm Alfari.”
“Are you now?” That same chilly smile, “From the far borders I suspect?”
The woman sat down again but didn't return to her writing, simply stared into the flame of the candle until Eris cleared her throat and called across the corridor, “What's your name?”
The woman lifted the quill from the bottle again, holding it over the parchment. Before she leaned forward to write again, she breathed one word.