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About Photography / Hobbyist Premium Member Deborah Austin46/Female/United States Group :iconlokiliteraturelovers: LokiLiteratureLovers
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From the cover of the dark arch, Eris watched the two guards standing together talking at the entrance to the reliquary. She couldn't hear exactly what they were saying  though they seemed relaxed. Skiver and Gundrun had likely not been found yet. Eris smiled at the thought.
Now what to do about the two guards before her? How would she get inside the reliquary? She couldn't just walk up and open the doors and there were no visible windows through which to climb and once she were inside how would she get out, knock?
Her mouth dropped open. Knock. It was certainly a way to get in. She started for the guards, keeping her footsteps as light as possible, stopped at the door a few feet behind them, raised her fist and knocked on the heavy wood.
“What in Odin was that?” One of the guards muttered.
“What was what?” his colleague looked about the small courtyard.
Knock, knock.
They turned to stare at the door.
Eris bit her lip.
Knock, knock.
“There is someone inside!”
“By Mjolnir, how? 'Tis impossible. We've been here all evening!”
Knock, knock. “Come on you morons, open the door and check!”
“What do we do?”
The guard who'd first spoken withdrew his sword from its scabbard, “Open the door.”
The second guard unsheathed his sword as the first guard took hold of one of the iron rings and with a grunt pulled the massive door wide. The two guards rushed inside, swords at the ready, Eris sauntering in behind them to stand off to the side, waiting. Men were so simple to fool.
Guard one put a finger to his lips, pointing with his sword, directing his colleague to the left as they began to search the large room. At first Eris hesitated, momentarily overwhelmed by the profusion of treasure displayed about the reliquary on tall podiums, in wall niches, short tables. Glittering gems, gold, silver, copper met her gaze everywhere she looked. There was a gold glove encrusted with what looked like rubies, emeralds and diamonds. A glowing blue square encased in a glass cylinder. Was this the casket? Upon further inspection, she decided it was likely not. The design wasn't what Sulyir described to her. She began to move into the room. Upon a velvet pillow sat a silver bracelet, four holes  along its surface where she surmised something valuable must have been inset.
“There is no one in here,” grumbled Guard two behind her.
“Was someone playing a trick on us then? There has to be someone in here.”
“The Guardian would have alerted us. All the relics are in their place, the Tesseract, the Gauntlet, The Casket.”
At the mention of the casket, Eris glanced over her shoulder to see Guard two gesturing to a podium draped with black velvet sitting at the end of the room. Upon it was a shimmering blue glass block encased in what looked like an ornate filigree of black iron. Two handles stood out from it, one on each end.
“Very well. We will tell Cais and Eron when they relieve us. If the incident warrants action, we will alert the king. Come, they will be here soon.”
Eris watched the guards trudge up the steps through the reliquary doors, shutting them with a bang. How was she going to get out after she'd picked up the casket? She inched closer to it until the details themselves began to solidify. The ornate workings across its surface were not iron but delicate undulating lines across the surface of the glass. From within, there was a blue light, pulsing, bright, dimming, growing bright again. Was it the same material as the smaller blue box further down the aisle? The ends of the box were encased in iron handles and a faint high pitched whistle like listening to the wind howl through a pain of glass.
Eris scanned the room once more. Those doors were the only exit she could see. Maybe if she lifted the casket, an alarm of some sort would sound and they would rush to investigate, then she could just walk right out as she'd walked in.....well, run....there would be no walking until she put this casket in Sulyir's hands. She lifted her skirt, feeling about the waistband of her panties until she felt the gloves right where she'd stuffed them that morning at the tavern. She slid them onto her hands, a bit of a job since her palms were slick with sweat, then held her hands, hovering beside the handles.
“I do not know what will happen to you when you touch the casket as you are not of Jotunn blood,” Sulyir's admission resounded in her head, “However, I know it is the only solution. The only way to give us both what we want.”
She screwed her eyes shut, held her breath and grabbed the handles, waiting to freeze over like she'd been dipped in liquid nitrogen but she felt nothing. The metal was cold, she could feel it through the gloves, likening it to touching a car door handle in winter. Now to see how heavy it was. Giving it a tug, she found it slid relatively easy over the velvet drape. Finally she lifted it from the podium and smiled. It felt like maybe ten pounds all told. The handles had to be the heaviest part of the object. And no alarms, no death rays, no....
A low scraping sound came from the dark wall behind the podium. Eris was rooted to the spot unable to react as the wall slid aside and a pair of glowing ruby eyes peered at her from the darkness. She took a step back from the podium, nearly stumbling as the Guardian emerged into the Reliquary, moving with unexpected speed to the empty podium, sweeping aside the velvet drape with a growl. Eris moved to her right as the Guardian strode past her, his massive head swinging from side to side, searching the room. Eris's arms were beginning to ache, no matter how light the casket might be but if she let go of it, the Guardian would know where she was.
The doors of the reliquary burst inward with a bang startling Eris so that she had to swallow a scream as the guards rushed in.
“What has happened?!” Guard one cried as the Guardian roared in frustration, turning to stare at the empty podium.
“The cask of Jotunheim is missing!” Guard two breathed as they all stood there, shock rooting their feet for a moment, long enough for Eris to race up the stairs and through the reliquary doors. The moon was low on the horizon, affording her little light as she ran for the cover of the archway. Behind her, a loud low blat from a horn rent the night air. She reached the door into the palace and stopped, she would have to set the casket down if she were to open the door. Her hands were a bit full. Panic striken she set it on the cobblestones, fumbling for the handle, sure at any moment someone was going to swing the door wide and discover her unconscious on the walkway but as the door opened, she found the corridor dark. She bent down, hefted the casket again and started toward the servant's quarters, at the end of the hall nearly bumping into a group of guards who passed her on a trot heading for the reliquary. In the servant's quarters the heavyset servant was now talking excitedly to another servant in a rumpled night dress, a gray haired tall thin woman.
“Volsa, did you hear the horns? Whatever is happened?”
Eris sidled around the other side of the table glad of their banter as she made the long corridor to the outer wall of the palace. As she reached the door, she let go one handle of the casket, her arm screeching in protest at the weight, grabbed at the iron ring and pulled the door open. It didn't matter now if they saw it. She was there. She was in the city. She felt like flying. She had done it, she had stolen the casket and kept her head. She'd even helped Sif escape in the bargain. She paused, turned and looked up at the palace spires, the parapets, turrets where torches were starting to blaze to life. The whole palace was coming alive. Eris lifted the casket to her shoulder and began to make her way through the streets.

The stag's head rose from the brush, its ears twitching, steam rising from its nostrils like smoke in the early morning air. He held his breath. If he moved, the stag would surely see him. After a minute, the stag returned to his foraging. Ever so slowly, he reached into his quiver and drew out an arrow, notching it to his bowstring with a smile. It felt wonderful to be able to draw a bow again.
“Take care, boy,” came a whisper in his ear, “His tail is waggin' like a yenta's tongue. He'll run for certain at the least movement.”
His gaze slid over to Chris who was leaning forward, holding himself upright with one hand against the trunk of a tree, “I shall stop his tail soon enough.”
“See to it you do. I'm all but spent for the day and the ladies will be wondering why we've been so long about this expedition.”
He pulled the bowstring back, knuckles grazing his cheek as he drew a deep breath, sighted his mark.
“Make haste, son. It's nearly time to waken!”
His tension on the string loosened as the stag raised its head again, looked directly at him and let out a bellow that filled the sky....

His eyes flew open, his hand, upon instinct, searching beside him in the bed for someone who was not there. Silence, then the distant blat of the horns echoing over the city. Loki threw the coverlet off, struggling to free himself as another blat resounded, closer now. He made the floor, his feet slapping the marble as he threw the heavy drapes aside and rushed out onto the balcony. In the courtyard below, there was assembled a phalanx of guards, with more arriving. Off to the left, a glow as if from a hundred torches, lit the far end of the palace grounds. Was the palace on fire?
He retreated back inside, yanking his robe off over his head, reaching for the tunic and breeches he'd left on the chair before the fireplace, hurrying his pace when a muffled roar reverberated through the hall.

Colin stared at his door, exchanging glances with the servant girl who was on her feet, wide-eyed.
“What the hell is going on?”
“I have no idea, Master Denehy,” She trotted to the door, opening it a crack to peek into the hallway, “I see guards at the door to the King's bedchamber.....oh the Queen Mother is with them....Loki is running to her.”
Colin heard the heavy clack of boots as he searched for his own which had slid beneath the bed. Another blat from the horn drifted to them through the drapes.
“Something is wrong,” the servant girl looked over her shoulder at him, “Very wrong.”

The casket had grown exceedingly heavy as she continued through the quiet streets. Feeling safely distant from the palace, Eris had ducked into an alley where she'd spied a length of rope strung up between two buildings. Upon it swung a woolen blanket which she'd taken, placing the casket inside and tied it up to form a sling. Now she looked as if she were merely carrying goods, or a small baby though it was hard to imagine anyone would be out with a child at such an early hour. The horizon was beginning to lighten, however and soon she would be beyond the walls of the city and on her way to Sulyir. Still, to be safe, she would slip through the city gates unseen. Why risk being caught at such a late point in the game?
A distant chorus of horns was drifting over the city, drawing residents out of their cottages and hovels in their robes to stare in the direction of the palace, speculating what was possibly wrong. In any case they were not paying attention to the strange woman, her face obscured by the hood of her cloak as she headed in the opposite direction.

Colin blessed his long legs, keeping stride with Thor and Loki as they hurried through the palace corridors flanked by a brace of guards including Silas to whom he now spoke.
“I want couriers sent out to the High Council. They are to be assembled by dawn,” Thor growled, “If need be, we will form a delegation to Jotunheim!”
“How do we know the Jotunn's have taken the casket?” Loki countered, “The nine realms know where it was stored and there are others who would wish to wield its power besides Jotunheim.”
“Who else would dare attempt to steal it?!” Thor roared, straight-arming the door to the Reliquary courtyard emerging into the middle of another large group of guards who immediately came to attention as they hurried down the path to the Reliquary itself. Two guards stood off to the side, their faces fraught with fear as Thor stopped before them.
“How did this happen?”
One of the guardsmen stepped forward with a deep bow, “Your Majesty, we were waiting for our relief, Cracas and myself, when there came a knocking from inside the Reliquary. We entered and searched but found no one, nothing so we returned to our post to wait for our relief...”
“AND YOU THOUGHT THIS INCIDENT DID NOT WARRANT ALERTING YOUR KING!” Thor bellowed. To the guard's merit, he stood solid.
“Your Majesty, we deigned to leave our post until our relief arrived because of the nature of the disturbance. If something had happened to my second while I was absent, the Reliquary would have been completely unguarded.”
Thor frowned, glanced at the Reliquary doors, “Come with me. Tell me what you saw.”
The guards swung the doors open and Colin was reminded of his visit with Trena.  Thor and Loki sailed down the steps behind the two guards but when Colin stepped forward, he was met with a leather gloved hand at his chest.
“You must stay here,” one of the group assembled in the courtyard peered down at him.
“He may accompany us!” Loki called, waving the guard out of the way.
Colin sidled by the guard, catching up with Loki at the bottom of the stairs where he slowed to stare down the length of the reliquary. The Guardian stood behind the empty podium staring at the space where the casket had once set, plated arms hanging lifeless at his side.
If the Guardian recognized him, reacted to him in any way, there was going to be a lot to explain but it was too late as Thor approached the podium, lifting the velvet drape in his fist.
“How did this thief manage to avoid the Guardian? HOW?”
Thor threw the drape to the floor as the Guardian looked at him, shook his great head.
“Your Majesty!”
They turned as a group to see Silas running down the stairs, “Your Majesty, there has been an escape from the cells!”
Thor looked at the podium again, “It could not be! It cannot be!!”
Silas stopped, bowed, “Two prisoners, your Majesty. A thief from the streets and the Lady Sif.”
Thor moved forward, clapping a hand on Silas's shoulder, “Hasten to the queen's side, do not leave until I am returned. Send sentries to guard Prince Lorioi's bedchamber!”
“At once, your Majesty.”
As Silas raced up the steps, Thor turned to the two guards, “You will remain here with the Guardian until the Lady Sif is found. Let no one inside upon pain of death do you ken?”
The guards came to attention, their armor clanking, “We do, Your Majesty.”
“We are going to speak with Skiver. Has everyone forgotten how to do their task this night?”
At the top of the stairs, Colin looked back as the Reliquary doors closed just in time to see the Guardian raise its hand to him.

Eris was exhausted, frightened. Every footstep, hoofbeat, creaky wagon that came to her ears was a precursor to her capture but no one ever stopped her. She had slipped, unseen into the countryside, wishing she'd stolen a horse instead of a blanket but it was too late for what ifs. The rise where Sulyir would be waiting at the trees was within sight. As she neared, she saw movement at the edge of the road and prepared herself to duck into the snowy brush until she spied a blue scarf, the scarf she'd given to Sulyir the evening before. Sulyir met her halfway down the hill, putting his arm around her shoulder to support her as they plowed their way through the snow to the portal. Once they were far enough from the road, Eris set the blanket down in the snow, untying the ends and throwing them apart to reveal the casket, its cold blue light illuminating their faces. Sulyir dropped to his knees, his hands hovering above the glass.
“I take it I got it right,” Eris watched  Sulyir break into a grin. All at once, he leaped to his feet, pulling her into a fierce hug.
“You are amazing! Were all Midgardians as talented as you, Asgard would lose its place as ruler of the nine realms!” he kissed her cheek, “Come, Menyir is waiting for us!”
Sulyir gathered the casket into the blanket again. Tucking it beneath his arm, he held out his hand to Eris and together they stepped through the portal.
The frigid air hit her all at once and she covered her mouth with the edge of her cloak. The sun was shining brightly in a clear sky but the warmth could scarce be felt even on her face. Spread out before them across the wasteland of snow and ice they'd crossed when first she'd visited Jotunheim were amassed lines of Jotun warriors, clad in armor the color of gunmetal, swords hanging at their hips shields slung across their backs but before all, his ruby eyes locked onto the blanket covered casket carried by Sulyir, stood Menyir.
Sulyir knelt down to the ground, tossing the blanket clear. As soon as his hands touched the iron handles, he began to change, his skin darkening to midnight blue but Menyir lifted the casket from his grasp, holding it high above his head as the warriors let out a deafening roar.
“You have brought the casket back to Jotunheim! You have done as you said you would!”
“Of course we did,” Eris scanned the legions behind Menyir, “I don't understand the welcoming party, however. What are they doing here?”
“Your task is not quite finished,” Menyir squatted down to stare at Eris, “Now you will open the  Midgardian portal.”
Eris blinked once, twice, “What?”
Menyir nodded to Sulyir, “The bracelet on your wrist, it will open the portal the Midgardians built, will it not?”
Eris instinctively reached for the ever present band on her wrist, her original fail safe, “Yes it should but why would I open it? If I step out into that longhouse, I'm as good as in prison, or worse.”
“You will not be alone. You will hold the portal open as my warriors make their way into Asgard...”
“Sulyir?” Eris cried, “You lied to me! You bastard!”
Sulyir was suddenly before her, holding her face in his hands, “I did no such thing. I swear to you, we will deliver on our promise. You will have the Prince!”
“How? I mean this doesn't look like a friendly house call.”
A snowflake drifted down between them, then another, and another until the sky was gray with snow, swirling about in a shifting frigid wind. Eris stared at Menyir who held the casket in his hands, a maelstrom issuing from its surface.
“It is an invasion, one you have helped to begin,” Menyir laughed, “One you will benefit from if you help us.”
“Why can't you just use the portal we came through?” she pointed behind her with a trembling finger.
“We need a much larger hole to enter through and we need to stop the Midgardians from coming to Asgard's rescue,” Menyir brought the casket down to his waist where she watched the storm rage beyond the glass, “You really have no alternative. Either help us and be rewarded with your heart's desire or perish here in Jotunheim.”
Eris groped for Sulyir's hand, found it as she stumbled back against him, feeling helpless for the first time in her life. Her power wouldn't help her here. Even invisible she'd freeze to death in short order. There was no other choice.

“Yer Majesty,” Skiver wailed, “'Twas dark magic!”
Skiver and Gundrun stood before their table, Skiver wringing his hands together, “The thief the square sentries brought in, she disappeared, vanished! At first I thought the Lady Sif was to blame for the deception because she tricked us, made us open the cell to search for the lass but when the keys was snatched from me belt and the door shut, I knew the wench had played us. We watched the keys float across to Lady Sif's door and when she was free, she, too, vanished before our very faces. I canna explain it!”
Thor's hand shot out, grabbing Skiver by his leather vest, “Who was this thief? Did you know her?”
“Nooo, she was an off worlder. Ye could hear it in her speech. She was a comely lass with a fine shape, dark hair..,”
Thor shook him, “Did she have a name? We must search the city for her. 'Tis possible Sif will be with her if they left together.”
“Aye, she'd a name but yer Majesty, I didna' see them leave together, I didna' see them leave a'tall.”
“Yet they are not here,” Thor gestured toward the cells, “Her name?”
Skiver looked at Gundrun whose face was contorted in thought, “Ah, 'twas an odd sort of name.”
At last Gundrun tapped Skiver on the shoulder, “It's in the ledger, Skiver!”
“Och, yer right!” Skiver cried, tearing away from Thor's grip, whirling about to pull the thick tome across the table to him. He threw open the ledger, flipping through the stained, dirty pages until he found the last entry, pointing at it with a stubby finger, “There it is. She said her name was Eris.”
All at once, Colin, Loki, and Thor stared at one another.
“Begging yer pardon,” Colin raised his hand, “You'd recognize her if you saw her right?”
“Aye,” Skiver nodded, “Why wouldn't I?”
Colin backed toward the stairs leading up to the palace proper, “I'll be right back.”
“Surely you do not believe it is her, Colin.” Loki exclaimed as Colin took the steps two at a time.
“I hope not,” Colin called over his shoulder, “I really hope not.”
When Colin reached the corridor, he spied three guards heading straight for him, followed close behind by a shrieking woman whom he recognized as the nursemaid, Bruna.
“We must speak with the king. Have you seen his Majesty?” The guards halted before him as Bruna continued to cry, “He will have me executed! Odin's beard, where could he be?!”
“The King is down in the cells talking to Skiver. What's wrong?”
“Prince Lorioi is missing!” Bruna shrieked, “The entire household has been searching for him!”
Colin glanced at the doorway to the cells, “And the Lady Sif is gone too.”
“AHHHH!” Bruna fell to the floor, her forehead pressed against the marble, “She has surely fled with the Prince! It must be so! I am for the sword now!”
Colin watched the guards lead the hysterical nursemaid down the stairs before he continued on to his bedchamber at a sprint.
When he at last returned to the cells, his tablet in hand, he found Thor sitting in Skiver's chair, face in his hands, Loki leaning against the wall, arms crossed. Bruna and the guards were nowhere to be seen, Skiver was still prattling on about his innocence in the whole affair while Gundrun looked on, still too terrified to say much.
“Skiver,” Colin handed the tablet to him, “Is this the woman you had in yer cells?”
Skiver stared at the tablet, “Och aye, the very same. How did ye come to have her picture? Is it more Midgardian magic?”
“It is,” Colin rasped, “Yer sure it was her? Positive?”
“Aye, I am,” Skiver pointed to the picture, “Who could forget such a bonny face?”
Colin put a hand to his forehead, “I've got to get to the encampment. How the hell did she slip through the screening process?”
“Screening process?'” Loki held out his hand, “Let me see your tablet.”
“Aye, Eris is obviously a mutant,” Colin handed the tablet to Loki, “...but we disqualified mutants from the program for good reasons, this being one of them. She must have never registered as a mutant or we would have had her on file. Damn!”
As he gazed at Eris's file photo, his mouth dropped open, “This woman. I know her.”
Thor looked up, his eyes rimmed with red, “What say you?”
Loki tapped the screen, “She came to fetch tributes of wine at Mabon. She was a dancer in one of the city taverns. The Oak and Thistle I believe. She was quite bold.”
“It would seem we didn't lose Eris in the portal after all,” Colin groaned, “I've got to get to Stark, see if we can't find out where she is now.”
Thor shot up from the chair, grabbing one of the guards, “..And you are to go to the Oak and Thistle. I want the proprietor and his employees in the throne room before the sun hits its zenith!”
“Yes, your Majesty,” the guard bowed deeply before rushing up the stairs, his men close behind.
“Yer Majesty,” Skiver mumbled, his hands clasped before his round belly, “It was a mistake. I swear we didna' mean to make such a mess a things.”
Thor regarded him for a moment, “For your loyalty all these seasons I shall pardon you this time but in the future, if ever you come across such odd circumstances, follow your instincts and come to me at once. Do you ken?”
Skiver grabbed Thor's hand, pressing it to his forehead as he wailed, “Aye, oh aye. I'll no' fail ye agin, yer Majesty! If I do, I'll be the one to set my neck in the hangman's noose!”
Thor looked at Colin then, “We must hurry to the encampment for I fear this is all connected.”
“Who among us represents this Midgardian in his petition for citizenship?” Urtek's voice resounded through the Great Hall.
“I do,” Loki moved to stand beside Colin.
“Upon what grounds?” Urtek stood at the podium, a quill poised in his hand.
“I bear witness to the high regard in which he holds the Asgardian people, the loyalty he has shown my family and the realm. He has resided within my house for nearly a full season, cared for my children, shared the grief of the Allfather's passing, the joy of seeing my son achieve manhood, ensconced himself in the day to day life of my household.”
Colin and Loki exchanged glances as Urtek's quill moved across the parchment, Loki's confident smile easing Colin's anxiety ever so slightly.
“And you attest to the integrity of Master Denehy's request?”
“I do.”
Colin scanned the room, noting Urtek's wife and children in the seats which had been arranged in rows on either end of the long High Council table. His daughter Lisle looked forlorn. When they had arrived at the Great Hall, she had scurried up to Colin, asking if Fen had come with them. Upon his answer that Fen had been made to stay home, she seemed utterly crushed until Colin had promised to tell Fen she missed him. She had then taken his hand and kissed it before melting into the throng filing in to the Great Hall. When he returned home, he would urge Fen to write Lisle. There was nothing worse, in his opinion, than to be left wondering about the sincerity of another person's affections.
“Master Denehy?”
Colin looked up at Urtek who was staring at him along with the rest of the room, “Yes?”
“Do you or do you not wish to formally request citizenship in the realm of Asgard?”
“Yes...yes I do.”
“Do you pledge loyalty to the realm of Asgard, forsaking the realm of your birth, Midgard?”
“I do,” Colin was surprised at the strength of his answer, straightening his back a bit more, standing taller.
“Do you swear an oath of fealty to His Majesty, King Thor, his Queen, Jane and their progeny so long as you may live?”
“I do.”
“If called upon, would you defend the realm of Asgard with your life?”
“I would,”
“And its citizens?”
“I would.”
Urtek turned to Thor who was seated upon an elaborately carved chair on a dais behind the podium, “Your Majesty, the petitioner has answered the required questions.”
Thor stood from the chair, “The King is satisfied. How votes the High Council?”
A piece of parchment was handed up to Urtek from the Council Member seated to his right. He stared at it a moment, looked down at Colin and Loki with a magnanimous grin on his face, “The Council votes to accept the petition of citizenship as presented by the Midgardian Colin Denehy.”
Thor hefted into the air the long gold staff he'd been holding, passing it in a circle above him, “At dawn on the morrow, the Rite of Acceptance will begin. Upon completion, Master Denehy will be formally welcomed into Asgardian society as one of their own with a great feast.”
There was a moment of silence and Colin half expected someone to object but all at once the room erupted into a din, cheering and clapping. Loki took him by the hand, drawing him into a hearty embrace.
“You see,” he cried, “There was nothing to fear. Soon you will be one of us.”
Colin smiled to himself. For all intents and purposes, he already was.

“By the gods,” Martin murmured as he held the chalice up to the firelight, “Who'd have guessed, eh?”
Anna was up at once, taking in hand the ewer of wine that had been placed in the middle of the table, poised to fill the chalice.
“Ah! No, no, Anna,” Martin cried, sliding his hand over the top, “This is no ordinary tankard,” he set the chalice on the table, “There, fill this if you like,” he slid his mug across the table and she hurried to refill it, her face flushed as she stuttered, “B..begging your pardon.”
“Not at all,” Velos laughed, “I've drunk from it on special occasions myself. It is, in the end, but a cup. A lovely cup, but a cup just the same.”
“Ye haven't!” Lelia stared at the chalice, “I wonder does it imbue the contents with magic, now?”
Velos studied himself, “I felt no different afterward.”
“You've a good day's journey ahead of you to reach the city of Asgard,” Martin took a sip of his wine, “A pity we couldn't accompany you but I've not the endurance I once had. You're welcome to raid my cold cellar however, no need to travel on an empty stomach, I say.”
“You're too kind,” Simon grinned, staring into his cup of wine.
“I don't envy you your task mind you,” Martin pushed himself away from the table and shuffled over to a set of shelves that lined one wall of the cottage, selecting an ancient looking thick tome from the top shelf.
“The Runes have come together more than once over the course of the millenia with cataclysmic results. Look here,” Martin set the tome before Simon and flipped it open, turned a few pages and pointed with his forefinger to the top of one page, “The runes were assembled during the war with Vanaheim. Such devastation. The Vanir are a vain, treacherous lot...”
Simon peered at the words, written in Asgardian, shaking his head, “I'm sorry, I can't read it...”
“And here...King Bor and the Dark Elves....they were at the gates of the city when the King finally decided to call upon the protector.”
Simon stared at the dark painting on the next page, the swarm of Elven warriors scrambling to climb the outer walls of Asgard and atop that wall, a being, his arms outstretched, his very body infused with light. Beside him what was presumably King Bor with the long golden staff Simon had seen in Thor's hand, pointed down at the invading Elves.
“Impressive,” Simon rasped. He was starting to tremble, anxiety creeping up on him. He swallowed hard, frustrated. He'd been doing so well with Lelia's help that the familiar acceleration of his heart rate caught him by surprise. He pushed away from the table to stand, eyes closed against the old book, the ancient painting as a hand slid into his and he looked down into Lelia's eyes.
“Ye've come so far, me love. Yer chore is near finished. Sit,” Lelia gestured to Anna, “Could ye make a posset for him, good lady? We should turn in for the evening soon. It's up with the dawn we be on the morrow.”
“Posset....” Anna glanced at Martin who waved his hand.
“I'll get it, I'll get it. Anna fetch the milk from the cold cellar will you?”
When she was out of earshot, Martin patted Lelia on the shoulder, “She's a bit absent minded still. She's made a posset before. It's just easier for me to do a thing than to explain to her what she needs to do.”
Martin picked up Simon's mug, throwing the last of the contents into the fire and poured fresh wine into it. All Simon wanted was to lay down, to hold Lelia. No, what he wanted was an end to this trek. If he could trust a courier with the bedeviled runes he would but he was certain delegating this task wasn't an option. He squeezed Lelia's hand and sat down beside her again, shoving the book away from him. He was so tired.

Colin swirled the mulled wine about in his chalice, lulled by the warmth emanating from the immense fireplace.
“Eidra loathes being alone at night,” Loki murmured, setting a cleaned drumstick on the platter before him.
“Well, why didn't you bring her along? I haven't seen her since Christmas,” Jane grunted, repositioning herself yet again, “I would have welcomed the company.”
“Winter is Brynn's worst time. She prefers to be at home with him,” Loki leaned his head back against the chair, staring up to the tall ceiling, “I will see what I can do if the mild weather continues however, she becomes restless when cooped up in the house too long.”
“Cabin fever they call it on earth,” Colin chuckled.
“Such strange expressions,” Thor regarded him, “I rather like them....are you ready for the purification on the morrow?”
Colin shrugged, “As ready as I expect I'll ever be.”
“ 'Tis a ritual of much import.”
“Oh, I know. I'm with you on this one.”
“Okay, time to lay off the spirits.” Colin set the chalice down and reclined in the chair.
“And you will need ample rest...”
“We will ride to the shores of the western sea at dawn...”
At a soft snore from Colin, Loki yawned, stretched, “Your wish is his command, dear brother.”
“As it should be for us all,” Thor stood from the table, crossing to where Colin sat slumped in the chair to shake him, “Come we will show you to your chamber.”
Colin snorted awake, “ 'pologies, yer Majesty.”
“Up,” Thor pulled him to his feet, “We have much to do at dawn's break. Jane, I shall return.”
Colin bowed to Jane then allowed himself to be guided out of the bedchamber and into the corridor. As they walked, their footsteps resounding loud in the late evening stillness, Colin took in his surroundings with a new regard. What an incredible journey he'd embarked upon nearly a year ago. Were he able to travel back in time to tell himself what the future held, it would have sounded like a fantastic, fictional story.
“....the day following then. Brother, you will not cure your stiffness by letting it gain hold over you. It will ease only when you have stretched the muscles beyond their endurance...,”
Colin grinned, whether his amusement was caused by Thor's bantering with Loki or the fine wine, he was too tired to decide.
“As you wish. I will go on the hunt with you but I will still use my crossbow unless you expect a fruitless day.....Colin?”
Loki had stopped before a set of arched doors and was now holding them open, “Step inside.”
A young servant girl knelt before the fireplace, moving charred logs about with a pike. When Colin entered the bedchamber followed by Thor and Loki, she jumped up, giving a deep curtsey.
“Your Majesties, the fire has been banked for the evening. I was just going to check the braziers.”
“By all means then, do proceed,” Thor dismissed her with a wave and turned to Colin, “We will fetch you before dawn. I must admit, I am looking forward to a good sweat. It cleanses the body, purifies the soul, balances the humors. Sleep well, Colin Denehy of Asgard.”
Giving Colin a hard clap on the shoulder which nearly buckled his knees, Thor nodded to Loki and retreated into the corridor.
“If you have need of anything, you have but to call for the servant, she will stay on the pallet tonight to attend you.”
At hearing Loki, the young girl hurried from the braziers that lined the heavy drapes obscuring the balcony and bowed to Colin, “At your service, Master Denehy.”
Colin cast a glance at the large bed beside him. He could barely keep his eyes open now.
“I don't believe I'll be needing much tonight save to sleep off the wine. Go on with you now, lay down, get some rest.”
At a nod from Loki, the servant girl drifted to the pallet by the fireplace, a bemused look on her face as she sat down, drawing a piece of mending into her lap.
Loki looked away from her to Colin, “Ah, such memories this brings to me. I would that I had brought Eidra after all,” a grin spread across Loki's face as he clasped Colin's forearm, “I will see you on the morrow, my friend.”
Colin returned the gesture, glad of the grasp as he felt the world cant a bit to the left, “Until morning then.”
As the door shut behind Loki, Colin flopped down on the bed, sat there with his eyes closed while the world slowly righted itself. When he opened them again, the servant girl was standing before him, a robe held in her outstretched hands, “Night clothes, Master Denehy?”
Colin took the robe, “Ah, would you mind turning around? I'm not used to undressing in front of a woman.”
The servant girl covered her mouth though he heard her chuckle as she pointed across the room, “If you like, there is a dressing screen.”
“So there is,” Colin stood from the bed, weaving his way over to the screen to disappear behind it, emerging minutes later dressed in a most luxurious silk robe. It almost felt too fine. For a moment he felt out of place until he sat down on the bed again and the tension seemed to drain from his body. The servant girl had returned to her pallet and was now sewing.
Though he'd noticed most of the time the Asgardians paid little attention to their household employees, Colin felt embarrassed to have someone in the room just to tend to his wishes. At the very least he could speak to her.
“I'm going to be an Asgardian,” was that the way to put it? “I'm going to become a citizen of Asgard.”
“I ken, Master Denehy. I bid you congratulations and welcome.”
He lay back on the pillows, “Have you ever been to Midgard?”
A genuine burst of laughter rang out in the room, “The gods wept. Never in my life, begging your pardon, Master Denehy. I have neither reason or intent to travel to such....”
In the silence, Colin propped himself up on his elbows to look over the edge of the bed at the girl. She was staring back at him, her lip stuck between her teeth.
“It's all good. I know what Asgardians think about Midgard. Maybe I'll be able to change all that. It's not such a horrid place.”
“Yes, Master Denehy.”
“Colin, please,” he closed his eyes, listening to the crackle of the logs in the fireplace, “Just....Colin.....”

Eris sat on her hands, fists clenching, opening, clenching. Luck had been with her. Early that morning, Skiver had come to her cell and for a moment, she thought time had run out but instead he tapped the bars of her cell.
“Ye've earned a bit of a reprieve, lass. 'Twould seem the King has some business to attend to. He'll no' be able to see ya until the morrow next, at best, so ye've more time to consider your plea.”
“P'rhaps he'll leave you down here wit' us,” Gundrun tittered, “You seem to be at home you do.”
She'd said nothing, simply glared at them till they tired of sporting with her and returned to their table at the entrance to the cells.
Now, however, it was time to get on with her chore. Sulyir was waiting at the copse of trees by the portal. If she took much longer, he would think she'd backed out of the whole affair.
She glanced across the way at Sif who was pacing back and forth, hand at her chin. What if Sif changed her mind after they escaped, what if she turned informant and alerted the palace guards? There was little to do for it now, though.
“The cook has just brought Skiver and Gundrun their evening meal. They are always the last stop before the kitchens. It is late,” came Sif's voice across the corridor, “Are you ready to do what must be done?”
“The attentions of a handsome, rich man. A royal title. A castle. No more serving beer to tavern rats, stashing her belongings under floorboards, sleeping with one eye open,  pole dancing, blowjobs....well at least not for twenty bucks a pop. Respect, obeisance.”
Eris stood up from her cot, arms at her side, “Are you?”
Sif's face appeared between the bars, her face split into a malevolent grin, “More than ready.”
Eris closed her eyes, the color fading from her skin, opaque, translucent, invisible.
“GUARDS! GUARDS!” Sif screams reverberated among the cells. A prisoner further down the corridor shouted in response.
“Shut it, you harlot!”
But Sif ignored him, “GUARDS! The thief has escaped! THE THIEF HAS VANISHED!”
Eris heard the heavy footsteps of Skiver and Gundrun as they strode between the cells. Her heart was thunder in her ears. Sif had promised she could deal with the two of them if Eris could manage to lift the keys from Skiver's belt.
“What in Odin's name are ye on about now?” Skiver cried, “I warn ye, I'll no' hesitate to fetch the water bucket.
They were almost even with her cell.
“I swear to you!” Sif shook her cell door, “I happened to look across the way at the little wretch and found her disappeared! See for yourself!”
Skiver stopped before Eris's cell, stared inside for all of half a second, his mouth wide and Eris had to fight the urge to laugh out  loud.
“Where in Hel did she go?” he roared, pivoting about to grab the bars of Sif's cell, “Answer me or ye'll be on bread and water until the end of yer days!”
“I told you, you ignorant ogre! I know not where she went. I did not see her leave!”
“Lyin' wench!” Skiver turned to look at Eris's cell again, “She couldna' just vanished into thin air now!”
Eris clapped her hands to her mouth, stifling a giggle, glad of Sif's loud retort.
“Perhaps she burrowed her way out of the cell. These blocks are ancient, the mortar breaks away more each day. I am surprised the doors of my cell do not simply fall away.”
Skiver turned about once more, reaching for his keyring and Eris took a deep breath, moving to stand on the other side of the cell door as he slid the key into its hole. The tumblers shifted, squeaked and Skiver strode inside, staring about the empty cell, the keys dangling from his fingers. Eris crept up beside him, poised to rip the keys from his hand when Gundrun stumbled inside the cell, rushing up to the cot and throwing it aside, nearly striking Eris at the back of her knees.
“Check for loose blocks, ye simpleton,” Skiver growled.
So perfect was the situation, Eris was unable to move as precious seconds ticked by until Sif cried out again, “See! She is gone. Vanished!”
Gundrun was on his knees at the far corner of her cell, Skiver scanning the interior as if he could summon Eris from the air. She snaked two fingers around the keyring in his hand, set her teeth and yanked it free, backpedaling out through the cell door.
“Hel and be damned!” Skiver roared as Eris leaned her weight against the door, hearing the tumblers lock into place just as Skiver's full weight crashed into the door, rattling it on its hinges. Eris winced, waiting for the old mortar to give way as a shower of dust drifted down to the corridor but it held.
Eris scuttled across the corridor, her trembling hands making the keys rattle as she tried to fit each one in turn into Sif's lock.
“This is yer magic, ye harpy! Let us out! LET US OUT!” Skiver bellowed, “Drawing and quartering'll be too good for the likes a ye when the King finds out what ye've done!”
Eris slid one key, another key, as Sif held out her hand, “Give them to me. I know which one unlocks my cell. We must hurry before his cries alert the guards on their rounds!”
Eris handed her the keys and stepped back as Sif swung her cell door wide, striding across the corridor to stand before Eris's cell, glaring at Skiver.
“I wanted to kill you, slit your throat and leave you to choke on your own blood but this seems a more fitting punishment. Where do you think you will be placed after you let not one but two prisoners escape? Banishment will be too good for you when the King finds out.”
“Filthy whore!” Skiver hissed, “The King shoulda buried you when he had a mind to.”
Sif clenched her hands to fists though she came no closer to the cell, spitting at him through the bars, “'Tis you will die before me.”
Eris took her hand, “Come on. We have to get out of here.”
Sif turned, smiled, “Work your magic, my friend.”
Eris watched Skiver's face fall once more as Sif faded before his eyes.
“Magic! Evil black magic! GUARDS! GUARDS!”
Together they ran down the corridor out through the main doors and up the stairs, Skiver's cries following them along with hoots of laughter from the other cells. If he didn't lose his position for this, he'd likely never live down the humiliation.

The palace halls were largely deserted save for a servant here and there. They wound up staircases, through rooms, down servant entryways until they came to a set of tall doors, a strange looking symbol carved upon it.
“My son's room,” Sif whispered, “We must be swift and silent for his nursemaid, Bruna slumbers in the next chamber and she has ears like a doe with a newborn fawn.”
Sif turned the door handle and ever so slowly pushed open the door. Once they had slipped inside, she let go of Eris's hand and sailed to a large bed, barely visible in the dim light of the fire simmering in the fireplace grate at its foot.
Eris watched as Sif leaned over a lump beneath the covers and reached her hand out. All at once a muffled shriek was heard followed by an excited whisper.
“Mama! Mama! Why are you here? Has the King let you free?”
“I have been set free, my brave warrior,” Sif cooed as a young boy maybe seven years of age sat up in bed, gazing about the bedchamber with sleep filled eyes.
“Mama, who is that?”
Eris smiled at the boy as sweetly as she could.
“This is Eris. She is going to lead us from the palace but you must do what she says.”
Sif hurried to a long wardrobe and threw it open, fishing about in the darkness until finally she withdrew a satchel. Flipping it open, she started taking garments down from the shelves, stuffing them haphazard into its depths.
“Mama,” the boy jumped down from his bed and ran to Sif, “Are we going somewhere?”
“Remember when you told me someday we would leave the palace together but I beseeched you to have patience that you would possibly be king?”
The boy nodded, wrapping his arms around Sif's waist.
“Well we will find another kingdom for you and one day we will return to claim the throne of Asgard with our own army before us. I have Aesir who remain loyal to me, they will aid our escape. Now fetch your toy sword and shield so you may be brave for me.”
Sif stood, the satchel draped about her shoulder and nodded to Eris, “Lóriði, when we leave this room you must keep hold of my hand and stay silent no matter what happens, do you ken?”
“Yes, Mama,” the boy slung his shield onto his back, took Sif's hand.
Sif in turn held out her hand to Eris, “Our friend is going to guide us out of the palace with her magic. Do you have what you wish to take?”
The boy scanned the room, broke away from Sif and hurried to the wardrobe again, “Your bracelet, Mama. The one you told me to keep for you.”
He held it up to Sif and it was Eris's turn at surprise. The bracelet was made of thick, chased gold encrusted with rough cut jewels though in the firelight it was hard to tell what they were, Eris could bet they weren't rhinestones. Sif deposited it in the satchel, bent down and kissed him tenderly on the forehead.
“My little prince, it will surely garner us safe passage through the kingdom. Come we must hurry.”
Eris took Sif's hand and heard a giggle from Lóriði, “Mama, I cannot see you!”
“Hush, Lóriði. Remember.”
Eris poked her head out of the room. Finding the corridor empty, they made as much haste as they could with their new charge, slipping through the bowels of the palace. At one point Sif stopped at a fork in the halls and Eris wondered if Sif had changed her mind. As they headed down a flight of stairs, they came to a heavy oaken door. Sif pushed it open, pulling them into a torchlit archway. Ahead of her she could see a sort of courtyard and a path that curved to the right out of her line of sight.
“At the end of that path lies the reliquary. It is protected by two royal guardsman. I cannot help you further,” she whispered in Eris's ear, “I have shown you what you needed to find as I promised.”
Eris grimaced, “I'll think of something.”
“Now we must pass through the servant's quarters to the outer door. There we will be able to escape undetected by the courtyard guards.”
Up the flight of stairs and down a corridor to their right, Eris was praying she could remember the return path without meeting anyone along the way. She was getting tired, she could feel it but there was no time for rest. The servant's quarters were quiet. In a corner by a large wooden table sat a fat gray haired woman, snoring, the fire beside her burnt down to coals.
Down a long hallway they hurried until at last they reached a door. Sif opened it and they peered out into the velvet night sky. A half moon cast a blue glow over the snow dusted streets of the city.
“You have kept your part of the bargain as I have kept mine. Fare you well. May Asgard suffer for what it has done to me.” Sif lifted the shawl from her shoulders and draped it around her head and face, “For our part, we are ever in your debt.”
Lóriði bowed, “Thank you, Milady.”
With a furtive look up and down the streets, Sif and her son were gone, hidden among the cottages and storefronts.
Eris closed the door after them and stared back up the long hallway. She was now alone and time was growing shorter. She broke into a run.
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, 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.
“ 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.
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.
“You were.”
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.”
“ 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.”

Assignment: 64379-01
Location: Asgard

Agent: Colin M. Denehy
Date: 1/11/30

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 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.
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.
Sulyir was getting frustrated with her, she could see it. Ever since they'd returned from Jotunheim with the possibility of his pardon made a reality, he'd been pushing her to set their plan into motion. She'd gone round with him, explaining a hundred ways everything could go wrong. He would soothe her, try to build her confidence but all she could see was prison, whether it be here or at home was irrelevant. What if she were thrown into the cells beneath the palace and was unable to affect her escape? What if she couldn't find the reliquary? She couldn't exactly ask anyone where it was without attracting attention. And then there was the casket itself. She had never been very strong. What if the casket weighed too much for her to carry? What if the guardian caught her before she could get to the casket? What if she touched the casket and was frozen to the spot, or worse. He'd laughed at this though he'd brought her a pair of leather gloves the next evening for her concern. So many variables, so many ways for everything to go horribly wrong. “Not to mention the fact that I'm afraid to die,” she'd told him. Still he reassured her she was going to do fine, plying her with the reward for her effort. At last she promised him she would try. Soon, very soon, she would find her way into the palace cells.

“Move closer to the lantern, Lelia. You're losing the light,” Finch murmured when she spied Lelia squinting at the tunic she was stitching together.
“Me Ma was the seamstress in our family,” Lelia sighed holding the tunic up before her, “She could stitch together a dress so ye could nary see the threads binding it together. She shoulda been sewing fer the Queen, she should, but she would never dare to show off her skill. Da had even begged her to set up a stall in the marketplace making fine garments. He was right proud a her but she refused, saying love was what drove her needle through the cloth. She couldn't make clothes fer strangers because her heart wouldn't be in it.”
“Mmmm,” Finch nodded, “Many a tunic and breeches I've given away out of love and concern for my fellow dwarf. I ken your mother.”
Lelia set the tunic in her lap, staring into the flame of the lantern until Finch nudged her with her foot, “You miss her.”
“That I do,” Lelia clutched the tunic to her chest, “She must be wondering where I am, if I'm well. Da too.”
“You'll be seeing her again when you return to Asgard won't you?”
Lelia spread the tunic out across her knees and slid the needle out of her cuff where she'd stuck it for safekeeping, “Indeed we will.”
Finch turned over the dress she'd been sewing, lifting an arm from the basket beside her. Outside, a group of children rushed past the cottage, screaming and laughing.
“When will Simon be back?” Lelia frowned at the urge to leave off the word “when”. She'd done so a fortnight past when a hard storm had layered the village in two feet of snow and she could do naught but picture Simon and the rest of the men frozen to death beneath the low branches of a scrawny pine tree.
“I don't rightly know, my dear but he will be back. You must believe it. Now why don't we put our sewing away and start the evening meal? I've invited Pelinor's wife to dine with us don't give me that look. Harmand would be ashamed were I not to show hospitality to one who is all alone like ourselves. If she gets into a snit again, you know what to do.”
Lelia set the tunic atop the sewing basket, “Finch, I've counted a thousand o'er a thousand with that woman. Sure and she's bloom all for want of a beating.”
“Well then she's a perfect companion for Pelinor,” Finch laughed and Lelia had to smile along with her as they headed into the cold room at the rear of the cottage.
Finch lifted a bowl from one of the shelves, peering into it, “Ah look at that will you? A skim of ice atop the water,” she handed the bowl to Lelia, “Drain the water outside the rear door will you? Be sure to hold the ling in the bowl so we'll not lose them in the snow.”
“What I wouldn't give to have yer rabbit stew again,” Lelia hefted the bowl from Finch's arms.
Finch nodded, wiping her hands on the skirt of her dress, “Tomorrow perhaps. We'll seduce one of the boys into catching us a hare. We'll promise him sweet buns but tonight we've company and Mashte loves fried ling.”
Lelia opened the rear door of the cottage, throwing the water out of the bowl with a grimace, retreating as swiftly as she could back into the warmth of the common room, “ 'Tis unfit for man or beast out there. What be the possibility of Mashte staying home?”
Finch peered out one of the cottage windows, “I'd say slim. She's on her front steps talking with the widow Lesha, looking toward our place.”
Lelia lifted a cast iron pan from the rack above the hearth, “Ah well. Time to play nice.”
Lelia had lifted the spider to place it near the banked coals at one end of the fire when there came a furious knocking at the front door. She paused, watching as Finch glanced through the window in the door, unlatched it and threw it wide as Mashte stumbled inside.
“They are home!!”, Mashte shrieked, “They are home!! Lesha's boy came running from the mill pond. He saw them on the road!”
Lelia stood up, weaving a bit as she did so, afraid to ask the question poised upon her tongue. Frantically she rushed to the pegs by the door, reaching for her boots, her hands shaking so hard she fumbled them twice before dropping to the floor to shove them onto her feet. Outside came a cry, then another as the children raced by the cottage again, this time in the direction of the road leading out of the village.
Finch had yanked their cloaks from the peg, handing Lelia hers as she made her feet. They hurried outside to see the other cottages around the little square emptying into the growing dusk, lanterns held high above their heads as they gathered together, talking excitedly.
The sound of horses hooves upon the frozen ground came to them from the growing shadows beyond the scope of their lights, Lelia staring hard at the darkness until the flame of one torch rose from the hill leading down into the center of the village, followed by another and yet another until she could no longer hold herself in place and she began to run.

Simon turned to Velos, “The one coming toward us. That's Lelia. I'm not entirely sure whether she's going to kiss me or give me a good thrashing. Very likely both.”
“My Wen would probably do the same were I to leave her without warning. In fact, I might not come out of it as well off as you. She has a fiery temper.”
Simon handed the torch to Velos and dropped down from his horse, letting loose the reins as Lelia threw her arms about his neck with a great sob, “Simon, oh Simon! Thank Freyr ye've returned safe!”
Without missing a beat, she let him go, striking him about the chest with her fists until he had to grab her wrists lest she knock him to the ground, “What were ye thinking leaving me here like this? Sure I thought ye were fer the next world as cold as it's been. I had such horrid dreams, seeing ye froze to death, tortured by the Jotunns or worse, gutted like a fish, drowned. Every night a new terror!”
All at once she collapsed into his arms, her tears soaking into the collar of his tunic, “Promise ye'll never leave me again. Promise. Even if we're fer dying, let it be going together we are. I can't imagine roaming this realm without ye!”
Simon wrapped his arms around her shoulders, burying his face in her russet curls, breathing in her scent as the villagers started to surround them shouting cries of welcome, cheering as Harmand waved the torch above their heads.
“ 'Tis good to be home again!”
Simon nodded. They were home. When all was said and done with the runes, they would come back to Melos, Lelia and himself, they would return to stay.

The lodge was packed, the villagers lined about the long table, staring at the ship's prism and the chalice throwing off dancing beams of gold and green light as they sat  before Simon and Velos.
“I never thought I'd see the elementals here in our village,” Mashte murmured, “I would never have guessed what they were had I come across them.”
“That is the beauty of the Runes, their safeguard, that no one, not even the guardians themselves, know what they have until the time comes to bring them together again,” Harmand picked up the chalice, turning it about in his hand with a demeanor approaching reverence upon his ruddy face, “And now they must soon leave us again.”
Murmurs arose about the lodge, “So soon?” Finch cried, “Can they not stay a bit longer?”
Lelia gave Finch a sad smile knowing she meant not the runes but Simon and herself. She had lamented the loss of Lelia's company a few nights ago though she assured her she too wished for the return of the men. Lelia was of the same mind. Finch reminded her so much of her own mother, she had been grateful when Finch had moved her into her own cottage upon the men's departure.
“We have to start out for Asgard in the morning,” Simon lifted the prism from the table, slipping it into the satchel on his lap, “The runes have called us for a purpose and we can't realize it until they are together again.”
“Will you come back to Melos when your chore is finished?” Pelinor asked, his question echoed about the lodge as the people chimed in with their assent.
“I will,” Simon glanced at Lelia who sat beside him, her head on his shoulder, “If you'll have us.”
“Foolish boy,” Harmand clapped his hands together, “You're family, you are. You're part of the clan Melos. If you don't turn up in a fortnight, rest assured, we'll come looking for you. We take care of our  own.”
Harmand handed him the chalice which Simon set into the satchel beside the prism, closing the flap, damping their glow.
“Now we should be turning in,” he stood up from the table, “Morning will be here soon enough.”
The people began to disperse, wishing him well, bidding him to return as soon as he was able until only Harmand and Wickett were left.
“We'll see you off on the morrow,” Harmand patted Simon on the back, “We'll ride to our borders with you.”
Wickett clapped his hands together, “Wickett has never seen Asgard. He has heard many tales, but never laid eyes upon it. Wickett will be ready when the cock crows!”
“Wickett can't go with us,” Simon took the young man by the shoulders, disheartened by the look of anguish on his face, “Not this time.”
“But Wickett helped Simon did he not? Wickett made sure Simon was fed, warm, had dry garments....,”
“Ye did a fine job,” Lelia took Wickett's hand, “Ye took care of me husband, returned him to me whole and I've a request of ye which will garner our deepest gratitude. Stay and keep our cottage fer us until we return to Melos. Ye will have shelter and warmth, food enough now and ferever after but most of all will ye be safe.”
Wickett lifted her hand to his face and pressed it to his cheek, “Wickett will do as Lelia asks. Wickett will put a new thatch on the roof, whitewash the walls, fix the loose step at the front door, fill the woodshed. Oh Wickett has much to do!”
Simon grinned at Wickett's excitement and moreover at Lelia's skill in staving off what could have been a sad affair indeed. Wickett would be happy and safe in Melos, a well deserved fate for a loyal friend. As they headed across the quiet village square, however, Simon shuddered, pulling Lelia close to him. Tomorrow they would be heading back to Asgard, toward the unknown, toward an uncertain future.

Colin was unsure whether he expected someone to come looking for him the next day, or the day after that but by the fourth day, he began to consider maybe he'd finally cut his legs out from under him. He would wander the encampment, come to the longhouses, try to find something to do until he would end up sitting at an empty table in the mess tent working on his journal or his reports. It was on the morning of the fourth day while he was reading over what he'd just wrote, his half finished breakfast on the tray at his elbow that Chase set his tray on the table and sat down beside him.
“You're still here?”
“Aye,” Colin muttered, “I could say the same thing about you, now.”
Chase shrugged, opening up his napkin, “But I work here at the encampment. You're the golden boy. You bunk with the in-laws.”
“Is that so?” Colin eyed him, “Don't be letting Loki hear you say that. You so sure he's sold on having a Midgardian married to his daughter?”
Chase unwrapped the fork and spoon from their sanitary plastic bagging, “I'm still working on him. I figure we can wait him out.”
“Mmmph,” Chase nodded, his mouth full of scrambled eggs, “Brenna and I. I mean how hard is it going to be when we show up at the manor with his first grandchild in her arms? He'll have to accept us won't he?”
“Yer daft!” Colin laughed, “If you've not noticed yet, Loki is hard core old school. He's more likely to disown her altogether you pull a stunt like that. I were you, I'd keep up the same pace yer taking right now. Show him by action that yer sincere about yer intentions, none a that sneaking around the two of you were doing. Be up front, be honest.”
“Well you have to admit, he's awful strict..,”Chase replied but his answer went unnoticed as Colin sat there repeating to himself what he'd just told Chase.
“Show him by action that yer sincere about yer intentions, be up front, be honest.”
Colin stood up from the table, clutching his tablet to his chest, “Chase could you see to my tray? I've something I have to do.”
“Sure, you finished with your bacon and eggs?”
“Yeah,” Colin waved at him, “Have at it.”
Before he reached the mess tent door, he was already hard at work in his head. He had a letter to write.

Eris put a hand to her chest trying to stop her heart from pounding as she stood watching the stalls in the square. Would stealing something from them get her thrown into the palace cells? It would probably earn her a trip in front of the magistrate. She had to create a scene as well. She had to be noticed. Then she had to pray she hadn't overdone it enough to get hauled directly into the throne room before the king.
“Eris!” Cabel called to her, “Come on, stop yer dreaming and help me with the barrels!”
Eris rolled her eyes as she turned away from the bustle of the square to where Cabel was leaning atop a tall keg of ale in front of the brew house.
“Yes, master,” she muttered, “Keep your pants on.”
She would have to make her move soon. Not today, but soon.

Simon held the chalice up to the firelight, observing the way the muted gold patina about its outer surface glistened.
“You've no idea then why you were compelled to gather the rune elementals?” Velos poked at the fire, stirring a tornado of sparks which flew through the tree branches overhead.
“Not a clue to be honest, unless you count Lelia,” Simon smiled, “She showed up at the encampment one evening with a grand story about my duty as a descendant of Melos and I was sold, or rather shamed into setting out with her on this insane trek.”
“As I recall,” Lelia kicked at him with her foot, “Ye needed little convincing. Perhaps 'twas me feminine wiles dragged you from your warm tent that evening.”
Simon raised an eyebrow as Velos chuckled, “Wen has changed my mind many a time with a kiss. I have no doubt you were seduced. Women are more dangerous by far than the swiftest hawk, deadlier but you must have had some reason to set out on such a quest.”
Simon tilted the cup to peer into its depths, spying the rune mark like a hologram floating at the bottom, “The truth? I wanted to be saved from a lonely, stale life. I left the encampment with the hope that I was made for something greater than a lifetime of white collar work.”
“White collar work?” Velos eyed him as Lelia laughed.
“He often makes no sense a'tall. 'Tis a Midgardian phrase I'll wager.”
“It is,” Simon set the cup inside his backpack, “And at this point I am as far from my former life as is possible.”
“So what will you do with the elementals when we reach Asgard?”
Simon leaned forward to toss another piece of wood on the fire, “I will give them to the Protector whoever he or she might be and there my task will be finished. Then I will return to Melos with Lelia.”
Lelia slid her arm into his, “...where we will make a farm. Sure I'll tend the livestock. He'll tend the fields and we'll raise a family.”
“Sounds grand,” Velos lay back, resting his head on his satchel, “but it hardly explains why the runes are being called to gather again.”
Simon stared into the flames, “Isn't it possible they've come together for no reason?”
“Unlikely,” Velos murmured, “The rune elementals are not summoned unless there is a need for them so we will soon find out.”
Simon hunkered down beneath the heavy coverlet, drawing Lelia into his arms, cursing the winter which still held Alfheim in an icy grip that threatened to remain tight until spring. As Lelia began to sing to him in her soft lilting voice, he was seized with a sudden all consuming urge to send her back to Melos where she would be safe.
A couple more days and they would be at the border of Asgard.
I've not died....I am writing.....making jewelry.....going through the process for SSD......but I'm still here....looked at my old journal and thought I should let you know.....still looking for a cover designer for my second Loki fiction while I have some money....yup same old, same old.
  • Mood: Suffering
  • Listening to: my mother, blah blah blah...
  • Watching: the computer screen, geez


Deborah Austin
Artist | Hobbyist | Photography
United States
Current Residence: upstate new york
Favourite genre of music: most kinds
Favourite photographer: Carl Heilman, Mark Bowie
Operating System: windows xp
Shell of choice: Alaskan King crab
Skin of choice: golden O_o
Favourite cartoon character: GARFIELD, Peanuts
Personal Quote: "Where are we going and why am I in this handbasket?"



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