Freya's daughter was now fast approaching the end of childhood. Her round face was beginning to show the signs of becoming thinner and longer like that of one which is fully mature. While most spent this period with awkwardly long and lanky limbs or with feet too big for their bodies, Kelda retained her graceful appearance. She sat in a golden chair as her mother stood behind her and brushed out her long hair.
"My dear child," she cooed. "How much you have grown." Kelda grinned. She longed for adulthood. To be like her mother who she so admired. Freya set the brush down and put her hands on the girl's shoulders. "Before I know it, you'll be a woman." She smiled tenderly, but there was sadness in her eyes. Since she had taken the child from the Earth and raised her as her own, her life was filled with a light that had been missing for thousands of years. She circled around the chair, stopping to kneel in front of the child. She examined her face, and was filled with a mix of sorrow and pride. She knew this would be one of the last times she would look this way: round, pink cheeks and eyes widened with an excitement only found in children. Although a part of her wished to keep her young forever, she knew that seeing her grow into an intelligent, beautiful, well-rounded adult would be worth much more to her. "You're my little ray of moon light," she said in a soft voice.
Anyone would looked at Kelda would know that this name suited her perfectly. Her skin was pale and glowed with a soft radiance. Some of the inhabitants of Asgard were as fair skinned, but not like she was. Everyone seemed to give off a sunny glow, not one as muted and hauntingly cool as her's. The older she got, the more elvish she appeared. Her hair had the rich darkness found only in the deepest forests. The rosy tint of her cheeks and lips were like the petals of freshly bloomed flowers in spring. Her eyes danced and captured the attention of even the most aloof resident of the godly city like the waters of the clearest pools. She was like a small, walking breath of the nature on Midgard. Still, none but her mother and Odin knew why she exuded such qualities.
"Are we going to see Loki and Thor today?" she asked, her child's voice floating in the air like a fluffy cloud.
"Yes, my sweet," Freya said, smiling at how excited she sounded. She loved seeing her daughter with other children, especially with the two young princes of Asgard who she knew were good company. Kelda spend much of their time in Freya's hall. Freya was the overseer of the Valkyries, and such a job required much of her time. Kelda didn't mind for the most part. She was content to wander the great halls, entertaining herself. The Valkyries adored her, and many would spend their time brushing her hair, or helping her tend to the horses, or simply taking a few moments of their time to talk to her. She was never left wanting for attention (which she rarely would have desired, she tended to keep to herself). She wasn't, however, spoiled in the slightest like most children in her position would be. Freya would have given her the world if she asked for it. But she did not ask. There was something about her that other children, or anyone for that matter, did not have. A temperament that was certainly not common among that entitled, superior beings that inhabited Asgard. She was content with what was given to her. This made her seem much older and wiser than she would appear. "Come along, let's get you dressed."
Freya lead Kelda across the room to a beautifully carved dresser. Sprigs of wildflowers and the faces of imps and fairies decorated its wooden surface. She opened the top, which was a chest, and pulled out a simple, long, rosy golden hued dress. Small metallic leaves were strung along the collar. Their warm colors only made her cool coloring more exaggerated. Freya pulled top sections of her hair into intricate braids and pinned them with a bronze, leaf shaped clip.
"I have a present for you," Freya said, beaming. Today was important, that anniversary of the day she found Kelda deep in the woods of Earth.
Kelda's face lit up. "What is it?"
In a small flurry of gold, a trinket appeared in Freya's hands. A teardrop shaped amber stone surrounded by swirls of gold made a ring. "This is for you." She slid it onto a silvery chain and strung it around the girl's neck. It was much too big for her tiny fingers, so she wore it on a necklace. "Do you like it?"
Kelda examined the petite ring for a moment before she answered. "I love it!" she chimed.
Freya smiled. "Shall we?" she asked, extending her hand. Kelda grasped it, her hand dwarfed by her mothers. They walked hand in hand to Freya's chariot. It was golden and decorated with the carvings of ancient trees and ferns. It was drawn by two almost horse-sized wild cats. They were twin brothers. Their fur was was a stormy, gray blue color. They had eyes darker than the night sky that were trained on Kelda. While Freya began hitching them up, Kelda stroked their muzzles gently. The purred and rubbed their large heads against her arms. These beasts did not generally take kindly to anyone but the mother and child. "Are we ready?"
Kelda grinned and hopped up into the chariot, grasping the front for support.
The ride was not a long one, but it felt like centuries for Kelda. She was a little younger than the brothers, and like the younger children often do, she idolized them and stuck to them like glue. Thor had always seemed slightly off put by having a little girl follow him everywhere. He was never spiteful, but he did on some occasions become entirely fed up with her presence. Loki, the smaller and gentler of the brothers, found her fascinating. He was much more perceptive than his older sibling and could tell there was something different about her. The way she moved and spoke and looked set her apart, and he found it terribly interesting.
When they arrived, Kelda went flying out and down the great hall that lead to Odin's throne room. Towering statues that seemed a mile high each (10 to someone as small as she was) glinted in the light of the day. Freya laughed and took long strides to keep up with her. They were expected and the doors to the room were open. Slowing her pace as she entered, Kelda walked into the gigantic hall. Odin was not on his throne by his wife, Frigga, where he usually sat. He was staring out of one of the windows with his hands behind his back and a grave expression. When he heard her whispering footsteps, he turned to face her. He smiled, but there was still something lingering in his one eye. She bowed to him as a greeting.
"No no, none of that, my child," he said, pulling her into a hug. She grinned and squeezed him tightly. "And how is the Lady Kelda on this lovely day?"
"Absolutely wonderful, my king," she said. She addressed him as king the way most would address a friend. She had been brought up with Odin and his family as close friends. The bond between Odin and Freya ran too deeply for things to be any other way.
"And good day to the Lady Freya," he said as she stepped up beside Kelda. Freya smiled at first, but she saw what was in Odin's face. Something was amiss.
"And to you!" she replied, expertly disguising the concern in her voice.
"What a lovely ring you have on your necklace," Odin said, changing the subject to keep Kelda unaware of the sudden tension. "A present for today's occasion I assume?" He of course remembered well the day she was brought to Asgard. Kelda nodded. "I believe my wife has something for you as well, why don't you run along and find her? I'm sure my sons are somewhere nearby as well." Kelda beamed and pranced away.
Freya and Odin's false smiles faded and they watched her skip away and out of earshot.
"My Lady... My friend," began Odin in a troubled tone.
"All Father, you know that I need not your cushioning words to soften any blow. Has something happened?" Freya asked, wanting desperately to know what troubled him so. It was a rare occasion that Odin showed such signs of worry.
He nodded, his face now hardened into a look of concern. "I fear for the safety of Kelda."
With his scarf hanging loosely and his book tucked into his jacket, Loki breezed down the small streets on Angelica with unnatural grace and swiftness. His mouth was drawn tightly and his eyes were fixed in front of him, obviously lost in thought. He headed out of the tiny city and towards the woods some few miles away.
That could not have been her, he thought, thinking about the young woman in the bookstore. That would be impossible. She has been lost to our world for far too long. And what business would she have on Midgard? A wretched place. Posing as a wretched human. But those eyes...
Though he could think of no logical explanation for her being on Earth, there was no mistaking her eyes. Never had he seen such a captivating gradient of bright blue in the face of any creature. The silky, deep brown hair, the features akin to the subtle beauty found only in nature's most delicate blossoms, the flesh whose pallor was only comparable to a bright, full moon, all were signs that it was her. But above all else, he knew those eyes.
The alien prince who had fallen from grace had landed in the icy wood of the forest near Angelica. Weak and badly hurt, Loki had used the last of his magic to slip into the faint shadow of the trees. There he had waited for days, regaining his strength and his sorcery. He had finally pulled himself together enough to take his natural form. He had no desire to dwell in this realm longer than necessary. He had the ancient text that had been thought lost, and once his full power was restored, he would be able to leave this hellish excuse for a planet. Or so had planned. But finding her was far from what he had expected. As he approached the heart of the forest, he slithered back into the shadows of a large pine tree. A deathly cold wind began to pick up. It didn't bother him. The cold never had. And now that he knew why, he resented his body's indifference to this bone numbing chill in the air.
His mind began to wander as he considered what finding the lost daughter of Asgard would mean. He thought how easy it would be to use her safe return at his hand as a vehicle for redemption.
Their simple minds would welcome me back with open arms, he mused. And then who would expect it when I would strike and take the power I so deserved? They would all see who is truly the more kingly brother, he thought bitterly. All he had wanted was the be seen with the favor that was bestowed upon his brother. Not to be pushed aside and left in his shadow. He smirked at the irony that he now was forced to cling to the shadow of trees for his power to be restored.
As he toyed with this idea, he was overcome by a wave of sadness.
"The princess of Asgard," the people had called Kelda. He was soon lost in a sea of memories.
"How beautiful she would look as the Queen on Thor's arm!" the respected ladies of the court would titter.
"Like she deserves him," jealous young maidens would sneer. "She's so strange. She is not worthy of such a prince!"
Loki could hear them all talking of his elder brother and Freya's daughter. They were, at the time, no longer children and not yet adults. Rumors of who the future king would take as his wife were a popular topic. And Loki despised all mention of it. He would watch in vain jealousy as Kelda and Thor laughed and talked. As children, he recalled, Thor could have cared less about the girl. But now that she had matured, he suddenly found her absolutely engrossing. She was small in stature compared to the others. Under her fine dresses her lean frame could be seen. Her body curved in the dramatic swoops of womanhood. She wore her luxurious hair down to the middle of her back. She stood out among the people of Asgard. They were tall and statuesque, like sculptures plated in gold and bronze. And there she was, at least half a head shorter than even the smallest of the court's ladies, with rich, dark brown hair and alabaster skin. Even from a distance, he could see her big eyes glinting dramatically as evening light shone in them.
It was an old memory. One that stung him deeply. For what was he compared to the lordly Thor?
He could not hear what had been said, but she laughed loudly. It was a sound that would light up even the darkest of places. A laugh that lingered in rooms long after the chiming sound had faded.
A few of the young women stared daggers at her.
"She is so improper!" one growled to another.
"How uncouth!" her companion agreed.
The older women only smiled at the two.
"I do believe I see a budding romance!"
Loki's heart sank as he remembered those words.
Angry about letting himself stray into a memory so trivial, he locked it back up and thought of other things. Of dark plans for revenge on his "brother" and "father", only made worse by the seething, jealous hatred in that thought.
Everything, his mind roared. He hath bested me in everything! Well no more. Never again will that oaf be seen as superior. Soon they will all recognize me as their true king. In time.
It had been almost a week since the handsome stranger had come into the bookstore. The dreams had become noticeably more vivid since then, and made staying awake a hassle. She barely had the energy for it, but for the entirety of the almost week he hadn't come back, Charlotte stayed on the downstairs floor. If he did come back, she didn't want to be barricaded upstairs in a mountain of old books. However, spending so much time on the main floor reminded her why she hated it so much in the first place.
"So did you see the news last night?" Jacob, her one and only coworker asked.
"No, Jacob," she sighed, not looking up from the book she had taken from the top floor to read. He talked nonstop all day everyday. Hence the appeal of the second floor.
"Oh! Well there was this really great story about..."
She stopped listening. She didn't want to seem completely rude, so she looked up from the copy of Of Mice and Men and tried to maintain an interested expression while she tuned him out. Jacob just continued to babble about nothing, either not noticing or not caring that she was paying no attention. When they had first met, Charlotte found his company enjoyable. Sure, he talked a lot, but he was friendly. She hadn't known anyone else really in Angelica, and she would take whatever acquaintanceship she could get. Now she just found him annoying, but it was not in her nature to be rude and tell him. So, for the almost year she had worked at the shop, she put up with it, keeping a polite smile the whole way through. While he talked, she stared blankly at his mouth, which seemed to be moving at roughly the speed of a hummingbird's wings. His mouth was a little too big for his face and he had large, white teeth that only drew more attention to his constant talking. He also shoved his curly hair out of his face constantly, just so it could fall right back where it had been in the first place.
Why is it exactly that I'm not paying attention to what he's saying? she asked herself. Why is it that whenever someone tries to be nice to you, you just find stupid excuses to not like them. He's someone who actually wants to spend time with you.
He still chattered away, completely oblivious to her lack of interest. As she was about to make up some bullshit excuse to hide away upstairs, the doorbell chimed. Jumping up at the reason to get out of the conversation, she walked toward the front of the store from the bookcase she had been hiding behind.
"Good afternoon," she began, looking up to see who exactly it was she was greeting. She froze for a moment when she saw the man who had bought that old, musty book. Today he wore a gray, herringbone suit with a black shirt and tie. He wore the same black jacket, this time unbuttoned, and the same leather gloves. His hair was slicked back from his cold face. Suddenly feeling under dressed in her thick wool tights and short skirted sweater dress, she blushed and looked at his shoes. They were black and perfectly shined, not a trace of a scuff mark. She glanced at her old boots and made a face.
"Hello, again," he said smoothly, smirking at her flushed cheeks. That only made her face turn a deeper shade of pink which she was now painfully aware of. She was normally level headed and blushed next to never. But something about him was getting under her skin. She didn't know why and it nagged at her. She gritted her teeth a little, bothered that she had an issue with being her usual articulate self.
"Hello..." she trailed off, not knowing what else to say.
He was quite pleased with himself that he left her so flustered, and she could tell. The only made the fact that she was floundering to make conversation more aggravating. She had no idea why she was so anxious for him to come back. She hadn't thought of anything to say. She didn't even know him! All she knew was that she was borderline desperate to see him again.
Jacob, watching the exchange, came over and stood just behind Charlotte, crossing his arms. "What can we do for you?"
There was a flicker of seething envy behind his dark eyes. The stranger snorted at how defensive he was getting. Charlotte had to stifle a laugh. She was painfully unsuccessful. A squeak came out that she tried to pass off as a hiccup. His attempt at manliness was failing miserably. He looked like a puppy trying to heroically step in and fend off an intruder.
"I merely came to browse," he retorted, not missing a beat. His voice was sickly sweet and made Jacob's skin crawl. The man turned to Charlotte. "Might I ask for your assistance? There seems to be quit a lot of shelves upstairs and I wouldn't want to damage anything." He smiled at her, making her heart jump into her throat.
"Yeah... Of course." She sounded disoriented. She was in no way expecting him to want to be alone with her. Jacob stood there, glaring at the two of them as the man glided up the stairs behind her.
Along with the towering bookcases that loomed all around the second floor, boxes of books that hadn't been touched in what looked like decades were shoved toward to back in an attempt to hide their disheveled appearance from the customers.
"Looking for anything in particular?" she asked, trying not to stammer and she started piling books out of the boxes to get a better look at them.
"I can't say that I am, no."
"Just really into old books?"
And there I go again, sounding like I have the vocabulary of a 12 year old.
He smiled again. "Yes, I suppose you could say that."
Gently, the two of them started picking through the stacks they had made of novels, dictionaries, encyclopedias, history texts and children's stories that hadn't been in print for at least 60 years, some even longer.
"So... I don't think I've seen you around here before," she began in an attempt to make conversation. "I'm guessing you're new in town? I'm pretty sure I would have remembered meeting someone like you." It took her a second to realize she really did say that out loud, and not at all in her head like she had intended.
A smug look danced across the man's face. "Oh would you, now?" he taunted.
"I mean Angelica is so small, there's no way I could have missed anyone who actually lives here!" she blurted out much too quickly. Again, a blush was creeping into her cheeks and across the bridge of her nose.
Stupid stupid stupid...
He raised one eyebrow at her for a moment, then looked back down at one of the books, unable to hide the pompous look on his face.
"You seem to get quite a bit of enjoyment out of my embarrassment," she muttered.
"I do, do I?" the same gleeful mockery in his tone.
"Yes, I think you do!" she huffed.
"And what would make you say that?"
"That! That thing you just did! That overly confident sneer!"
Now he raised both his eyebrows at her before relaxing into a smirk. He began flipping through a book of fairy tales. She sat there and stewed in her own irritation, letting it fester as she continued to glower at him. He ignored her and they sat in silence.
Suddenly, he shut the book, making her jump. "I believe this is all that I'll be needing."
"Fine. Come back downstairs and we'll ring you up."
She scampered down the stairs, still irked by their brief interaction. Jacob was sitting behind the counter at the cash register. He shot the man a nasty look. He only returned a painfully disingenuous smile, placing the book on the counter. "$16," he said bitterly as he exchanged the book for a handful of cash.
The stranger turned to Charlotte and reached for her hand with his own. Gently, he bowed to kiss it. She looked him, all of her frustration melting away. Jacob's nostrils flared and his chest puffed up.
"Until we meet again."
And with that, he stepped back outside into the cold winter air.