Eidra felt Loki stir, stretch and drape his arm over her. "Is it that time already?"
She felt him nod against her back. "Mmmhmm, I must have the chores done before we leave. I told Sally that she would not have need to come over until evening." He threw the covers back and swung his feet out and over the floor, grabbed his breeches from the chair beside the bed and drew them on. She rolled over to curve herself around him. "Are you nervous?"
He pulled his boots from beneath the bed. "Are you?"
He leaned over and kissed her cheek, "Do not be, we will be safe."
He stood with his tunic in hand, "I will do the milking and then I will start to prepare the wagon."
As he walked out of the bedroom, she sighed. "I guess that is my cue."
When he returned to the cottage with the milk pail, the house was a flurry of activity. Fen in particular was out of control and Brenna more than once yelled at him to run around outside so Loki caught him, hauled him up over his shoulder while he laughed and kicked, and took him outside to help prepare the wagon.
He hefted the bales of hay up onto the wagon bed and Fen bodily shoved them wherever Loki told him to.
"You are a bit overexcited, boy." Loki hauled another bale up, watching as Fen scrambled to pull it backwards.
"I am sooo excited, Papa. I have never seen the palace up close. I have never been to the city. I cannot help it!" He grabbed the next bale and shoved it into place. "The King is my uncle, right?"
Loki nodded, "He is."
"So if you are his brother, you are a prince too, right?"
Loki stopped. Should he try to explain abdication to a seven season old little boy? Fen stood there waiting for the next bale and his words.
"I renounced my title but I suppose that I am still of royal blood." He refused to tell him that the blood of his royal family ran through the veins of Asgard's hated enemies. He had been terrified when Brenna and Fen had been born. He feared above all else that they would be born Jotun.
"So then that would make me a prince too, right Papa?" He pulled the last bale into place and waited for the blankets Loki was handing up to him.
"Spread them over the bales, double them up so that the hay does not poke through."
Fen did as he was told but would not let his question rest, "So am I a prince, Papa?"
"For all intents and purposes, yes, but..."
"So that means Brenna is a princess?"
"Fen, enough talk of such matters. Pay attention to your work." He handed Fen another blanket.
"Does Brenna know she is a princess? Can I tell her?"
Fen heard the warning tone in his father's voice. "Sorry, Papa."
Loki shook his head, "Do not be sorry for the questions, be sorry that you ask the same ones repeatedly. Now come on or we shall get nothing for the morning meal." Fen jumped into Loki's arms and hugged his around the neck before he set him down and Fen was off on a dead run into the house.
"Where does that boy find the energy?" He muttered, following behind him.
The women had already eaten and were now packing a small trunk. Fen and Loki sat at the table with their bowls of porridge. Loki took a handful of dried raspberries and sprinkled them over the surface. Fen held his bowl out to Loki and he obliged him with another handful. Helgi sat down before the fireplace to slip on her shoes but was soon interrupted. "Helgi, will you braid my hair for me?" Brenna made to sit on the floor before her but Helgi shouted, "Wait! You have a clean dress on, drag that stool over here."
Brenna looked down at herself. She had on her best dress, a long sleeved dark blue affair with a white velvet bodice that she thought suited her newly sprung cleavage nicely. She lifted her skirt daintily and sat on the stool before Helgi as she began to braid Brenna's long dark hair.
Loki was aware that his daughter was as beautiful as her mother. Eidra had noticed too and on that note, she had brought up the subject of ritual deflowering one evening as they lay in bed. Loki had been adamant in his refusal, saying that the man Brenna found to marry would be the one to make her a woman. He would not allow a stranger to touch his daughter for the express purpose of taking her virginity. There had been some heated words at the time, he had asked her how scared she had been of him and she had told him that if he hadn't been such a brute she wouldn't have been afraid. The discussion had ended with him cradling her in his arms, drying her tears, but he remained steadfast. There would be no ritual deflowering, she may have the Uruz as a bride present but the rest was out of the question.
Eidra sailed out of the bedroom in a velvet green dress with a darker green bodice, her hair pulled back from her face and off her neck. She stopped at the table and gave Loki a kiss, waking his desire as he felt himself throb at the touch of her hand on his neck. "You are a vision, my love."
He looked down at himself. He would have to change from his barn clothes. He fervently wished he had something more to wear than the breeches and tunic hanging in the wardrobe. He would rather be presented to mother and the Allfather in court dress. Perhaps he would ask Thor if he could be properly attired when they arrived at Asgard.
As he was coming out of the bedroom, he heard Fen shout, "The King is here!"
Fen shot to the door and flung it open. "Your Majesty!"
Loki sighed, at least he'd remembered his manners.
Thor strode into the cottage and bowed to the women, then turned to Loki as a smile stole to his lips. "It looks as if you are preparing for a trip. Am I correct to assume that we will be sharing the same path?"
Loki raised his eyebrows as he tried to force the smile that threatened to steal to his face and at once Thor was upon him, picking him up in a great bear hug.
"I knew you would come! We will have a feast tomorrow night and the bonfires."
He held him out at arms length, "We will get you properly attired when you reach the palace," His gaze swung the rest of them. "You want to look your best when you meet your grandparents."
"This is my best." Eidra muttered as she adjusted her dress.
Brenna stepped forward and curtsied to Thor. "Would your majesty care to share our morning meal?"
Thor shook his head, "Nay, Milady, we have already eaten this morning though I thank you for the offer." He bowed, "How soon may we be off?"
Loki took his cloak off the peg by the door, "Not long, I have to saddle Blackberry."
"Blackberry?" He could hear the mirth in Thor's question and Brenna's subsequent giggle.
"Yes Blackberry, blame Brenna." He motioned to Thor, "Leave the women to finish. Come with me."
Brenna watched her father walk out the front door followed by Thor who, if she had to put a label to it, looked to be fairly bursting with joy as he clapped her father on the back and closed the door behind him.
Every few minutes, Loki would ride alongside the wagon to check on Eidra. "Are you comfortable, darling?"
She would wave him away, "Loki, I am fine. Do not fret so."
He pointed his riding crop at her upon one occasion, "I shall fret if I like, you would have a better chance asking the wind to stop blowing or the rain to fall upwards." He had tapped her lightly on the head with the crop and she had laughed, "Very well. But I am fine. Pester your brother."
Loki had given her a petulant look but he had trotted ahead to fall in step with Thor.
Fen had been fidgeting, having grown bored with his wooden animals and games of count the cows and "What am I" as they passed the houses and farms along the road, so he stood up and leaned over the drivers bench between Helgi and Brenna to watch the road ahead. Finally he poked Brenna, making her drop the reins temporarily. She scooped them back up and swatted at him, "Stop it, you little worm!"
He hopped further up so his legs were dangling at the back of the seat over the wagon bed and Eidra called to him, "Fen, plant your feet on the wagon." He slid back down but stayed where he was and after another couple minutes, tugged at Brenna's sleeve. "Papa told me I am a prince so I do not have to listen to you."
Brenna saw Helgi's head come around as if it were on a swivel but she said nothing, simply eyed Fen who took no notice of her.
"I am sure what father said was that you were a royal brat."
He poked her again ducking another swat. "I asked him if he was a prince and did that mean that I was and he said yes and then I asked if it meant you were a princess and he said yes."
"Fen!" Helgi cried, "That is quite enough of your storytelling." She craned her neck around and looked at Eidra who was reaching to pull Fen from between them.
"But Papa said it was true, I swear!" he held tight to the bench as Eidra wrapped her arm around his waist to pull him back onto the bale of hay where she was sitting.
"What did I say that was true, may I ask?"
Eidra shot Loki a glare that took him by surprise, "Fen was telling Brenna about your conversation this morning."
Loki tried to feign ignorance but he knew he would likely be in trouble, "About the trip to the city?"
Eidra's expression didn't change, nor did the glare and he ran a hand through his hair, "The boy asks so many questions."
"The father should give the correct answers." Eidra grumbled.
At once he felt on the defensive, "The father did."
"To someone too young to ken the meaning."
Loki returned her stare, clucked to Blackberry and soon was back beside Thor.
Fen crawled into her lap, what was left after the baby's share, and started to play with a strand of her hair. She knew this was his way of saying he was ready for a nap and she began to rock him. "Oh you little calf, you are getting too big for this." In answer he cuddled ever closer and she put him up over her shoulder, grimacing at the ache in her back but starting to rock him.
"Did Papa tell the truth? Am I a prince?" He whispered in her ear.
She cast a glance to Helgi and Brenna who had their backs to her and nodded, "Yes, Fen, he was telling the truth but what is a title without a kingdom. It is just a word then. Close your eyes and rest and before you know it, we will be there."
Brenna didn't turn around though she was listening to her mother's conversation. She looked at her father and Thor up ahead of the wagon, their heads bent together in conversation. It made sense really. If he was a prince, whether he lived in the castle or in the village of Rialo, he was still the same person...and as the daughter of a prince, she was a princess. She sat up straighter in the seat as her mother watched her from the wagon, concern written clearly on her face.
Helgi had nodded off leaning against Brenna but was startled awake when Brenna shook her and pointed in the distance at the spires rising above the horizon. "Look Helgi, Asgard." She craned around behind her but Eidra had moved to the bed of the wagon and laid down on the blankets with Fen to rest.
"Mama, look." Brenna said. "We can see the city."
Eidra pushed herself up on one elbow then to her knees, finally hauling herself up with the driver's bench just in time to see Loki galloping back towards them to stop by the wagon with a smile.
"Not far now, we should make the palace by midday."
She had sat down on the bales again watching the city grow closer with a mixture of fear and joy; like Loki she'd had the most wonderful and terrible moments of her life happen behind those same walls. She felt his hand caress the back of her head and she turned as he leaned over from the horse and gave her a kiss. "Soon my love. Has Fen seen the city yet?"
"No, he was down for a nap. All this excitement tired him out. Do you wish me to wake him?"
Loki shrugged but she knew he wanted to share the vista with his son so she nudged Fen who jumped at the touch of her toe. "Fen, come, wake up. Papa wishes to show you something."
Fen slowly stretched, then got to his hands and knees, pulling himself up onto the bale of hay where his mother sat. Loki held out his hands, "Come get on the horse with me."
Fen stood on the bale as Eidra gasped, wrapping her arm around his legs, "Loki be careful!"
He swung Fen over from the wagon to the horse where he sat in front of him, "We will be back."
As they started towards the front of the group, Loki tapped him on the shoulder and pointed ahead of them. "Do you see what I see?"
Fen peered with eyes not yet quite adjusted from his nap but then they opened wide. "Is that the palace?"
"Yes, the largest spires in the sky, they are the palace."
"How long until we get there?"
They were even with Thor now, "Very soon. Are you excited?"
Fen turned to Thor, "Yes, your Majesty."
Thor nodded, "As well you should be. Rialo is nothing akin to Asgard proper. It is magnificent."
Loki bristled slightly at Thor's rebuff of their home but tried to take it into context as merely fact. Asgard was much bigger, far grander than their little village. He wrapped his arm around Fen's shoulders and hugged him, "And you shall see, my son. Soon."
When the gates leading into the main courtyard began to swing open, Fen was practically standing on the bench between Helgi and Brenna while they put their arms up to prevent him from falling off the front of the wagon between the horses. "Look at it, Mama! The gates are huge!"
"Yes Fen, please sit down on the bench, you give me fits."
As the wagon stopped in front of the inner palace doors, Fen jumped down from the back of the wagon before Eidra could catch him and was running to where Loki had just dismounted Blackberry and was handing her to a waiting servant. Fen slammed into his legs, nearly knocking him off his feet. "Papa everything is so big!" Loki smiled and squatted down before him. "Wait until you see the inside."
Loki made the back of the wagon as Eidra was starting to step down. He offered his hand to steady her until she stepped to the ground. She adjusted her dress and cloak, rubbed her hand protectively over the swell of her belly and took Loki's extended arm as he guided her to the steps where Helgi, Brenna and Fen now stood, Fen running in circles, trying to take everything in.
Thor had joined them by the time Loki reached the steps into the palace, "Loki, your bedchamber is ever yours. Go freshen up, change. Milady, I will send a servant with dresses for you to choose from." He turned to the children, "Milord and lady, you will accompany my manservant to the royal nursery where you may change into more suitable court dress. You will meet your cousin, Lóriði."
Eidra gripped Loki's arm hard but he patted her hand, reassuringly as Thor turned back to them, "I will fetch you soon and we will present the family to Mother and Father."
As Thor strode through the doors of the palace with his manservant and the children in tow, Eidra fought a maddening urge to run after them until Loki took her hand, "Let us revisit our old bedchamber shall we?" She gave a quick nod, "Lead the way."
The doors creaked open as they slowly walked into the bedchamber that had seen the beginning of their relationship. Memories flooded them, both good and bad as they gazed about the room. Eidra felt a little sad at seeing the cold hearth though the day was warm with no need of a fire. Their chairs were still before the fireplace and she thought she might ask if they could take them back to Rialo when they returned home. Loki let his hand slip from hers and went to sit on the bed. Eidra came and stood before him where he put his hands on either side of her belly and kissed it, lingering there as she stroked his hair. "So many nights we spent here together in the throes of passion, playing games, talking, it is painful to recall."
She felt him nod against her, "Have I told you how very dear you are to me?"
She smiled down at him, "All the time, my love."
He returned the smile, "Good, so long as you never forget."
She stepped back as he stood up and strode to the large wardrobe and opened it, the sight of his old garments tightening his throat. He had always enjoyed being well dressed for the court. He sighed, supposed there was a shred of vanity left in him. He turned back to Eidra with a sly smile and held out his arms, "Woman, undress me. I wish to wear the court dress today." She put her hands on her hips and tilted her head.
"Do you now? Well Milord I live to serve." She gave his bottom a resounding smack as she passed him on her way to the wardrobe. As she reached up to take down the garments from the hooks at the back of the wardrobe, she felt his hands come around from behind her and cup her breasts as he rubbed himself against her. She braced herself against the back wall of the wardrobe to prevent herself from dropping to the floor. "Loki" She scolded him, "You know how I get when I am with child."
He chuckled as his lips found that spot at the back of her neck and she groaned aloud, pushing back at him, "I do know how you get, my little minx. And you know how I get."
They stayed in that embrace, rubbing against each other, exchanging kisses over her shoulder, his fingers teasing her nipples through the fabric of her bodice until they were breathless and she untangled herself from his embrace. "We do not know how long Thor will be. Get changed, you dog."
He laughed, bumped against her once more and there was a knock at the door as a servant girl walked in with an armful of dresses.
Eidra broke away from him, punching him in the arm as he kept grasping at her. She took the dresses from the servant who bowed deeply, looked to Loki and covered her eyes immediately as she realized he was getting undressed.
"Come over to the bed and help me with the dresses would you?" Eidra said as she steered the girl away, "Loki tends to forget himself." She looked over her shoulder at her husband and shook her head. "Now help me put on the green one, it looks lovely but the baby will determine that."
Brenna and Fen kept close together, his previous enthusiasm having worn away to trepidation as the manservant, a large black man dressed in gold trimmed robes, whom they found was named, Aoleus, opened the doors to the royal nursery and waved them in.
The scene that greeted them was every child's dream. A nursemaid, a heavy-set but healthy woman with long blond hair, rocked a small baby in her arms. She nodded to Brenna and Fen. "Milord and lady. I sent for the court dresser. He will fit you to some proper court dress. I am Bruna and this is the crown prince, Lóriði." She nodded to the baby in her arms.
Fen was listening but not entirely paying attention. There were rocking horses, toy swords and shields hung on the walls, a whole army of soldiers dressed as royal guards, leather covered balls, carved animals like the ones Chris had done for him but far more elaborate. He stood there, mouth open in wonder.
Brenna, though she'd spent the first six seasons of her life in the palace, had never been to the royal nursery. She had put her little rag dolls and the house she'd built from spare wood, away long ago but she couldn't help being drawn to a replica doll house of the palace interior complete with furnished rooms and a small wooden family, noting that the carver had gone to painstaking lengths to make them look like Odin and Frigga, Thor and her father. She held his figure in her hands, studying it until she heard Bruna's voice in her ear. "Come the court dresser is here, we shall pick you out a nice dress." Brenna whirled around, nearly bumping into Bruna who had put the sleeping prince in his bassinet.
"Forgive me, I was only looking.."
Bruna laughed, "And welcome you are to do so. But first we must get you ready to see your grandparents. Come Milady."
She led Brenna into a small bedchamber off of the main nursery, Brenna looking behind her at Fen who was playing on the floor with the army, the court dresser standing patiently over him, wondering if she should be separated from him, father had worried so about such things, but then the door was closing and Bruna was helping her unbutton her dress down the back. "What is your favorite color, my dear?"
"Blue, it is my mother's favorite color as well."
Brenna stepped from her dress, holding her arms across her breasts self consciously as another was slipped over her head. As she slipped her arms through the sleeves of the dress, she heard Fen outside in the nursery, "Oh I hate to change, what is the matter with my clothes?" and she giggled.
"The young prince is of a strong opinion is he not?" Bruna remarked as she tied the sash of the long dress behind Brenna's back. The young prince, Brenna thought, so it is true.
"He is a brat. You say it much too nicely." She turned to where Bruna steered her to a long polished metal mirror. The tight bodice and narrow sleeves accentuated her slim waist as the hem floated just above the floor. The color was an indigo blue which seemed to define the darker blue specks in her eyes. "I love this one." She turned around, watched the skirt flare in a graceful swirl about her legs. "I would like to wear it."
Bruna nodded, "Let us try on a couple more just in case you change your mind."
They tried on another three in fact, but in the end she walked out of the bedchamber wearing the blue dress. Fen pointed and laughed at her, "You look silly."
Brenna put her hands on her hips. "I look beautiful." She eyed his outfit, tailored breeches, a dark green tunic tucked in, a long over vest, and a dark leather great coat in his size with boots to match. "And you look like you are playing dress up." He stuck his tongue out at her but in truth they were pleased with their choices. A knock on the door to the nursery brought them both to look as the door swung open. In walked Eidra in a dark green long gown, similar in style to Brenna's but made of shimmering sateen with gold chased threads running through it and a high bodice. She had pulled back her hair and put it in a chignon. Brenna had always thought her mother the most beautiful woman in the nine realms but right in this moment, Brenna wondered how her father had been so lucky to capture her when he had. She looked magical.
And then Brenna saw her father come around behind her mother. He had been transformed. Gone was the peasant farmer with the long pony tail and the patched tunic come fresh from the fields. She supposed her mother had pulled his hair back from his face and tied it out of the way, adding a long braid and fell down his shoulder tied with a leather thong. His court dress, fit breeches, a similar under tunic like Fen's but the vest was dark green leather with tooled snakes upon each lapel. He wore dark bronze richly ornamented vambraces and pauldrons that made him look fierce, warlike. His dark brown boots came halfway up his calves. He had brought his short sword along on the trip and it now rested in its scabbard at his waist. He looked so very handsome. Together with mother, Brenna thought, they looked regal as if they themselves were king and queen. Loki smiled at her and held out his hand, "Come, children, it is time."