.


THIRTY-THREE


till kingdom come


The morning following my journey to—and subsequent banishment from—Asgard was a quiet affair. So quiet it was, I found it most unsettling. I sat, my legs curled beneath me, bending over one of the many tomes I'd been gifted by Meyrick. I couldn't even force myself to read any of the text. The past few hours had been spent staring blankly at the words.

Letting out a trembling breath, I regarded my ladies-in-waiting in turn with the hope that they would provide distraction. Hervath and Lydia were fretting with Mhalia's embroidery—the young maiden didn't have much of a hand for it. Tauriel sat by my feet, gently strumming a tranquil tune on her lyre. Driana stood in the threshold between the parlour and the terrace, leaning on the doorframe with a small book of poems in hand.

It felt strange, how at peace they were. How normal everything was. Of course, I hadn't spoken of the war looming over Asgard. Nor of the war that shadowed our own world.

I frowned, thinking on how I'd parted ways with Sif. I hadn't mentioned anything about the Jotun sitting on the throne, and it left me wondering if I'd been remiss to do so. Sometime after my return to Alfheim, the notion that Loki allowed the Frost Giants into Asgard had crossed my mind; he too had knowledge of the passages between worlds. The fact that such a thought even existed made me feel ill.

He would never have done that, I stressed to myself. Asgard was his home. The Aesir were still his people in spite of his origins. Thor, Odin and Frigga were still his family, regardless of the lies they might have told. Norns, he is a Frost Giant. How could they have kept such a secret from him for so long?

Loki had seemed so... broken when I spoke with him. And so utterly determined to uphold the All-Father's decree. I was not entirely certain I understood why he did what he did. Why he said those things. Why he pushed me away. But it had me worried. I didn't know how I could linger in Alfheim a moment longer when I was so keenly aware of the turmoil taking place on the throne of Asgard.

"Your Highness! You must see this."

I, along with my ladies-in-waiting, looked towards Driana whose own gaze refused to stray from the sky. Pushing my heavy tome aside, I rose and crossed the room to join her.

A storm cloud gathered, not far from the palace. It looked odd, unnatural. It revolved in a spiral, dark like the void. The strangest thing about it was that it formed over a small area and no more than that—right above the Bifrost site, in fact. It flickered, not with lightning, but with magical energy, the colours of the flashes resembling that of the Rainbow Bridge.

"Curious," Hervath murmured. She was the eldest of my ladies-in-waiting, and the most knowledgeable of the world in which we lived. "We never have thunderstorms this time of the year. This is most uncommon."

"It's above the Bifrost site," Driana said pointedly. I hadn't told my other ladies-in-waiting where I'd gone the day before; Driana was the only one who knew. She remained the only one of them who was aware of my relationship of Loki, just as I was the only one aware of her relationship with Castien. "What do you think it is, Your Highness?"

I swallowed and shook my head. "I know not. But I will venture out there and see for myself."

"You're going out there?" Mhalia said, her embroidery clutched tightly in her hands. "What if it is a thundercloud? You could be struck by lightning."

"It is not the lightning I fear." I revolved on my heel and started across the room. When I noticed my ladies-in-waiting were putting their belongings down to follow, I paused. "No, just... just remain here." I exchanged a final glance with Driana before taking my leave.

I stalked the corridors of the palace, heading straight for the grand entrance. Upon reaching the entrance hall, I shoved the doors open and sidled inside. With quick steps, I crossed the length of the chamber, only to stop abruptly when Castien came dashing from one of the side passages.

"Eirlys." I noted the rise and fall of his shoulders, the slight dip of his brow. "We saw the strange clouds growing a short ways from the palace. It has my father concerned."

"I will investigate," I informed him. "It's not a normal storm cloud, of that much I am certain. I'm worried something might've happened—to the Bifrost, that is... I can think of no other explanation for such a phenomenon."

I made to advance towards the gates, but his grasp on my elbow compelled me to a halt. "Eirlys, wait. You have yet to explain what occurred between you and Loki a day past. Does this storm have anything to do with that?"

I frowned and levelled my gaze with his. "We exchanged some less than pleasant words. Then he banished me from Asgard. Whether or not this is of any relation, I do not know."

He blinked, his hand slipping from my arm.

Stepping away from him, I made a vague gesture in the direction of the grand entrance. "I... I will investigate."

"I am sorry, Eirlys."

I gave him a doleful smile. "As am I."

Castien did not intervene again as I exited the palace.

A breeze tugged at my dress the moment I passed through the gate. Traversing the rolling hills of grass and the occasional wild flower, I reached the Bifrost site within minutes. I stood upon the rune, just as I had the day before, and peered above. The energy glimmered within the dark cloud, at times flaring brightly like lightning. It appeared as it would before the Bifrost sent or received its travellers. But nothing was happening. No one arrived, and I was not leaving. The ominous churning of the billow made my stomach roil, my blood cold.

"Heimdall?" I called. With wide eyes, I frantically searched the sky. "Heimdall! If you can hear me, please give me a sign. I wish to know what is happening."

There was no reply.

I stood, unmoving, my head tilted back. Heimdall's lack of response was most troubling. For minutes, I waited. For minutes, I felt as though I could not breathe. My fingers wrapped around my crystal necklace of their own accord, as they were prone to doing. I stared for so long, my eyes dried until they felt gritty, as though grains of sand had crawled behind my eyelids.

Then, without preamble, the clouds dispersed. They floated outwards in the shape of a ring before fading away entirely. Like they were never there in the first place.

My heart simply dropped at the sight. Whatever had happened was over now. "Loki..."

Even though the clouds were gone, and any chance of response appeared to have lessened, I did not stir. I did not give up. I did not know what to think.

The day wore on in silence, and I seated myself in the middle of the Bifrost rune, determined to wait. What exactly I was waiting for now, I knew not. Long after the clouds dwindled and the sky regained its blueness, I sat there, waiting as patiently as one could in such a circumstance.

With my crystal pressed to my lips, I remained at the Bifrost site all afternoon. I wished to be taken to Asgard, regardless of my banishment. I wished for a word. For a sign. Anything. But there was nothing.

Once or twice, Castien wandered over the field to call upon me, enquiring as to what had happened. But I never had the answers he sought, and he never asked any questions beyond that. In the quietude, he would sit with me for a time before his duties to the realm pulled him away. At a time like this, it made no difference to me; my troubled mind was on Asgard and Asgard alone.

As time slipped by, I took to pacing, sitting, sighing—anything to mute my fears, to bury that roaring terror that something dreadful had occurred in Asgard. Had the Frost Giants attacked? Had I been correct about the Mad Titan? I wondered. What if we never receive word?

When night descended, Arlessa came treading up the hill with a large blanket and a basket of food. She said little, draping the heavy wool over my shoulders and sitting atop the rune beside me. She'd come to understand much more than I ever voiced to her. With a steadiness I no longer had, she reached out to grasp my hand while the moon travelled overhead. Although she was determined to stay at my side, I told her to return to the palace as soon as she began dozing.

After her departure, I continued my watch by my lonesome. Sleep would not overtake me even if I wanted it to. I slouched, tightening my hold on the blanket in which I was swathed. The stars appeared and vanished, and not long after that, the sun started to rise, slowly ascending above the skyline.

I felt weak and utterly foolish. I felt like this was my fault somehow. Like I'd failed. Perhaps I had. After all, I'd lived in a sea of regret from the day I left Asgard all those years ago. Was that not a failure in itself?

Once the sun was bearing down on me directly above, my resolve had run its course. Since I began my vigil, I had eaten very little, and now I was beyond famished, my body feeble and shaky, my head pounding. With a lump in my throat, I cast the sky one last lingering look. All I could see were two black ravens circling on high. Heaving a sigh, I rose on trembling legs and turned to commence my trek back to the palace. But then I froze, my heartbeat faltering when I saw the figure standing before me.

"Frigga," I blurted. "You are well." I clasped my hands together, my initial joy ebbing away when I beheld the frown marring her features. Brow cinched, I glanced upwards and behind me to where the Bifrost rune lay. She was not here—not in person, at the least. "My lady, why do you appear to me as a mirage?"

Her expression softened, if only for the briefest of moments. "Eirlys..."

My heart sank a little more. "What has happened?"

She made to speak, but hesitated, likely struggling to find her words. I felt lightheaded, instantly assuming the worst had happened. "The Bifrost has been destroyed," Frigga said at last. "We have been severed from the Nine Realms."

These tidings were most unexpected. "How?" I asked. "What... what about Loki?"

Her reluctance to make plain the truth was easy for me to discern. Nevertheless, the words could not be withheld. "The events of these past few days were... much worse than I initially believed." At first, I could not understand what she meant. Perhaps I simply did not want to. My choice in the matter withered and died when she voiced the answer to all my questions, "It was Loki who brought the Jotuns into Asgard."

I could not breathe. My first thought was that I'd heard her wrong. But I knew I didn't. If at all possible, it was worsened by the remainder of the tale she had to share. An iciness flowed through my veins as she recounted how Loki attempted to annihilate Jotunheim, how he entered into a conflict with Thor, and the resulting ruination of the Rainbow Bridge.

I shook my head, a sickness churning in my hollow stomach. "But why?"

The grief and remorse were so deeply etched in her brow. "He did what he believed to be right. To keep the throne from Thor, to end the strife between two worlds... and to prove himself worthy." I felt the pang of anguish, one that saw fit to swell as she continued on, "Eirlys, there is something you must know." She reached out to me, as if to grasp my hand. Yet we were worlds apart, linked only by her magic. It seemed to add to her sorrow. "When the Bifrost was destroyed... Loki fell from the bridge. He has fallen into the abyss."

He's falling. Falling into the deep, dark abyss. With nothing to break his fall.

The vision flashed before my eyes like a memory suddenly recalled, and I staggered backwards, clasping a hand over my mouth. "No, no..." Weak and tired, my legs gave way beneath me. I didn't want to believe her. I wanted to deny everything she'd told me thus far. But I just knew it all to be true. The despair in her expression confirmed it. "Oh Norns, has he..." The tears that had threatened to fall finally made their trails down my cheeks. "Loki. Is he dead?"

Frigga knelt before me. "It is believed so."

Through my tears, I looked at the queen to find her expression far more stoic than expected after such a statement. In spite of the pure anguish filling my heart, I was able to apprehend the reason behind her countenance. "But you doubt this to be true." My voice quavered as a small hope flickered to life. A hope that somehow shined through all the confusion, the sorrow... the guilt. "You believe he may yet live?"

"We both know the magic he possesses." Swallowing visibly, she clasped her hands before her. "I cannot be certain that he yet lives, but neither can I be certain he has perished."

I took in a shuddering breath. "Then there is still hope."

She bore the faintest of smiles and nodded. "If anyone has hope of finding Loki, whether he be living or dead, it would be you."

There was an ache so deep in my chest that it gave rise to an ill sensation. "And what if he does not wish to be found?" I asked. "He has... he has done a great wrong unto Asgard. Unto... his family. I cannot imagine..."

I trailed off, the gravity of what he'd done weighing me down. I'd always been aware of his fears about the throne—even if he'd never said as much, I understood that Thor's recklessness worried him. But to seize the throne himself? Norns, what madness has driven him to this? Perhaps the years had taken their toll.

"He cannot remain hidden forever. Least of all from you," she told me. "There is still hope, Eirlys." When our gazes met, I bore witness to her entreaty. Irrespective of his crimes, I was certain her care for him had not diminished. Has mine? I wondered. "We can still help him."

Pressing a hand to my mouth, as if to stem the tide of despair, I managed a nod.

"The Bifrost is gone, and all the passages in Asgard known to us have been sealed. It appears as though Loki knew of more, but he has kept no record of them," Frigga said. "At best, I have found a fragile link between Asgard and Alfheim through which I can transport a small number of objects. I believe it to be a trace—a wisp of energy left behind by the Bifrost. It will likely not remain for long, so I shall utilize it while I can."

With the wave of her semi-transparent hand, a number of tomes and journals appeared atop the Bifrost rune. I recognized some of them, their covers well-worn after all these decades. I reached out, grazing one of the leather bound journals. It was soft, smooth to the touch from so much use. I could just picture Loki's long fingers sliding up and down the pages as he wrote in that hasty handwriting of his. The memory made my heart seize.

"These are all of the notes Loki collected concerning the paths between worlds. It does not give indication of where these paths might be, but it may help you understand them better," she told me. "Using this compilation, you may be able to find ways into other worlds from Alfheim."

I tilted my head to one side, frowning. "Well, it is possible, I am sure," I said. "But I do not believe myself to be proficient enough in magic to do so. Even with all of my tutelage."

"With the use of passages such as these, it should not be as difficult. Just as I have done here, certain passages may take you to the last Bifrost rune impressed upon a world. Admittedly, that may also make travel somewhat less predictable," Frigga replied. "You will find a way, in that I have great faith." She laid a hand over her heart. "Search for him, and I will do the same."

Wiping the last of my tears away with the back of my hand, I nodded slowly, despondently. We would seek him out without truly knowing if he still lived. Without knowing if he even wanted to be found. But we had to find him, I knew. Neither of us would attain peace of mind if we did not—though I wasn't so sure if we would even if we did discover where he'd gone.

Our quest would not be easy, especially without the use of the Bifrost. Furthermore, the lack of protection across all worlds was not lost on me. The worlds under Asgard's protection now lay vulnerable. Each of the nine realms now stood alone in the vast emptiness of space, the branches of Yggdrasil sundered. If I had thought the Odinsleep to be a time of heightened discord, this would surely be worse. "How fares the All-Father? And Thor?"

"Odin has awoken, and Thor is... They are both as well as can be." Frigga bowed her head, and I understood that they were physically healthful, albeit no more than that. "Thor mourns the loss of his brother, and it will be some time before he accepts the truth of Loki's—" She broke off, her last remark ever to go unfinished.

At her abrupt pause, I let out a short breath. "He has already told me the truth of his birth. You needn't conceal it from me."

She seemed surprised by that, though I doubted it compared to the utter shock I felt when he shared with me the knowledge of his origins. For Loki's entire life, he did not know what he truly was. He'd been living a lie. I marvelled at how long the truth had been kept from him. To what lengths did they go to bury this secret? How many people had known?

The latter question roused another curiosity in me, one that I had pondered in passing seventy years ago. You know not what he is, my father had said. It was all the explanation he'd ever given for his disfavour of Loki. "Did... did my father know what Loki was?" I asked. "That he was a Jotun?"

This time, she did not hesitate to answer. "We ensured few knew the truth. Your father was one of them," Frigga said. "He was among the warriors Odin took into the temple where they found Loki—an infant abandoned by his father, Laufey."

I pressed my fingers to my lips. "The son of Laufey." Only now did I fully understand why my father claimed that he would have forbidden me from marrying Loki. He would not have his daughter marrying a Frost Giant—especially the son of Laufey—no matter how much I loved him.

I wondered if he would've been more amenable if it had been a political match, but that was little more than a fanciful notion. Loki, despite his birth, had no ties to Jotunheim. Our union would not have had any practical use. He was a prince of Asgard. Although I was not even certain of that anymore. "You treated Loki as if he were your own," I murmured.

"I held him in my arms when he was a babe. Mothered him when he had no mother. I raised him and taught him all I knew. And I have seen him through all his hardships since infancy." The rather earnest look she gave me suggested that I was one such hardship. "Loki is as much my son as he would have been had he been born an Asgardian."

I bore a little smile, perhaps the tiniest of smiles. She loved him, no matter what. And I decided that I was no different. His being a Jotun did not change how I felt for him. His wrongs, regardless of the utter dismay they gave to, did not make me love him any less.

But I did feel a strange lingering sense of guilt. I should have been there for him, I thought—as if I could have prevented this from happening. Would he have walked down this path if I had stayed? Would he have fallen so far?

I ran a hand across my eyes. "Sometimes I think I never should have left."

"You had little choice in the matter, Eirlys," she assured me. It did nothing to lessen the weight of the choice I did make—I chose not to leave with him, but I couldn't tell her that. "Let us not dwell upon our regrets. We must instead do what we can to remedy them."

Sniffling softly, I nodded in acquiescence. "I will do all that I can to seek him out."

She smiled, and I wished I could embrace her one last time. "May the Norns favour you and your endeavours."

"The same to you, my lady," I replied.

"I fear troubled times may lie ahead."

And I knew she was not wrong. My visions—old dreams from decades past, flickered and waned throughout my mind. I'd seen glimpses of the future, a gloomy future that I could not prevent from coming to pass. Despite the distress they caused, I had spent much time trying to forget them. I wanted to pretend it had nothing to do with me or the people I cared for. But I'd been lying to myself all along. And now they were all coming back to me, like buried nightmares crawling from their graves.

With a shuddering breath, I gave her another short nod. "Then let us hope we can bring an end to it before long."

Queen Frigga, smiling softly still, gave the slight bow of her head as her image began to fade away. I managed to return her smile, and soon she was gone, not a single trace of the mirage left behind. The only evidence that she'd ever spoken to me was the pile of books sitting behind me.

Slowly, I turned and drew closer to the compendium. It was a collection of what Loki treasured most: his knowledge, all his research. The proof of his worth, I mused. But it wasn't enough for him. Maybe it never was.

Sitting amidst the greenery and the wildflowers, the grass damp against my bare legs, I picked up the first leather bound journal. It was the oldest among them, some of its colour faded around the edges. Inhaling deeply, I undid the fastening and rifled through the pages. They were well preserved, Loki's long cursive script stark against the ivory parchment.

I glimpsed each page as I passed them by and saw numerous spells, potions, thoughts, and sentiments. There was so much contained within that my initial doubts faded, and I began to believe it would help me find passage between worlds as Frigga claimed it would. Loki had gathered such a wealth of knowledge, it was no wonder he thought himself one of the greatest sorcerers in the Nine Realms.

My hands ceased their movement when a folded piece of parchment came sliding from between the pages. Setting the journal aside, I picked up the small square and held it aloft. Gradually, I unfurled the vellum, my brow furrowing as I observed its contents. It was a letter written in ancient runes, something I'd never seen Loki employ before, but I knew for certain it was in his hand.

My heart leapt into my throat the moment I realized it was addressed to me, a message written decades ago, of that I had no doubt:

My dearest Eirlys,

If you are reading this, then either you are searching for me or you are about to be severely reprimanded for taking that which does not belong to you—I smiled softly, caught in the memory of a happier time—But, if I am truly lost to you, do not fear for me. I will return to you. Until then, know that I love you.

I am yours, till kingdom come.

I eyed the Midgardian phrase at the close: till kingdom come. And I perceived the true purpose of the note. He had left it for me in the instance that something befell him. As though he expected he would disappear into the Nine Realms some day with no way back. The ancient runes would have been easy for any practitioner of magic to read, but the Midgardian phrase was something he knew only I would recognize.

Inhaling deeply, I clutched the note in one hand and gripped my crystal pendant tightly in the other. If Loki had somehow survived his fall, I surmised he would go to Midgard. It would be easiest for him to hide amongst the mortals, he had said so himself.

As I lingered in the grass, the hours seemed to pass me by. By the time I finally collected Loki's journals in a manoeuvrable stack, the sun was fast descending. It sank, dipping below the surface of the Alfheim sea. The water glowed bright like a plate of burnished gold as the sky blackened, the lands steadily basking in the shadows of the evening.

I tilted my head back to watch the first of the stars peeking through the growing darkness, and, in silence, I made a vow. I vowed that I would search for Loki. That I would do anything to find him. I would travel across the Cosmos, across all the realms to seek him out and bring him home.

No matter how long it would take.


To be continued in... Between Two Points


IMPORTANT AUTHOR'S NOTE (Updated Feb. 28, 2014): And so, we have reached the conclusion of part one. The sequel has now been posted. Check my profile to find the link.

To my guest reviewer, flyte: Yes, the title of chapter 32 was a reference to Henry IV (Part II). The link was that Tom Hiddleston played Prince Hal/Henry V in the 'Hollow Crown' adaptation that aired on TV. I thought it was rather fitting. And, yes, you do get a cookie. The sequel, as stated above, is called Between Two Points. Also, I'm grateful for all of the reviews you've written; I know you've been here since fairly early on, so, thank you.

To my guest reviewer, Amanda: Thank you for your input. I will take your words into consideration, but I think I may just end up leaving it be (for now, at least). Since it is Eirlys' POV, I figured it would've been awkward if she sort of 'explained' it, which is why I left it be in the first place. But you're right about it seeming odd; it's just that I had no elegant way of expressing the relativity of the passage of time. By the way, I really appreciate you reviewing, even after all this time. It's always lovely hearing from you.

I'd also like to thank everyone who favourited, alerted, and reviewed any chapter of this story. It's been an honour sharing Eirlys' story with you. My dear beta, Hr'awkryn, again, I must express my eternal gratitude. Thank you for helping me for these many months. You've been the best!

The chapter title (and any other previous references to it) was inspired by the song Til Kingdom Come by Coldplay.

Until next time, my dear readers. I'll see you on the other side.