A FEW DAYS LATER
The hours of the night passed quickly and the first rays of the morning light began to show through the window. The warm light on his face made Loki open his eyes slowly. He had found peace in his sleep, which was not something he could usually find when awake. Sif’s words from the prior night still haunted him. He wondered how much this man Gallan knew of his niece. Not much, it would seem since he had not come for her, and Sif insisted she was the only one that knew Caedra was even related to this man. But Loki could never be careful enough. His bargain with Sif could be easily broken by either person. Even so, Loki couldn’t say he was completely ungrateful that she was giving him something of a chance to keep Caedra.
He glanced down and smiled. Caedra lay curled up against his chest, her hair a tangled mess in her face. She breathed steadily and (more importantly) peacefully. Over the past week she’d had a few more nightmares, but it was becoming less of an occurrence.
Caedra stirred and opened his eyes, staring up at Loki innocently. With a gentle smile on her face she snuggled closer to him and giggled softly.
Loki gave a faint and tired smile as he kissed the crown of her head. He still wondered why Caedra trusted him now. What had happened to the “monster” that had found her? Did she still see him that way or did her trust in him blind her of the darkness she had been told?
Enough, Loki thought. It didn’t matter why or how she trusted him. It only mattered that she did. Caedra’s love and trust was more than he could have ever asked for from her, and it was certainly more than he deserved.
Caedra turned her head up again and looked at him. “Is it time to get up?” she asked softly.
Drawn out of his thoughts by her sweet voice, Loki nodded. “Yes,” he answered as he slowly sat up.
Caedra, full of life, jumped out of the bed and ran to a nearby table, grabbing a brush and furiously tried to smooth out her tangled hair.
Loki smiled as he watched the child who was now oblivious to his presence as she focused on the task of brushing her hair. He turned and slid out of the bed and walked to the door, just as a servant opened it.
The servant was startled by the sight of Loki, and despite her fear she recovered herself of her shock as she lowered her eyes from his intense gaze. “Forgive me,” she murmured.
Loki continued to glare at her but he ignored any other thought. This servant was only here to do as she was bidden. “Help her get dressed,” he said, motioning to Caedra. “I will return shortly.”
As the servant nodded quickly and turned her attention to the child, Loki left the room and returned to his own chambers. There, he bathed and dressed himself in clean clothes – black pants and a green tunic, of course. As he stepped back out into the hall, he ran his slender fingers through his dark hair, only then realizing how long it had truly gotten. But he liked it that way. His semi-unkempt hair was somehow a symbol (to himself at least) that he was not who he once was. He had stopped pretending that he was an Asgardian prince. He was the servant of no master but his own.
Reentering Caedra’s room, he saw the young child dressed and sitting on the edge of the bed, fingering the tips of her braided hair as she waited for him. As soon as Caedra saw Loki, she jumped off the bed and ran to him, clinging to his leg.
The servant was still there, and she gave a soft laugh at seeing Loki’s surprise to Caedra’s action. One glare from the god of mischief quieted her laugh, however, and with an awkward bow she left the room.
Loki knelt down and gently pried Caedra from his leg. “Where shall we go today?” he asked softly. Each day, Loki would take Caedra to a certain area of the palace and let her explore somewhat so she could become familiar in the palace where she now lived.
Caedra’s brow furrowed as she thought of where she wanted to go. She looked up at Loki with almost a mischievous look in her eyes. “Outside!” she answered eagerly.
Loki hesitated. “Outside” was a place he had been avoiding taking her. Though he was forbidden to leave the palace grounds, there were still many places outside where someone might see Caedra and recognize her as the tradesman Gallan’s niece. Though Sif had sworn she was the only that knew, Loki was still cautious.
With a sigh he straightened up. He couldn’t explain all that to Caedra. She was but a child and would not understand. “Would you rather go back to the library? He asked. “You like the stories there.”
“No!” Caedra objected, taking Loki’s hand and trying at the vain attempt to pull him towards the door. “I want to go outside!”
Loki sighed again and stepped towards the door. There would be no deterring this child from what she wanted. There was at least one place “outside” that Loki felt was safe enough to take her. “Alright,” he agreed, looking down at her. “We can go to the gardens.”
The gardens of the palace were a beautiful place, but Loki hardly seemed to notice as he and Caedra stepped out into the bright sunshine. The entire palace was filled with memories that he tried very hard not to recall. The gardens had once been a place that Loki would go to clear his thoughts. Now, it was only a bitter reminder of the life he once lived.
Despite Loki’s reluctance to go out, Caedra couldn’t have been more pleased. As soon as they stepped out into the gardens, she let go of Loki’s hand and started running towards the fountain, laughing joyfully.
As Loki watched her go, he couldn’t help but smile. It was good to see how well Caedra recovered. She was still quiet and somewhat withdrawn, but she was still an energetic child and around Loki, she felt comfortable enough to be that energetic child.
Loki slowly followed after her and sat by the edge of the fountain as Caedra ran around and climbed up next to him. Holding onto his arm with one hand, she leaned down and dipped her fingers into the water, squealing in delight at the cold feel. She pulled her hand away quickly, incidentally splashing Loki at the same time.
Loki laughed as he wiped his face dry with the sleeve of his tunic. It had been a very long time since he had truly laughed, and it felt good.
“It is good to see you in such good spirits again, Loki,” someone said from nearby.
Loki’s face immediately turned grave as he looked to see who approached him. Frigga gave him a soft smile as she sat next to him. “The child is also doing well, so it seems.” She said as she glanced at Caedra.
“You seem surprised that I am capable to care for her,” Loki replied absently, starting forward.
Frigga sighed. “Yes, but it is a pleasant surprise.” She answered. “One would not expect you to care for a child like-“
“Like what?” Loki snapped, cutting her off as he turned rather abruptly to face her. “An orphan? A child that is abandoned, a child with no family? I would think it rather fitting for me to care for a child like that!”
Frigga was silent, for she knew there was nothing she could say that would calm him.
Jaw clenched and eyes blazing, Loki did not realize how much he had raised his voice until he felt a small hand reach for his. Turning back, he saw Caedra starting at him, speechless, her eyes conveying an emotion he had not seen in her since the day he had found her – fear. She feared his anger, as she rightfully should have. Were it any other time and were it any other child, Loki would not have cared. But seeing the tears begin to form in Caedra’s eyes, Loki wished he could have been smart enough to keep his hanger in check.
He stroked her hair gently and he tried to give her a comforting smile. “It’s alright,” he whispered to her. “I’m sorry I frightened you.”
As Caedra gave a soft sniffle, Loki saw out of the corner of his eye a servant walking by. He didn’t give it much thought, but he thought it was odd that a servant should be here at this time. He would have confronted the servant, but his attention was too focused on Caedra.
Upon hearing Loki’s apology, Caedra smiled again. She wrapped her small arms around his neck in a tight hug before climbing down from the edge of the fountain and going off towards the flowers.
Frigga gave a soft sigh as she stood, still looking at Loki, who was watching Caedra. “She calms the anger in you,” she observed. “One can only wonder how.” She turned away slowly, leaving Loki and Caedra alone once again.
Lucius hurriedly ducked around the corner and out of sight to where he’d last left Dronicus. “Well?” Dronicus persisted as he stared at his still friend. “What do you say?”
Lucius grinned wickedly. “He doesn’t suspect a thing,” he replied. “I walked right passed him and he didn’t even notice. Now all we need is to get him away from the child.”
“How?” Dronicus inquired.
Lucius grinned again. “That should be of little trouble. I heard that the king has sent for Loki just recently. If we return to the garden and wait, we may even take her today.”
“Alright,” Dronicus agreed as he turned to follow Lucius.
Just as Loki thought he would be left alone, he was greeted by yet another “friend.” And this person was even less welcomed than Frigga.
“Greetings, Loki,” Lady Sif called to him as she approached, glancing from him to Caedra. “And greetings to you as well.”
Caedra grinned and ran over to Sif, hugging her and handing her a flower that she had picked. Other than Loki, Sif was the only one Caedra trusted well enough. The only reason for that was because Sif would visit with Caedra often. Loki, of course, did not approve, but his hands were tied.
“What do you want, Sif?” Loki growled at her, not standing as was custom.
Sif looked up from Caedra and stared at Loki. “Is that any way to greet a friend?” she asked him.
“You are not my friend,” Loki replied harshly, though being careful to keep his voice low. He did not wish to frighten Caedra again.
Sif smirked at him. “Oh, but I am your friend, Loki, even if you refuse to see it.”
Loki ignored her. He didn’t believe her. “I ask you again, Sif,” he continued. “What do you want?”
Sif straightened up and took a deep breath. “Thor wishes to speak with you.”
“Of what matter?” he asked.
“I don’t know,” she answered. “But he requested your presence immediately.”
Loki sighed and rubbed his forehead slowly. He was tired, and Thor was the last person he would want to speak with. If only there was some way he could avoid speaking with him. “I cannot leave Caedra here alone.” He said. It was a cheap shot at an excuse, but surprisingly enough, it was true.
“You should not be gone for long,” Sif replied. “And I shall stay with Caedra until you return.”
Loki glanced up at her and glared. “You would like that, wouldn’t you?”
Caedra, though not understanding the extent of their conversation, knew that Loki was to leave. She stepped over to him and held out the last flower she had picked. “May we go to the library when you come back?” she asked timidly.
Loki smiled at her softly as he took the flower. It was a red flower, and was similar in appearance to the Midgardian carnation. “Yes,” he said, kissing her softly. “When I return, we shall.”
Caedra smiled contently as Loki stood.
“I will be back shortly,” he said to Sif, who smirked and crossed her arms as she watched Loki leave.
When he was gone, she looked back to Caedra. “Shall we play a game while we wait?”
Caedra nodded eagerly. “Yes! What game?”
Sif thought for a moment. “Why not hide and seek? I will count and you go hide. But do not leave the gardens. Understand?”
Caedra nodded again. “I won’t leave.” She promised. “Start counting.”
Sif smiled and closed her eyes. She could hear Caedra’s small feet run along the ground as she searched for a place to hide. When Sif reached the count of ten, she opened her eyes. The garden was silent and the child was nowhere to be seen. Searching for Caedra was not difficult. She was but a young child and Sif an expert at tracking. Even still, she took her time.
After a few minutes she found Caedra hiding behind one of the rosebushes. She giggled in delight as Sif caught her.
“You hide well,” Sif said with a laugh as Caedra hugged her, but something out of the corner of her eye made her pause. Standing a few feet away was a young man dressed as a servant, but Sif did not recognize him. The man stared at her and Caedra intently, a twisted smile on his lips.
“What are you doing here?” Sif asked quickly.
The young man gave her a crooked smile and raised his finger to his lips.
Suddenly, Sif felt someone grab her from behind as a cloth was held over her mouth and nose. She struggled and tried to scream, but she could do nothing. Just as she slipped into unconsciousness, she heard Caedra scream.
Loki had hardly gone any distance from the gardens. Though he did not wish to be gone from Caedra for too long, he was in no way eager to speak with his brother. What did Thor want from Loki this time? Whatever it was, it no doubt had to do with Caedra. Thor seemed to enjoy threating Loki about her.
He was just about to quicken his pace when a sounded reached his ears that made him stand stock still. It was a scream – a child’s cry. But not just any child. It was Caedra. Though he was now in the palace and a fair distance from the gardens, he could still hear her cry as if he had been standing right by her side.
Something was not right. Without another thought Loki turned around and sprinted back down the hall, weaving his way back to the gardens. There was no one in sight when he arrived. “Caedra!” he called, but there was no answer. He searched the area quickly, a sense of fear and panic rising within him. Where were Sif and Caedra? As he rounded the corner, he stopped, his eyes wide.
There, on the ground by one of the rose bushes was one of the flowers Caedra had picked, along with a torn fragment of her dress. Loki knelt down quickly and picked up both items, still searching with his eyes. “Caedra!” he screamed, his sharp voice echoing through the empty place. There was no answer. Caedra was gone.