“Hel,” Freyja said, her voice airy, like she was out of breath. She wrapped her arms around Hel’s neck but didn’t linger, knowing how being touched made her uncomfortable. It wasn’t that she didn’t like it, she just didn’t know how to respond. The goddess hurried over to Shalendra and pulled the girl into her warm embrace. The two stood there, the silence heavy yet poignant.
Hel clearly saw the love between the two, almost like mother and daughter. She couldn’t stop the stabbing jealousy, but she forced the nasty emotion back. It had been her decision to leave Shalendra with Émilien, and he would have needed help to raise a young girl, especially with his responsibilities as a guardian. No, she couldn’t fault anyone but herself for not being a mother to Shalendra.
Freyja dropped her arms and stepped back before sitting on the sofa facing Hel. She followed her friend’s lead and sat, unsure what to say or do. As usual, though, Hel shouldn’t have worried because Freyja took over.
“I was able to do a little looking in my Glass—”
“Snooping, you mean,” Shalendra chuckled.
Freyja pinned Shalendra with an unreadable expression, and the teasing smile on her daughter’s face disappeared as she squirmed in her seat. “Now, as I was saying, I was snooping in the Glass,” she said, her lips twitching, as if trying to hold back a smile. “I saw what looked like the inside of a cave, but it was decorated like a house. Émilien was pinned to the floor, but I couldn’t see anything holding him down. It was strange.”
She turned her amethyst gaze on Hel. “I agree with Shalendra. I’m worried about him. None of this is normal. As a guardian, he doesn’t answer to anyone or anything, so if something is able to stop him...” Her voice trailed off, leaving Hel’s thoughts to ping-pong in her head. “I’m afraid there is onlyone way to find him, Hel.”
A bad feeling settled deep in Hel’s gut, churning and making her nauseous. She understood Freyja’s insinuation. Closing her eyes, she willed her stomach to calm down, but instead, her worry escalated. If Émilien knew what they were about to do, he would never forgive her.
“What do you mean?” Shalendra asked. Hel’s eyes popped open, taking in her hopeful expression as her daughter leaned forward in her chair. “What must we do?” Hel turned to Freyja, wanting to tell her to keep quiet but realizing she couldn’t. Émilien was too important to the Nine Worlds—too important to her.
Freyja’s steady gaze held Hel’s. “With what I’m proposing, only those closely tied to Émilien by a blood bond, if you will, will be able to locate him.”
“Will sibling blood work? There is no one else,” the young girl whispered.
Hel exhaled, unable to look at her daughter. Holding Freyja’s gaze, she drew strength from her friend. “No. What Freyja is proposing requires a closer bond, a parent-child or mated spouse.”
“Then my brother is doomed.” A soft, pain-filled sob escaped before she covered her face with both hands, sobbing into her palms.
“No, Shalendra, he is not.” Hel swallowed, internally whispering a tiny prayer that Émilien would forgive her for what she was about to do. “He wanted to find the perfect time, but...” She briefly closed her eyes then forced them open, meeting her daughter’s bright gaze. “I want you to know there was a very good reason for what was done. Not that it will matter to you, I’m sure, but it was the only way we could protect you.”
Shalendra pulled her hands away from her wet face and frowned. “We?”
“Rip it off like a Band-aid, Hel, and just tell her. It’s easier that way,” Freyja muttered.
Shalendra’s gaze moved back and forth between them, finally landing on Hel. “Tell me what?”
Never one to run from anything, Hel pushed back her shoulders and blurted, “I am Émilien’s bonded mate and you are our daughter.”
The young girl’s skin blanched. Her only reaction was the slight flaring of her nostrils and an almost indiscernible trembling of her chin. “Émilien is myfather? I don’t understand—why all the secrecy? Why wasn’t he the one to tell me, not you? I don’t even know who you are.”
“I am your mother, that’s who I am. I know you are probably furious right now—”
“Fury doesn’t even describe the emotions inside of me right now.”
“Shalendra... Émilien and I were so happy when you were born, but then you became sick. After trying so many things, we realized it was my kingdom that was draining your powers—your very soul. We had managed to keep you safe from the others for almost five years. Only a few knew of your birth, Freya, Idunn, Heimdall, and the black elf king. No one else knew out of fear of what my father would do should he discover he had a grandchild.”
“And why would that be so terrible?”
“Because of who he is. My father, your grandfather, is Loki.”
Some of the anger drained from her eyes, and she seemed to wilt. “Oh, that’s bad.”
“I know well what it is like to grow up under Loki’s machinations and schemes. He uses everyone, even his own children, to get what he wants. I would never put you through that, which is why I forbade Émilien to tell you and made him swear you would be raised as his younger sister. If Loki had even the tiniest of hint you were of his blood...”
She couldn’t control the shiver that coursed through her if she had wanted to. The thought of what her father would have done terrified her. “I couldn’t let him use and hurt you like he did me, Shalendra. I am so sorry, but I would die before I let him touch you, even mentally.”
Hel would never absolve herself for that long-ago decision, how could she ask Shalendra to do the same? She swallowed the growing lump in her throat and dropped her gaze to her clasped hands. “All I can say is I am sorry for hurting you. I don’t deserve your forgiveness, but please don’t be angry with Émilien. He was furious with me for making him promise to never say a word...” Her voice trailed off. For the first time in her long life, she was scared. She had just given her father the ammunition he needed to hurt her the most. Not only that, she had also defied Émilien.
No, scared didn’t cover her internal warfare. She was terrified.
Émilien, Shadow Lands