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23 August 2013 @ 01:24 pm
Hail of Shadows 8/?  

Frigga smiled warmly at the young girl who trembled as she handed the queen a single stalk of a nightflower. "Thank you, child, this is quite beautiful. Would you show me inside?"

The queen's school was one of Frigga's special projects in the city, to see that education was for all the children, and her visits were the highlight of her day when she went. So many bright young minds, still young enough to want to learn.

She followed the girl up the steps, when the sound of a horse's hooves on the pavement clattered close and fast. Her guards drew close in ranks beneath the steps, as the horse trotted into view.

At once she saw Fandral atop his white mare. "My queen!" he saluted and dismounted with his usual flair, if a bit hurried, and bowed to her. "My queen, excuse the interruption, but the Allfather requests your urgent return." His smile faded. "There is news. The children should go home at once."

Her eyes met his, as sudden anxiety filled her. The boys had barely left, and surely it was no coincidence that there was urgent news. But she showed only calm, not revealing her worry to the children or the maesters of the school. She turned to the maesters on the top step. "Then it will be as he wills. Maester Jorgen, send the children to their homes. An official announcement shall not be long." She smiled at the child who had given her the flower and touched the girl's nose with the petals. The girl was not fooled though, and looked up at her with big eyes. "All will be well, child. Be strong. I will visit again soon."

She smoothed the girl's hair with her hand, and then walked down the steps, unhurried. Fandral offered his horse to her, but she shook her head in refusal - she would leave the people an impression of strength and calm, not panicked flight. She held the nightflower stalk in one hand as she walked.

Fandral gave over his horse to another to walk, and moved to her side at her gesture as they left the school courtyard. "What news?" she asked.

"He did not say, my queen. Only that I was to fetch you."

"And?" she insisted. For that was not all that Fandral knew.

"And. And he seemed concerned. He had word sent to Freyr to be ready."

Freyr was on the outer walls of the city, that meant an attack. She hastened her steps and eyed the horse, but decided Odin had not told her to return in all haste; there was time.

At the palace, she hurried within, Fandral at her heels, to find Odin in his work room. The king dismissed Fandral, and gestured for her to come near. She saw the display was now Asgard from above, with the city itself in miniature, covered by the tesseract-powered force shield dome. An incursion from outside Asgard should appear on this map, though she saw no sign of anything in her glance.

"We face attack?" she asked.

"Not yet, but very soon, I believe," he said, but that was not what deepened the lines in his face in worry. "Heimdall sent fell news. Malekith ambushed Thor and Loki on Jotunheim. Thor escaped to Midgard and is well; he is the one who told us."

He would not have said it thus if both were well. Her hands clasped together, as between them, the nightflower petals wilted and the edges turned brown. "Loki?"

"Taken prisoner. They are already within Malekith's halls and shielded from Heimdall's gaze."

She tried mightily not to let her lip quiver, even as her mind filled with the news. Prisoner. Malekith hated Loki, always had, but especially after that last battle with Svartalfheim and Durn's death. Even as Asgard had lauded mostly Thor for that victory, Malekith had known who had been the most responsible for their defeat.

But she was not so shocked she did not know there was still more. "Go on."

"Thor passed word that Loki felt the touch of Thanos' power in Malekith. Thanos has found his new alliance."

Thanos. In her hand, the nightflower withered and died from the force of her horror. She stared at the ghostly echo of the lovely flower it had been, dismayed by the omen, then set the wilted, brown stalk on the table with a hand that wanted to tremble.

Their enemies had made alliance, and Loki was in their hands. But no, that could not be entirely true, at least not yet. "Malekith does not possess the power to open a portal through Jormungandr."

"He does now, with the Casket of Ancient Winters."

She shook her head. "None but Loki can use it. It will not avail him," she declared, certain and proud. But she was then unsettled when Odin glanced at her, sympathy in his face for a moment.

"They will persuade him otherwise, Frigga."

Her hand went to her chest as her breath caught. He was talking about foul and vicious torments to force Loki to open the portal. She remembered hearing him scream in the cell as he fell victim to Thanos' punishments then. She closed her eyes remembering other warriors, those brought for healing after the last battle with Svartalfheim. Some had not been hurt in battle, but as captives, when Durn and Malekith his son had tortured them, seemingly for no better reason than sport. She had seen what was left, and some had begged her to end their pain.

More softly, Odin added, "In the end, he will open the way."

"He will not," she protested. "He is strong, and he hates them -- he will not bend."

"He will hold as long as he can, I do believe that, too," he reassured her, "but he will not withstand them forever." For a moment he looked grey and burdened with deep sorrow. "No one could."

"Then we must free him."

Odin turned away, so he wouldn't have to look at her, hiding his gaze by looking at the image of Asgard in the multi-dimensional display. "We cannot."

"Why not?" she asked, keeping her voice level and calm as she could, even as the desire to rage at him for saying such a thing rose up within her.

"Because Svartalfheim gathers for the attack," he said. "Malekith lets Heimdall see as much. He seeks either to attack us to gain the Gauntlet and tesseract, or bottle us here and attack elsewhere."

She rested her hands on the edge. "But not yet. They are not here, yet. Bring Thor home. When the Svartalfheim army departs the capital, they will be lightly defended, Thor and the Warriors Three might enter and find him."

He shook his head once in denial. "Malekith's hall is a great underground labyrinth. None know the way. And lightly defended is not the same as not defended at all. It would not succeed. At best, it would require an external distraction but I cannot risk dividing our forces when we must keep the Treasures from him and we may yet face Thanos emerging elsewhere. Midgard is vulnerable and Thor must stay with them, as we planned."

It was all far too reasonable and she wanted to hear none of it. She slammed her hands on the table. "So then we leave Loki there? No. I saw what Malekith did to his victims in the last war, husband, I will not allow my son to suffer thus, not while I sit here untouched."

His head turned sharply toward her. "Your' son?" he repeated, and his hands clenched.

She glared back uncowed and challenged, "If Thor were the one captive, this would not even be a discussion."

"If their places were reversed, I would know Loki could free him!" Odin bellowed at her, temper fraying. He turned away and calmed himself with difficulty. "Thor cannot. His skills are of little help in Malekith's halls."

The offer sprang from her lips, spontaneous, but truly intended for all that, "Then I will go."

He turned back to her, aghast. "No!"

"I have similar skills. I too can walk unseen when I choose."

"You are a healer, not a warrior."

That made her smile a little. "Do you forget how we met, husband?"

"No, of course not," he admitted, grudgingly. "But you have not wielded sword and shield since before Thor was born."

"The armor fits still. And I slew a Frost Giant not long ago."

For a moment he looked tempted to agree with her desperate plan, but then he shook his head. "No. Without an army, without support, it would fail. And I will not allow some desperate attempt that serves only to throw your own life away or ends you captive, too. Loki would never want that."

Which might be true, but it was the wrong way around. Children should not sacrifice their lives for their parents. Her eyes burned with sudden tears and she implored, "Parents owe a duty to protect their children. We failed with him; I will not fail him again."

"Defeating Svartalfheim is our duty. The swifter that is done, the swifter Svartalfheim will free him."

It was not swift enough. She spun away to pace around the table, needing to move, to do something even if it was no help. The more thoughtful part of her knew he was right, but the stronger part, fearful for her son, needed to help, to make some sort of plan. There had to be a way. Then it occurred to her that she was behaving exactly like Loki - desperate for some plan, tempted to mad ideas because her heart needed to do this.

But the thought of Loki gave her an idea. And maybe it was desperate but it might work.

She faced Odin again. "Jotunheim."

He frowned, not understanding. "And?"

"I will go to them, rouse them as the army against Svartalfheim. Malekith will never expect a second line of attack from them."

Odin regarded her as if he was both impressed and wondering if she were mad. "Why would they march?"

"Because they know or will know that Loki is Laufey's heir," she answered steadily. If they did not know, she would tell them, even if she knew it was against Loki's wish. To save his life she would do more and worse. "That secret is known now; we should use it to our advantage. They would feel threatened if you or one of the warriors demanded it of them, but I am a woman and a mother, I can speak to them without threat. I will persuade them."

He sought the map of Asgard, shutting his eye in conflicted distress. "Asgard needs you here; I need you here."

"But Loki needs me more."

He did not disagree and bowed his head, saying miserably, "I cannot have all my family scattered to the winds. I cannot lose all of you."

She leaned against his strong arm and reached up to stroke the smooth, white hair. "Thor is safe enough on Midgard; he has his powerful friends there. But Loki is alone, surrounded by enemies. He needs us to come for him, to risk for him. What he would do for his brother, we must do for him." She shook her head, resolved on this course. "If we do not try or if he believes we have abandoned him, he will never forgive us. We will lose him." Loki's trust was still a tender sprout, and if it was broken, she feared her son would not return to her, even if he survived this captivity.

Odin nodded somber agreement, recognizing the truth of that. He surrendered to the inevitable, as she had known he would. "Very well. But not alone. I will send the Warriors Three with you as protection, and if the jotnar attack you --" his voice took on that threatening growl that warned of dire consequence and reminded her of that warrior she'd first known, so long ago.

She smiled. "You may ride to my rescue." He curled his arms around her to hold her tightly and she felt his breath on her hair. They had grown distant in their unspoken disagreements over Loki, and now seemed to be recovering that closeness of their younger years.

"You must promise you will be careful, taking up none of your sons' recklessness," he demanded.

"Oh, so now they are my sons, are they? They did not inherit recklessness from me," she retorted, pulling back a little ways.

"Claims the queen who intended to go to Jotunheim alone," he returned drily, and she had to grant him that point.

"So perhaps from both of us," she allowed, and smoothed his beard. "But I promise. Shall we arm together, my lord? Long has it been since those days."

"Indeed." He held out his arm for her to take. "Dark days and bright deeds await, my lady."

Crossposted from DW There are comment count unavailable comments over there. Feel free to comment wherever.