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03 September 2013 @ 02:31 pm
Hail of Shadows 10/?  
Hail of Shadows part 10, Icy Arrivals

In the Great Hall, the king and queen stood before their warriors, in their armor, and Frigga could see some amazement that she wore hers again. Many were too young to remember the queen's fighting days, and she noticed Sif especially was staring at her as if the queen had turned into someone else entirely.

It was armor fit for a queen, enchanted and light. The front plate gleamed silver though it was of a much stronger substance, and bore her original personal standard of a leaf from Yggdrasil. She would not wear her helm though, but instead her hair carefully braided and her golden coronet pinned to it, for she went not as a warrior, but as the queen.

His gaze somber and appreciative, Odin held out her own blade from long ago, when they had found one another during the battle to bring Asgard out of darkness.

At first he would not relinquish the weapon, holding it as if to hold her back from her quest, but then he let it go into her hand. She sheathed it and took his war helm from Fandral who stood on the lower step and she held it out in both hands.

Odin went to one knee before her, his cloak flaring behind him like the wing of a great bird, and she placed it on his head. Then he stood again and held out his hand, Gungnir coming into it with a flash of lightning.

"Today," Odin declared, his great voice thundering in the hall. "Malekith the Accursed declared war on us. He has ambushed my sons, hurled Thor to Midgard, and taken Loki prisoner. He gathers his army to attack us. We know he serves Thanos the Eternal, and attacks in his name. We must fight and we must defeat them. The Nine Realms depend upon us to hold this tide of darkness. So we will fight. We fight!"

The return of "We fight!" was defeaning, as the warriors beat their shields.

He started down the steps, Gungnir streaming light like a beacon. Frigga followed him, wishing the boys were there to go ahead of her. Fandral came behind her, Volstagg and Hogun falling in, with Sif hurriedly coming after.

Outside the hall, where the roar of the crowd was not so loud, Frigga told Volstagg, "You three meet me in the inner courtyard."

She started away and behind her, she heard Sif ask Hogun, sounding very puzzled, "Where are you going?"

"We go to protect the queen."

"Where? From what?"

Frigga went back, to explain to Sif. "I go to Jotunheim, Sif. To persuade them to join us and help free Loki from Svartalfheim."

Sif stared wide-eyed as if this was all too much. "You go to Jotunheim? Is that wise?"

Frigga nearly laughed. "My son has been taken by Malekith the Accursed, Sif. I do not have time for wisdom. Only action."

Sif drew her sword and dropped to one knee, bowing her head and raising the sword across her hands in offering. "My queen, will you accept my service? My sword is yours."

Frigga did not have to consider, though the offer was surprising. She reached out and touched the sword. "I will, Lady Sif. I thank you. Gather your gear. We may be in the field for some time. Be in the inner courtyard in thirty minutes, when the Allfather will send us on our quest."

Sif nodded sharply and stood, resheathing her sword and hurrying away to find her cloak.

Volstagg watched her go and let out a rumbly laugh. "Never have I seen Lady Sif so utterly confounded."

"Many are, old friend. We are, all of us, the sum of parts both seen and unseen." She lifted her eyes, thinking of Loki. "Yet many hold an unchanging image in their mind, and they forget there is more."

"I have not. For I recall you, fierce as a lioness in battle," Volstagg declared. "Alas I did not steal you away from the great wolf, when I was younger and even better-looking."

She had to chuckle at that, and he smiled, patting her arm. "There. Better to see you smile. We will rescue Loki, my queen. And for whatever part I played in this with my jocund words, I swear I will aid you in whatever you need done."

"Your words were ill-chosen, but Malekith holds the fault."

"He shall see the glint of our swords and the touch of our axes," Volstagg declared.

Fandral bowed with a flourish, adding, "Aye. We shall not leave your side until you and Loki are safe once more." Behind him, Hogun nodded his firm agreement.

"Thank you all." Her gaze touched each of them, glad to have them and Sif with her. "It is time."

After Malekith's minions left and took the light and blood with them, Loki fell into a doze, aches remaining in his shoulders and ribs as his body healed itself from the greater damage from the cursed blade.

But he was still aware of his surroundings, and when the air shifted against his skin, he stilled, prodded back to alertness. Visitor. Someone had opened the small observation window in the door, to look at him from the corridor outside.

"Please, come in," he called, keeping his voice as level as he could. "You needn't stand on ceremony, I think."

The window flap shut, restoring the darkness, and for a moment he was disappointed his words had failed, but then the door wrenched open. Perfect.

He blinked his eyes, wishing he dared conjure some form of light. Then a faint gleam appeared, moving toward him, and he saw the shadowy figure of a woman. There was only one she could be.

The foxfire lanters on the wall flared back to bluish light, revealing who he had expected.

At least she wasn't insane. This might have promise. "Lady Sigyn, pleased to see you again."

Her foot lashed out into his midsection. When he'd found his balance again, and the shooting pains in his shoulders subsided, he said dryly, "Apparently you are less pleased."

"You killed my father," she hissed. "You deserve torment and death."

"I killed him because he attacked us," Loki protested. But then gave a wry chuckle. "No, that is not true."

"What then?"

"It was a … mistake." It was hard to admit to the truth, even when he'd always known it.

"A mistake? You think that makes it better?" she demanded furiously. "You slaughtered him and five thousand of my people by a mistake? You will never get mercy for that, foul creature."

"No, I expect not. Nor if I was Svartalfen would I want to give it. But I," he hesitated, as if he were saying it relucantly, leaving the crumb on the table for her, "I thought you should know. It was not a deliberate attack."

She picked it up and nibbled, curious. "What then? How did it happen"

He told the truth since it should work to his favor. "I took Mjolnir's power and the loose power of the battle but I failed to bind them properly. The power went wild in an instant and I knew every person on that field, of both sides, would die if I did nothing. All I had time to do was to push it away from me. It was a blind move. Desperate."

She said nothing, but since she didn't hit him again, she was mulling it over.

But because it wouldn't work to seem to try too hard, he added, "But I mourn it not, because he was our enemy, and he was cruel and terrible and he made all his people miserable. And he deserved to die."

"He was my father!"

"I know about fathers I despise, Lady Sigyn. So I understand your conflict, but I know he was cruel to you and your brother." He didn't know that for certain, but he knew Durn had been awful, so it wasn’t much of a guess. Malekith had learned cruelty from somewhere.

She stared at him, shocked and then infuriated, "How dare you!"

Ah, he was right. Now he had another key to get out of this place. He softened his voice as much as he could, "He hurt you, Lady. If you cannot be glad that he is dead, are you not at least relieved he is gone?"

She hit him again. "Silence. Asgard - so high and mighty, so arrogant and bullying, not knowing how much all of the other Realms hate you."

Loki pondered that for a moment. "Not all, I think. But yes, you are right, Asgard has been insufferable. That much I will grant you."

She was about to strike him again, and then held back, surprised. "You agree?"

"Of course I agree. I have hated Asgard longer than you've been alive. As I told Malekith, a year ago I would have joined him in his vengeance. But… Asgard is changing, Lady Sigyn. Odin Allfather, Thor, me … we are different than we were. And even if that were not true - Thanos comes. Your brother is in league with Thanos the Eternal, and I can tell you, because I know this for fact, Thanos brings only death." He paused to rest and find his breath against the pain of the healing stab wounds, and when she didn't speak, he knew she was at least listening. "Lady Sigyn, Thanos will take Asgard first because it has the power to stop him, but it will not be the last or the only ones to fall."

"No, Malekith says that we will be spared."

"I was in Thanos' mind. He will spare no one, in the end." He gazed at her, beseeching her understanding and telling her the absolute truth as he understood it. "I know not whether Malekith is blind to that, or does not care, but if Thanos finds a way into Jormungandr, he will take all the powers to himself: the Casket, the tesseract, the Infinity Gauntlet, he may rouse Ymir… We will all die, Lady Sigyn. All of us. Please, you are not Malekith, you share not in his insanity. Whatever I have done to you and yours, this threat is greater than that."

She turned to consider, and then her chin lifted and she sneered. "You lie. You want me to free you, so you lie. Thanos is our ally, but I thank you for confirming that you fear him. We can work with that."

Smiling, she turned and walked away.

The chains rattled as he tried reflexively to grab her and make her stop. "Say he does spare you, is that what you want? To be subject to his whim forever? Durn, Malekith, Thanos - is there no end to the madmen you must obey, Sigyn? Is that all your life is or ever will be?"

She hesitated, giving him a brief moment of hope that he had reached her, but then she shut the door, plunging him back into darkness.

On arrival, Frigga looked around curiously. All she knew of Jotunheim came from others' tales and some of her own curious scrying about the place from whence Loki came.

It was thickly overcast, lending it a night-time dimness though it was daylight, and it was frigid with a nearly constant icy wind. To one side was a cliff and a view of the great valley of Jotunheim, all ice and stone as far as one could see below. Ahead, stood the old city and the dark ridges of the hills and mountains, all barely distinguishable in the gloom. Fandral scouted ahead, and she followed, relieved to be heading away from that high cliff.

Frigga pulled her fur cloak more tightly around her shoulders and stepped onto the plain of ice, careful of her footing. But then, curiously, the wind faded. She glanced up and saw that here the clouds had parted, and one could see the stars directly above.

The stars shone in the clear ice beneath her feet that should have been slippery and yet was not. To either side and all around were more fantastically beautiful sprays and delicate structures of ice; some had broken evidencing the battle that had occurred, but enough remained to imagine what it had been. Two towering columns of ice, perfectly clear, like the trunks of crystal trees, had formed at the end, framing the entrance to the city.

It was all heart-breakingly lovely and not the grim shadowy realm that Jotunheim had become.

It was Loki's work with the Casket. She needed no taste of the aether to tell her that.

Yes, my son, this is what you can be. Hold tight to that, dearest, she wished him silently, hoping somehow he could hear her.

Surrounded by the Warriors Three and Sif in an honor guard, they went through the crystal columns toward the fallen city. The snow lay in drifts across rubble of stone and partial walls, a sad distant echo of former greatness.

It seemed quiet and deserted, but she felt the eyes and saw the movement of deeper shadows to either side. They were not alone. She stopped on top of one stone column base and waited.

There was movement, and her warriors gathered nearer, hands to weapons. And then one particular shadow detached itself and came closer. "What do you want, Aesir?"

"I am Frigga, Queen of Asgard," she announced boldly. A deep astonished rumble greeted her words, from the giants that gathered in the shadows.

"Why come here, Queen of Asgard?" demanded the one who had spoken before.

"For your help," she said. "Malekith the Accursed took my son prisoner. Some of you must have seen it happen; for it happened here."

"Good. One less Aesir prince," the giant sneered.

"One less Jotunn prince!" she called. Some of them weren't as shocked by that as they should have been. Loki or Malekith had revealed it, then. She heard her guards gasp, but she had no time to explain it to them.

"My son - Loki Odinson of Asgard - is also son of Laufey," she declared. "Raised in Asgard, but son of your king by blood."

"Even if this were true, what matter to us? He is no prince of ours."

Another one showed himself, sneering, "We saw him. He's no Jotunn - too small, too pale, like one of your kind."

Both giants looked down at her, but Frigga returned their look with pride.

"You say he is no Jotunn, but he did that." She pointed back the way she'd come: where the clouds which normally shrouded the world had parted, the two ice columns gleamed with starlight like beacons, and beyond that, a lake of ice that seemed made of silver it shone so brightly. "Look on that, and tell me that was not made by one of the blood of your kings. Imagine what more he could do. He could restore this realm to what it was once, before Laufey failed you."

"Do not speak of his failure, Aesir, when you murdered him!"

Relieved by what this revealed of what they did not know, she lifted her head to confront him. "Which king stood in the chamber where the other slept, spear in his hand to do murder? Laufey invaded Asgard, to the very chamber where Odin Allfather lay sleeping and defenseless. Be glad he did not blame your people for the foolish actions of your king, although--" she looked around at the ruins, "I suppose he thought there was little left to ruin."

"Because of him!"

She returned sharply, "That war was a thousand years past. Think you were the only ones to suffer? I was there, I remember. Yet Asgard and Midgard rebuilt and renewed. But here, nothing. Was the Casket of Ancient Winters the source of Jotnar pride as well as an artifact of power? For my king and husband took away with him only the Casket and a baby found in the snow. If truly that was all Jotunheimi had, then rescuing both from the greedy talons of Malekith of Svartalfheim should be an even greater urgency than my plea." She lifted her head and turned to address them all. "If Loki had not come to Asgard, he would not have learned our ways of power. With what I and my people have taught him, Jotunheim could be greater than it ever was. But if Malekith kills him, that blood and that power will be lost. All that could be will be gone, never to rise again.

"Instead of creating beauty, the power of the Casket of the Ancient Winters will be taken and used to usher in the great evil of Thanos the Eternal, who has taken Malekith into his service. Once, in the dawn of the Nine Realms, Asgard and Jotunheim marched together against Thanos; Odin and Laufey rode side by side to defeat this evil. And I ask you to march again."

"Who are you to ask us this?" the tallest warrior demanded, as if she would have no answer.

"I am a mother who wishes to save her son, and I am a queen who wishes to save the Nine Realms, and I am a healer who wishes to see this Realm restored. All these will come to pass, if you join us."

"And if we do not?" the other giant asked.

She almost smiled at that, but it was a grim amusement. Did he think she was threatening him? She had no need to threaten, when the truth was far more devastating. "The Nine Realms will burn, my lords. Jotunheim will not escape the fires of Thanos, or Malekith's army of conquest."

"You say this, but how do we know it's truth?" one said. "Thanos was defeated and is long gone. We tire of the endless war between Svartalfheim and Asgard; it is not our fight."

"No, brother. You are wrong," another voice retorted."Malekith murdered four of our warriors. Svartalfheim attacked us. Do we continue to stand by and do nothing?"

A new voice entered the debate. "No, we do not." There was movement off to the side, as another Frost Giant emerged from the shadows. But this one was female - with long black hair in braids and wearing just a mail shirt as a sort of short gown.

Frigga noticed that the other giants moved aside for her, as the elder female crept out into the light to ask, "What is this you say? The infant… Laufeyson?"

Frigga turned to face her and nodded her respect. "Yes. Odin Allfather found the baby abandoned in one of your temples, and took him to Asgard where we raised him as our own."

The giantess lowered her head, but her hand went to her chest as if to hold in some violent feeling. "He lives," the giantess whispered. "Thank the gods."

Frigga inhaled a breath. She knew why the other female had asked; even from here, she could sense the truth. All these years she had believed Loki's mother had abandoned him as much as Laufey had, reviling his malformation as weak. Yet here she sensed grief and regret, worn down into constant loss. Frigga hesitated, unsure if she wanted to hear the confirmation aloud -- her heart twisted in jealousy that this stranger had any piece of Loki at all. But that was unfair, when she sensed the regret, for how churlish would it be to deny Loki the chance to know the mother who had birthed him? Did she fear that Loki could not find room in his heart for them both? It was the same absurd fear she had counseled him and Thor against.

It needed to be Loki's choice. So she asked, already knowing the answer, "The baby was yours?"

The giant's eyes - scarlet but pained - lifted to meet Frigga's and she nodded her head once. "When Laufey saw the child, he felt ashamed and cursed. He thought it a sign of the gods' displeasure with our realm and the reason that we lost the war, and he took the baby from me to leave for the gods. I cursed Laufey that his blood would be his doom. But I was weak, and I defied the king too late. When I went to find the infant, he was gone. I thought the wolves had taken him, and I prayed they would raise him as their own. And … so it was, the great wolf of Asgard stole him."

"Rescued him," Frigga corrected softly. "Odin Allfather never stole him, for one cannot steal what has been abandoned."

The giantess nodded her head, and as her voice grew ragged with old pain, there was a moment when Frigga saw the resemblance in her features to Loki's. "There was not a day I did not wish I had fought for him more, saved him…"

Frigga jumped down to the snow and stepped toward her, ignoring the hissed cautions of her guards. "Then help me save him now."

The giant looked at her in surprise. "You care for him? Truly? Though he is not of your blood, though he is Jotunn?"

Frigga answered simply, "He is my son. I have raised him in my house, in my heart, and I will not let Malekith kill him, if I must tear apart Svartalfheim stone from stone myself."

"Not alone, my queen," Sif declared.

"Nay, not alone." Volstagg twirled his axe. "We go with you. And we rescue the prince from that bastard."

The Frost Giant who was Loki's birth mother stepped forward, seemingly re-energized by the revelation that her son still lived, all these long years later. "Not alone. We go with you."

"Skadi," one of the other giants complained, and Skadi backhanded him so hard he stumbled back into the ruins, then she glared at the rest of the giants, scarlet eyes like fire.

"Laufeyson still lives!" Skadi said loudly to the gathering. "My son still lives. Yes, he is now of two worlds, but is that not what we need? Look around, my brothers and sisters - open your eyes to what this realm has become! Four of ours slain, and we shrank back, like beaten pups too afeared to bare our fangs. Too long have we dwindled into lesser creatures, our realm sunken into shadow. We can be more. There is only one who can bring it back, and he is lost, taken by the malice and madness of Malekith of Svartalfheim. This, we shall not stand."

She strode forward and held out her hand, palm up. Without hesitation, Frigga put out her own, much smaller hand, atop hers.

Then Skadi turned and called out in fierce command. "Gather the tribes. Jotunheim goes to war."

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