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06 September 2013 @ 10:52 am
Hail of Shadows 11/?  

When the door opened again, Loki knew things were about to get worse. The blood spell must have failed. The Casket of Ancient Winters would not be fooled by a blood bond, no matter how elaborate.

The foxfire lanterns flared as Malekith strode in, frustrated and angry. Sigyn trailed behind him, with four armored warrior guards as well.

"You will tell us how to make it work," Malekith demanded.

Loki raised his eyebrows. "You could say 'please.'"

Malekith struck him, snapping his head back and forcing his limbs to the limit of the chains that held him, but the blow just made Loki laugh at him. "You are a petulant child, Malekith."

Malekith grabbed his chin and rested his talons on the brow ridges above Loki's eyes as if he intended to claw them both out. "You will fear us," he hissed.

Loki refused to flinch and stared back. "I exterminated five thousand of your men and Durn himself. You should fear me."

He could see that Malekith did. He didn't want to and he wouldn't acknowledge it, but he did. Seeing that fear gave Loki some satisfaction that he held onto as Malekith erupted into fury, snatching a lash from the table. The lash struck Loki's bare skin, stinging fire again and again, nibbling away at his body's strength and digging into his flesh.

Loki fisted his hands in the bonds, and set himself to endure, clenching his jaw and refusing to let Malekith see more than that. I will not bend for you, not ever. I may be a monster, but you are a worm. And I will see you dead for this.

Sigyn averted her eyes and seemed to take no pleasure in the whipping, though she smiled whenever Malekith glanced at her.

When the bespelled lash finally drew blood and Loki flinched, Malekith stopped and his fingers grabbed Loki's chin in a tight grip. "Now. Tell us how to make it work. Or we do it again."

Loki found his voice hoarse, but managed to smirk at Malekith. "I have lived pain you cannot imagine and fear you cannot dream. I have seen death. You are nothing."

Malekith pushed hard on his chin, forcing his head back. "Bring it," he ordered.

"Brother, what are you doing?" Sigyn asked.

"He looks thirsty," Malekith taunted. "We think we should give him water."

Loki tried to fight him, but found the whipping had sapped his strength more than he expected and the guards and Malekith pulled open his mouth and started dumping water from a pitcher into his mouth and on his face.

It confused him at first - did Malekith think he could drown? It was a bit uncomfortable, but it would take a lot more than a pitcher's worth of water to worry him.

But then he got a taste of the water and realized it wasn't water at all.

Don't swallow it, don't swallow it… But in the end, he had no choice - they forced it down his throat, even as he gagged and coughed. Then the pitcher was empty, and Malekith hurled it to the far end of the room and stepped back, gloating.

"Now we see."

"See what?" Sigyn asked. "You got him wet, so?"

"Ah, this one is a freak, dear sister. Not only is he Jotunn, something the Aesir hid for a thousand years, but he's defective. Small, weak, and with a faulty digestion. They couldn't hide that," Malekith sneered. "Simple chicken broth is poison."

Loki was feeling fine, though, much to his own surprise. It had been so long since he'd tasted meat, it seemed he had left it behind. Perhaps it had been a problem of his youth… He was fine, he had outlasted the weakness, he had nothing to worry about…

He smirked at Malekith. "Your information is -"

Then his insides seized up, squeezed unbearably. He tried to keep it to himself, show nothing, but it was impossible. His stomach heaved, trying to empty itself, and Malekith sprang backwards with a giggle, watching Loki with his mad delight.

The vomiting stopped, leaving him hanging in the chains. Humiliation burned inside, and he clenched a jaw around the urge to stab himself in the heart and end all of it. The pain burned as well, a forged sword straight through his middle, and he wanted to fold up around it but the bonds held him open.

He spat out the taste in Malekith's direction and concentrated on breathing through his teeth, closing his eyes and letting his hair fall in his face to forget there was anyone watcing him.

But eventually he was too boring for Malekith, who laughed. "We'll do this again soon, princeling. We will check on you later." At the door he realized Sigyn wasn't following. "Sister?"

"I want to watch," she said. "It seems… entertaining."

"Nothing permanent, dear sister," he ordered and laughed again, before snapping the guards outside to leave them alone.

Loki lifted his head and it was a strain to reach for that taunting tone of voice. He was starting to feel warm, as well, his skin too tight and his blood heated in the grip of sudden fever. "Is it that entertaining? Truly your life must be pathetic…"

"Are you trying to die?" she asked him abruptly. "Why do you taunt us? Your life is in our hands, and you provoke us. It's foolish."

He shrugged as much as he could, having to bite his lip to hold back as another wave of nausea hit him like Mjolnir right under the ribs. "It is… entertaining."

She came closer to peer at him in the dim light. He became abruptly aware of his wrong colored skin and the way she was staring into his eyes as if she saw something strange.

"Were they really ashamed of you?" she asked abruptly. "Of this face? Is that why they hid it?"

She was good; she sounded sympathetic even while she managed to strike a blow that hurt more than anything Malekith had done.

But he could show no weakness in this. He forced a laugh. "Of course they were. Who wants a Jotunn foundling in the palace of Asgard?"

"Yet they did," she murmured. "They wanted one. How lucky for you to escape that cold and savage place."

He frowned. Thor had tried to say something like that, but Loki hadn't listened. But it was true; he probably wouldn't have lived so long had he been raised in Jotunheim. The Frost Giants were not farmers and though he often loathed eating, at least he had more variety in Asgard than the lichens and berries that Jotunheim produced.

Though of course his difficulty with animal proteins had nothing to do with why they'd kept the secret of his ancestry. His food problem could not be hidden, but his skin could be.

"They hid it from all. The Allfather called the illusion forth and I held it myself, unknowing." He wanted to laugh, but the twisting in his gut stole his breath.

"You didn't know?" she demanded in incredulity. Somehow that made him feel especially stupid, that he could be another race entirely and yet never know.

But he had known something. "I knew there was something wrong with me." His stomach tried to heave out the poison again, and he retched, shivering with a strange heat across his skin. When he caught his breath he added, "I wondered whether I was their blood, but it made no sense to me that they would raise me if I were not. Then… I found out I was something other entirely."

He still didn't understand it, not really. That Frigga had pitied and wanted to keep him, he understood that much. And Odin had wanted to watch him in case he was dangerous, but still, it seemed an elaborate pretense to keep the discarded runt offspring of a despised enemy.

She turned away but he saw something he thought was sympathy or pity. "At least I - " she started in a murmur, but stopped herself. She turned back and asked. "Will you die of it? You look quite pale."

Oh ancestors, I hope so, since I know I have days of this. "Possibly."

"Are you lying to me?" she asked, coming close and smiling at him.

He hoped his smile was less sickly than he felt. "Possibly." After a moment of silence he told her, "So now you have a weapon. I await how you intend to turn it against me."

"No." She shook her head and added in a soft voice, "We are not so different, I think."

He frowned, thinking he should be able to parse what she meant by that, but he had no idea. Because they were the younger siblings of the heir? She seemed to mean something else. Perhaps when his body wasn't trying to hurl out its insides, he could figure it out. "You are free, and I am not. That seems quite different to me."

"Give Malekith what he wants and I will free you from these chains, have you put in a cell and not hurt again," she promised.

He had to chuckle at that. "Ah. I was wondering when we would get to the promises of ease. Next you'll offer me a magazine." Her look of incomprehension was amusing, but his intended laugh turned into a shudder.

"It is not a ploy," she insisted. "There is no need to suffer."

"Durn would be very disappointed in your lack of will to avenge his death," he chided.

It got the reaction he'd wanted as she struck him across the face and distracted him from the seething spasms inside.

"I have no lack of will," she spat. "You will suffer and then you will die, and my father will be avenged." She headed back for the door, and her shoes made soft clicks on the stone floor.

"You should thank me for avenging what you suffered at his hands," Loki called after her. Her step hesitated then she left.

But he found a little smile, because she had neglected to take the light with her.

Soon, he promised her silently, I will widen that crack. You are not as cold-hearted as you want to be, Sigyn of Svartalfheim, and you will not stay away.

His chains rattled as a spasm shook him suddenly, and he bit his lip as the tremors continued. The pain rose up inside his chest, forcing him to retch again, even though there was nothing left to bring up.

It left him weary and trembling, and his satisfaction from his conversation with Sigyn fled for darker places.

Conquer your weakness, he reminded himself. This is of the body, put it away. And wait. Your opportunity will come.

Frigga brushed the ice away from the fallen column and seated herself there to wait. She tapped her fingers against her thigh, in her only concession to her impatience. She wanted to go now, not later. But Skadi and the rest of their ruling tribe needed time to gather the army, send out messengers and bring in supplies.

Her warriors kept watch over her - Sif and Fandral stalked the perimeter of the area they'd staked out as Asgardian, while Hogun and Volstagg remained near her, more still and wary.

As the day wore on, Skadi encouraged two Frost Giants close and then unexpectedly shoved them to their knees. Sif followed them in, as Volstagg and Hogun instantly stood in front of Frigga, hands to hilts, ready to draw.

"Wait," Frigga commanded and looked up at Skadi curiously. "What is this?"

"These two," Skadi kicked one in the ribs, "will not stop fighting. Their tribes have long been in a dispute and they will ruin the attack with their bickering, if nothing stops them. So I had a thought that you, as a neutral party, might hear their issues and settle it."

"Why not you?" Frigga asked.

Skadi gave a snort. "Because I want to clout them both on the head. And you're not doing anything."

Frigga couldn't help a smile at that. Skadi had a point. She looked at the two Giants before her, who wouldn't look at her or each other without sneering. "Well, I am willing. If they are willing to speak to me."

"Yes, they are," Skadi growled at them and her red eyes shone with a new fire. "We go to rescue Laufeyson, and I will not have these two getting us all killed because of a stolen deer four hundred years ago."

"It was a goat," one of them muttered. "They trespassed first."

"They stole my cousin."

"She came of her own--"

Sif's sword came between them as the two turned toward each other about to come to blows again. "Stop," she warned them. "The Queen of Asgard will hear you. She will be fair. But by the ancestors, you will be civilized before her, or I will cut your heads off."

Frigga glanced up at Skadi, to check what she thought about Sif drawing a weapon on her people, but Skadi seemed amused. "I think it would improve them." Then she glared down at the two. "You came at the call, that means you're not too stupid to live, so prove yourselves fit to rule your tribes."

With a nod to Frigga, she stomped away to attend to other business, and Frigga turned her attention back to the two kneeling before her, abashed but still glaring at each other from the corners of their eyes. "Livestock disputes and a love affair… Well, this may take all afternoon, but let me put it this way, Malekith is probably torturing my son right now. Your intransigence appears to be stalling my departure to go to him, so my patience is not infinite today." She glanced at the sky then back to them. "Here is my ruling: at sunset both of you will duel to the death and your tribes will merge with a new leader chosen by me. Unless we resolve this another way."

This time when the two giants looked at each other it was with a new, shared alarm.

She very nearly smiled at that. "Shall we begin?"

At sunset two grumpy Frost Giants were alive and their tribes were part of the army.

The other giants gave Frigga a metal goblet in celebration of the ended feud. The goblet was the size of a soup serving tureen, and full of clear liquor. But she sipped it curiously; it was harsh on the throat and cold, but pleasantly warming at the end.

As daylight dimness turned to night-time black, the Frost Giants held a short, but solemn funeral for their fallen warriors. They laid a circle of small black rocks around the four bodies, chanted to their gods, stripped the bodies, and then poured frostfire on them. Frostfire was a devastating weapon of the giants -- it began as a liquid, burned all it touched, and left frost in its wake instead of ashes. It could only be stopped by magic or regular fire, which she saw demonstrated as the giants lit the encircling coal on fire, golden-red flames surrounding the blue and halting their spread.

When the ceremony seemed complete, Frigga moved to the area Loki had cleared where the termperature was not as cold and heated a stone where it wouldn't melt the ice forms.

She passed the goblet to her companions, offering to Sif last with a gesture to come sit near her.

Sif glanced toward the jotnar. "I… can hardly believe this is happening. And you managed to bring those two stubborn giants to accord."

"Often all it needs is patience, wilingness to listen, and perspective," Frigga murmured. "As I offer you. You seem troubled."

Sif shook her head and lifted the goblet in both hands to drink. "I … would never burden you with my trifling concerns, my queen."

"Is it about Loki?" Frigga asked, and hid a smile when Sif was surprised that she knew.

"I… I never… Is it true?" she asked. "That he's one of … them?"

Frigga let a soft sigh escape and knew that the time had come. She gestured the other three to come nearer. "I shall tell you the tale. At the end of the war, here on Jotunheim, the Jotunn were scattered, their buildings torn down, and the storms were coming. And in that stillness of utter defeat, Odin heard a baby cry. It was a strange sound to him, especially as the sound continued, a wail forlorn and weak. The Jotunn love their children, as we do, and he did not understand why no one was helping the baby. With the thought that the child had been lost during the battle somehow and he would return it to its kind, he searched it out. He climbed the hill above the fallen city," she pointed in its direction, even though it as no longer visible in the dark, "and he found a baby laid upon the altar. He was small, even for one of our kind and tiny for theirs. There was no knowing how long he had been there, but he was starving, and the coming storm would have killed him within the day."

Volstagg, father of many and generally big-hearted warrior he was, made a sound and his eyes were soft with understanding and sorrow.

Frigga continued, "The king's heart was moved by pity and he brought the baby to Asgard, wrapped in his banner." She remembered the small fragile body nestled in her arms and his happy little grin, and had to smile at the memory. "And I … when I beheld him, I could not bear the thought of letting him go. We already knew there would be no child after Thor. His strength came at a price for us both," she added more softly, looking off to the distance. "Then this outland child appeared in answer to my prayer. When the Allfather invoked illusion of an Aesir appearance, Loki held it himself, though he was but days old. We knew then, in that tiny body a great power lay."

Volstagg nodded his shaggy head thoughtfully, and took a great draught of the Jotunn brew. "Though Heimdall tried hard to keep everyone at a distance, I know a baby's cry when I hear one. So I -- well, I have long known he was not yours, my queen, though your story was otherwise plausible. I believed he was the king's blood, and you were particularly generous with your affections in accepting him."

She regarded Volstagg in shock. She had always been grateful for her semi-isolation with baby Thor at the mountain retreat during the war, which had let the deception stand unchallenged. Loki's public digestive problem ironically had helped, as it seemed to fit with the story of her troubled pregnancy and his premature birth. There had been rumors nonetheless, which she had tried to stamp out whenever they arose again. But this was the first she had ever heard Volstagg believed one of the rumors. "You thought Loki was Odin's distaff son?"

He shrugged. "It seemed the best solution. That was why I muttered about his blood at the ceremony. I meant it as praise, that he was returning to the ways of the king's blood. I knew none of this." He waved a hand around indicating Jotunheim.

She closed her eyes briefly. So the secret continues to yield bitter fruit.

"He was never told. He found out by accident on your last visit during that confrontation with them," Frigga murmured. "That was my mistake, keeping the truth from him. He has yet to recover from the blow, and it leaves him vulnerable during this trial."

Sif nodded slowly, watching the distant shadows of the Frost Giants move beyond the faint reach of the starlight above. "I cannot imagine the shock of that revelation falling on me… There was such a strange light in his eyes when he took up Gungnir, I knew he had gone a little mad. I thought it was with power; I never dreamed this. And now …" she glanced at Frigga, frowning in concern, "he calls himself monster. It seems he has given up hope of being more."

"Then we must teach him he is mistaken," Volstagg declared. "The lad sent Thor to Midgard and remained behind. That was an act that shows his worth."

Or shows he believes he has none, Frigga thought, troubled. Oh, child, be wary of despair. Find your strength and fight Malekith. Remember our talk, and hold on until we reach you.

Crossposted from DW There are comment count unavailable comments over there. Feel free to comment wherever.
Rayrirenec on September 7th, 2013 05:53 am (UTC)
I adore the conversations in this. Just gorgeous, how natural they feel. Great chapter, as always.
lizardbeth: Av - Hiddles lollizardbeth_j on September 7th, 2013 08:12 pm (UTC)
aw, thank you.

But heh, conversations. Sometimes I feel like this series is really just a play in disguise. ;)