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13 March 2014 @ 11:48 pm
The Snow Queen and the Ice Demon, ch 4  

In the great hall during her official audience time, Elsa greeted Bishop Bjorn Nordhaug with a smile, beckoning him closer to the throne. "Excellency? Lovely to see you."

He bowed, and she noticed he carried a book in his hands. "Your Majesty." He looked around when he straightened, nervously. "The scholar Loki isn't here?"

"No, he's with Anna," she answered. They had left this morning to explore the hills nearby, searching for caves which might make a good place to hide the tesseract. "They were supposed to be back by now. Did you want to speak to him?" She wondered if he might want to try to persuade Loki to come to church, since surely his absence from all services had been noted.

The bishop's relieved little smile made her frown. "No, no, Your Grace. I wanted to speak to you, about him. How much do you truly know of him?"

She made herself smile, though her stomach tightened. "I know Loki's not truly a scholar of Latveria. He told me his identity. And yes, he has a magic ability like mine. It has made him sadly wary of the Church. I do not think he will attend." She doubted the bishop would want him there, in any case; Loki could never resist mocking the service.

"Has he told you the truth, Your Grace? I doubt that he has." The bishop lifted the book and opened it up to a page he had marked with a strip of leather. "This is from our church records, a sort of diary we keep. I watched him help you build that tree and saw what he did during the snowball fight, and I knew I had seen his face before." He held out the opened book to her and she took it onto her lap.

There, on one of the pages, was a drawing in black ink, of a face framed by black hair. The style was crude, but the face was still recognizable as Loki's.

"This was drawn by one of the altar boys of our church in 1702," Bishop Nordhaug said. "It's a drawing of the Ice Demon, Your Grace. It is the same man."

Elsa looked again at the drawing. The text surrounding it were lurid tales of the Ice Demon. She closed the book and looked at him. "I know. He told me."

"He is a demon, Your Grace!"

She quelled the defensive urge to snap at him and replied calmly, "Am I a demon, Excellency?"

He looked appalled at the question. "No, of course not, Your Grace."

"Neither is he. He was never a demon. What he was, was a man with a strange, dangerous ability, who was afraid and alone and more than a little mad. He deserves our understanding, not our fear."

"But -- but that was so long ago. It isn't human that he's still alive! And not aged!"

"Perhaps he's something a little different," she agreed with a small shrug. "A different breed of man. But a wolf and a dog are not so different, are they?"

He still seemed troubled, frowning at the book. "No, Your Majesty, they are not. Yet…."

She waited for him to work his way to say it, though she was sure where he would end up.

"The Ice Demon never gave a name," the bishop said, "and now he returns with a name out of the Eddas and the gods before our Lord. I am a faithful follower of Christ, but the old ways linger on, in our language, in our ceremonies… and I must wonder…"

She said nothing, unwilling to confirm his guess, but then he looked up, his blue eyes sharp, and needed no verbal confirmation. "There is something you should see in the church. Both of you. He will, I think, appreciate it."

She agreed, curious, and he took his leave. As soon as the bishop was gone, Loki emerged from the side door with swift strides to join her. "A wolf?" he asked, revealing he'd been listening the whole time. His voice is dry and skeptical, on the edge of offense.

"Welcome back," she greeted him drily. "A wolf-- fearsome, wild, and yet not so different."

He considered briefly, arms folded, then nodded, mollified. "I suppose it could have been worse. But you may as well have said god, as poorly as you lie. You should have denied his guess as something absurd. Now he knows."

She shrugged and rose to her feet, stretching out the stiffness from sitting in her uncomfortable wooden chair. "It's the truth. What can he do? Write to the bishop in Oslo? He wants no more of Norway's interference than I do. Even if he did, what would he say? There's a mythical god in Arendelle? No one will believe him."

"I'm standing right here. Hardly mythical." He sniffed. Elsa was not about to argue with him what a 'real god' was. She'd learned that lesson already, and he was devastating when he turned his wit on her faith. "Maybe he wants to show me an altar to start worshipping me again," Loki suggested with a smirk. "I'll accept gold and… plums as offerings."

"Plums?" she repeated with an incredulous chuckle.

He gave a shrug. "I like plums."

She rolled her eyes heavenward, but she was amused. "I do wonder what he wants to show us. Where did you leave Anna?"

"On the western slope in the forest--" he started, but she smacked him in the chest with a snowball, not believing he'd left her sister in the mountains.


He laughed and offered his arm. "She was hungry and stopped at the kitchen, I said I would collect you so we could eat together. Olaf is keeping her company."

She tucked a hand around his arm, touching the soft velvet of his coat. "Plums are long out of season, but we can request preserves--"

He grinned at her and held out his free hand. "There are always plums, if one knows a god, Elsa." He opened his fingers and she was not surprised there was a ripe, purple plum in his palm. Smiling, she took it and bit into it. She half-expected it to dissolve or to turn into a bug in some joke, but it tasted like a plum, sweet and full of summer's warmth.

At the church the bow the bishop offered to Loki was only a little less than the one he gave Elsa, and his eyes kept darting upward at Loki's face, so that he tripped on the step going up to the front doors. Loki caught him by the collar, lifted him up one-handed, and set him on his feet. "Watch your step."

Nordhaug glanced at him and stammered, "Thank you, my lord."

Loki gave him a smile that was all teeth. "I don't kill all the priests, you know. Just the ones who try to exorcise me. In terrible Latin."

"Loki!" Elsa snapped.

"I'm trying to reassure him, Elsa."

"No, you're not, you're trying to scare him. Stop it."

"You are the Ice Demon," the bishop whispered.

Loki's smile widened. "So much more than that, priest. And you know it. So show me what I'm doing here and stop wasting my time."

Nordhaug gave a jerky nod and headed for one side of the sacristy, beneath the higher choir stall where the wall held a painting of St Olaf bringing the faith. Or at least Elsa had had always thought it was the wall, not just a screen, but then with a shove, the bishop revealed they were separate. With only one hand and no visible effort, Loki pushed it out of the way.

Revealed beneath was wood paneling that held another image altogether. There was a large tree carved into the dark wood, with motifs and runes and twisted ropes all around, in deep relief and great artistry.

"Yggdrasil," Loki murmured, taking a step toward it. His hand touched the center, Midgard, and then traced the branch that rose to the crown of the tree and the symbol there. Asgard.

"It was carved at least two centuries ago," Nordhaug explained. "When the people held Christ as one of the many gods in their hearts."

"It's beautiful," Elsa said.

Loki's fingers traced the carved scales of the serpent that twisted its way around the tree and circled down to where the head bit its tail in between great fangs. "And Jormungandr. The stories claim Jormungandr's my child." He glanced at Elsa. "I have no idea where that one came from, except your stories seem to foist all the animals on me."

The bishop caught his breath. "So you are him."

"To an extent. I don't intend on destroying the universe any time soon though, so you can relax." His fingers touched the old, dark wood, gently stroking the serpent's head as if it was real, and then he frowned. "Curious."

He pressed the serpent's eye and Elsa heard a faint click as if a latch released.

"Oh yes," Loki murmured, "what a good snake child you are, give me your secret…." A panel opened and he tugged at it, revealing a small drawer.

Elsa leaned in curiously, wondering what treasure was within, but it was empty. "Oh. That's disappointing."

He looked down at her and his smile was positively wicked. "Its dimensions are rather perfect, for hiding something we want hidden."

He was right. She turned to the bishop. "I have a task for you. A very important one."

Elsa entered her small library to find the report was true - Loki was behaving strangely. Two days after their tesseract had been safely hidden away he was leafing through each book and then tossing it to the floor. "What are you doing?" she asked. There was an impressive pile at his feet already.

"Attempting to locate something that is not absolute drivel," he told her and gestured to the pile on the floor. "These are rubbish -- completely incompetent astronomy, childish mathematics, and philosophy written by drunken goats."

She eyed the empty shelf - apparently he had found nothing worth his time - and then at his glowering countenance. "You're bored."

"Exceedingly," he agreed through his teeth. Only belatedly he realized that reflected poorly on her company. "Not of you," he corrected himself. "I'm never bored of you. But I think I shall take a trip, perhaps to France to visit Messier and nudge him along. You can not investigate the mysteries of the universe, until you know there is a universe to investigate. Midgard needs better astronomy."

She laughed and shook her head. "I think you should write your own book."

He flipped through her only book written in Greek - a copy of the Iliad. "No one would understand it. You would not write a book for rabbits, no matter how complicated their warrens are."

She grabbed the book from him before he could let it fall on the floor, and scowled at him. "Did you just call me a rabbit?"

"You're only half rabbit," he teased.

She shook her head at him, set the book carefully back on the shelf, and tugged at his sleeve. "Come out at once. You've been in here so long you missed luncheon. Anna wants to play piquet, but I need to study some agreements, so you can play with her."

His eyes lit up and he grinned, and she held up a finger in warning. "No cheating."

His expression was so innocent - as if he would never, ever consider such a thing - she had to laugh. He cheated at cards all the time, but only sometimes to win. Once he'd changed all the cards to one suit, and once she had shuffled and discovered the cards had put themselves into order. Playing against someone with magic and a mischievous sense of humor made for interesting card games.

Nearly at the study, his step paused and his head came up as if he heard something. She stilled at his side, ready to use her powers if necessary. "What is it?" she hissed, when she heard nothing.

"Power," he answered, and ran back down the corridor to fling open the shutters at the end. Leaning nearly all the way out the window, he peered up at the sky and out toward the mountains.

"What? What's happening?" She moved up close next to him, clutching his collar to keep from tumbling out the window as she stretched on her toes to see what he was looking at.

In the afternoon light, she could see the sudden storm gathered on the eastern ridge and peaks, dark as winter, swirling dangerously. Then, so quickly she could only wonder at it, the storm dispersed again, clouds turning to wisps and clearing away.

Loki's face shone, as he looked upon it, recognizing what it was with a brilliant hope in his eyes. But all too quickly his expression closed up into a mask. He withdrew from the window and turned from her. "It appears my plan to go to France is too late," he said, with forced lightness.

"Why? What is it?"

"That storm was the Bifrost opening," he told her and turned away. "Someone from Asgard has come at last."

"But isn't that--" she started, in confusion, but he was already halfway down the hall, walking with a quick stride, "… what you want?" she finished to an empty hall.

She decided she might as well go to the audience hall and wait. If the Asgard visitors were coming to the palace, either to get help or because they already knew Loki was housed within, she should be there to greet them. The guards passed word that a stranger in odd clothes was crossing the bridge and she ordered no one impede him. She seated herself on her throne, smoothed her braid, checked her crown, and waited.

The door opened, to permit two guards and her chamberlain to enter. Pol stood straight as he introduced, "Her Royal Majesty Queen Elsa of Arendelle. Your Majesty, may I present…" his voice choked and he had to try again to get it out loud enough for her to hear, "Thor Odinson."

Thor. She nearly came out of her chair and had to clutch the arms. Loki's brother, the Thunder God, was here.

Thor was large and golden fair, with bright blue eyes and a warm smile as he trod across the empty hall toward her, accompanied by her two guards who looked like children next to him. He was wearing some sort of strange armor that looked like fine chain mail but moved like fabric, with blue and silver accents and a flowing cape of scarlet.

When he was about halfway, there was a soft voice from the back of the hall. "So it is you."

Thor's eyes flared in recognition and he whirled to look in the direction he'd just come. Loki stood in the doorway, framed by the light behind him, a spectre in black.

"Loki, you live!" Thor boomed in a voice that echoed from the rafters.

In a voice as soft as Thor's was loud, and as pained as Thor's was joyful, Loki said, "You shouldn't have come." Then he vanished from sight.

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