Travel on Jotunheim was slow. Even for frost giants, the weather was inhospitable. They were adapted to withstand the cold, but it didn’t make the terrain any easier. Visibility was low, snow swirling more crazily around them as the winds picked up and Loki, with his much shorter stride and his cargo in tow, strained to keep up. He wasn’t tired and refused to show weakness or request a break, but the combination of the two factors slowed him down. Ahead, Ylgr, Þjím, and the others whose names Loki did not yet know trod more lightly through the frozen landscape, unencumbered by a sled or a pack. Most of them wore hardly anything, so not even cloaks flapped in the gusts, except for Loki. Despite knowing what he was, he still could not find it in himself to not dress as an Aesir might for the weather, albeit not quite as diligently. He wore a heavy cloak with a fur collar, gloves, boots and thick leathers, under which thin, silken knits lay against his skin. It was all unnecessary. The other Jotnar wore little more than modesty flaps, not even shoes. Loki had always assumed this was because they were primitive, but after seeing the things Kyrmir was capable of creating, he did not believe that to be the case. The Jotnar might have some baser instincts, but didn’t all men? No, their state of dress was merely convenience. In warm climes, people wore no more than was necessary; it was the same here on Jotunheim, only for a frost giant, this was considered temperate.
There was not much conversation during the journey, not that such a thing was possible, anyway. Ylgr was the only one of the bunch who spoke any Aesir, from what Loki could tell. His Jotnar was not exactly at the conversational level and they were not a chatty people by nature. Gruff and terse, frost giants could be quite intimidating simply due to their size and mannerisms. That was before one knew they could summon ice into deadly weapons, that their touch could burn the skin of an Aesir, or that their entire culture hated Asgard with a passion. More than a thousand years ago, Asgard had put a stop to Laufey’s plans to expand his domain into Midgard. Odin and the armies of Asgard had slain many Jotnar, fighting their way back to the very capital city Loki had arrived at. At the point of Odin’s spear, Gungnir, a surrender and ‘peace treaty’ were forced. Odin then took from them the one source of power the cold, bleak realm possessed: The Casket of Ancient Winters. Said to bear the power of Fimbulwinter, a thousand killing winters, within it, The Casket enabled the frost giants to vanquish enemy armies and conquer enemy realms.
It was within this city, Utgard, that Loki had been found by Odin as a newborn. The Allfather recognized Loki as the son of Laufey, albeit small for a giant’s offspring, and must have formed a plan in his mind immediately. How Odin recognized such a thing, he never said. Loki would not recognize his own kin, so little he still knew about the frost giants, despite Kyrmir's tutelage. He hoped these Jotuns could do better than he could, perhaps even teach him in the process. That had not always been the case, however.
At the time, more than a thousand years ago, Odin, the victorious warrior king, took his prize, an infant Loki, back to Asgard with him and raised him as an Asgardian. Neither the Allfather nor his queen, Frigga, told Loki that he was adopted or that he was not even an Aesir. He and Thor were both raised believing themselves to be blood kin. The truth came out after a fateful visit with Thor to Jotunheim which Loki had even tried to prevent from happening. Upon learning his true nature, Loki made plans to wipe all evidence of his heritage from the Nine Realms. He tricked Laufey into coming to Asgard with a promise of allowing him to murder Odin as he lay helpless in his bed, but instead it was Laufey who died that day at Loki's own hand. ‘A son of Odin’ he’d proclaimed himself before delivering the killing blow. Laufey likely never knew who Loki was, despite having dealings with him on several occasions. The only Jotun who recognized Loki from his ancestry lines, revealed by the touch of another frost giant on Jotunheim that day with Thor, Loki had also killed. Using the power of the unfettered Bifrost, it had been Loki’s intention to destroy Jotunheim utterly.
He found it ironic that he should be visiting the realm he’d sought to obliterate, seeking the help of those he considered monsters, in a form he’d never wanted to see ever again. Kyrmir had changed so much of his thinking about his race. They were not animals, not monsters. If Loki was a monster, it was by virtue of his actions, not his race. But monsters did not drag their fallen loved ones to foreign realms to see that they received a proper burial. Monsters didn’t trudge all day through blinding snow and howling winds dragging a sled along with dangerous strangers in order to ensure the name of those they’d lost was never forgotten. Monsters didn’t help strangers in their realm by taking them to where they might find those things. The monsters were all in Loki’s mind.
Shelter that night was another cave, but one to which they'd deliberately trekked. It was obvious the moment he set foot inside that this cave had long been used for habitation, despite the lack of some of what would be the usual signs in other realms. Within the embrace of the mountain, the interior of the cave was not dark from the smoke of many fires for the Jotnar had no need of it. Loki had only built his fire as a signal, not because he needed either the light or the heat of it. Because Jotunheim was such a dim planet, far from its weak companion star, the natives of that realm had adapted to low light conditions. Their red-within-red eyes allowed in significantly more photons and a wider range of wavelengths of light than either the Aesir or humans. It reached into the infrared scale, allowing them to hunt the realm's scarce game in darkness if necessary. Navigation at night was not as easy without a beacon of warmth to guide them and the black of the Jotun night was punctuated with the sounds of truly nocturnal creatures Loki expected were best avoided.
"Morning going," Ylgr explained, but Loki had already surmised their plans. He brought Kyrmir's sled into the cave without speaking. Loki's glowering look defied any in the group to challenge him on it, but none did. They seemed much less uncomfortable traveling with a corpse than any Aesir would be. For that he was grateful. Despite his defensive demeanor, the last thing Loki wanted right now was a fight. He was no fool; he was not likely to find other help in this barren place, let alone another Jotun who knew some of his language. After taking everything from him, The Norns, with their customary cruel humor, had gifted Loki this favor. He was certain they expected thanks for it and while he was thankful even, he'd be damned if he'd grant them the satisfaction of humbling him. He'd always considered them miserable bitches and apparently the dislike was mutual.
The group fell into what felt like the ease of a practiced routine, readying to stay the night. Loki was the outsider, uncertain of his role, so he did his best to stay out of the way. When provisions were produced, Loki stepped forward to offer up one of his bottles of wine as a contribution. They hesitated in accepting.
"It's wine," Loki urged, thrusting the bottle forward again. "From Vanaheim. You drink it." The bottle looked ridiculously small compared to the Jotuns' hands, so Loki opened it, offering it once more. He didn't know the Jotnar words for either wine or drink, so he demonstrated, taking a swig. "It's good."
This seemed to convince them it was no trick. It was Þjím who reached for the bottle, his face obviously curious. Loki smiled. “A gift of thanks.” Þjím took the bottle and sniffed at it before taking a small sip of it. Loki snickered at the emotion that flickered over the giant’s face. First was confusion, then more curiosity, and finally a smile. He liked it. Þjím took another drink, bigger this time. One of the others reached for the bottle wanting to try it as well.
Ylgr passed between Loki and Þjím and pointed at the third Jotun. He was exceedingly muscular, even compared to the others in the group and reminded Loki a little bit of Thor in that. “Augþraunöng,” Ylgr stated, then pointed to another who bore heavy crests on either side of his head that nearly resembled a hat or a crown of some sort. “Gornje.” That left only the most reticent of the group unnamed. He seemed older than the others, his eyes wizened in a way Loki felt like he recognized. The blue of his skin was somewhat faded compared to the others as well, taking on more of a grayish cast in the light. Loki didn’t know if it meant he was ill or if it was merely a normal part of Jotnar aging. It seemed rude to ask. It could just be a natural variation in skin tone such as many races had and he might have had it his whole life for all Loki knew. Loki’s own skin color was similar to the others, but not identical, much in the same way the Aesir or Midgardians had their various skin tones. What was true of them could easily be true of the Jotnar as well. They all seemed to have different markings and different distinguishing features as well. Loki’s main distinction, aside from his small stature, was his full head of hair. None of the others had that, save Kyrmir. Kyrmir had also been able to grow a beard which Loki only saw on one of the others here now, the as yet unnamed final member of their group. It was a thick, wiry thing that looked nearly dangerous with icicles hanging from it. His eyebrows, equally menacing, were on a heavy ridge over narrow, dark eyes, giving him a generally dour look.
Loki himself had never been able to grow a decent beard and had always chalked it up to youth, but then he stopped being such a youth and still no luck. Once he found out his true heritage, he assumed it had to do with being a Jotun. Kyrmir disproved that theory as did the stranger now. Again, like the Aesir and the humans, Jotnar had different patterns and amounts of hair growth. Seeing the others and how many were essentially bald, Loki counted himself lucky for his dark curls. He could forgo a beard, or cast one of illusion, if he must have one. It didn’t seem like a priority or much of a loss, even though the Warriors Three had teased him about it, along with Thor, when they’d all been younger. Loki stroked over his bare chin thoughtfully, watching the bottle get passed once again, now to Gornje.
“Hærn,” the final Jotun introduced himself, giving Ylgr an unreadable look. Loki glanced between the two, trying to tell what was being unsaid. He noticed a similarity in the markings on their faces and gestured at his own face.
“Va Ahh Laufey.” He wasn’t proud of it, but it was the only way he knew to illustrate his question of their ancestry. Loki suspected they were related. He then pointed to Ylgr and Hærn and drew a facsimile of their markings in the air with a bit of conjured witchlight. “Luw va ahh…?”
There were surprised gasps, the shattering of glass on the stone floor, and the Jotnar all retreated a couple steps. Frozen wine oozed out of the broken bottle as five pairs of red eyes stared at Loki.
Just when he’d thought he was starting to make friends.
“Harmless!” He assured them, dispelling the illusion. “See? Nothing. Just light.”
“Seiðrmaðr,” Hærn pointed at him. Loki knew the word. It was the same one the Aesir used for what he was: magic man. He nodded in acknowledgment.
“Yes, I am a mage. That was just a bit of harmless light, though, I swear it.” Loki held up his hands once again, trying to show he wasn’t a threat. There was murmured discussion in low, rapid Jotnar that he couldn’t make out. Glancing at the opening of the cave, Loki calculated his way out if he had to make a break for it. He wasn’t leaving without Kyrmir, though, so it would be a fight after all, perhaps.
“I wanted to know if Hærn and Ylgr are related?” He pointed at each of them again, looking between them. “Visaji?” It was perhaps not the right word, but it was at least in the right group of concepts for family. It didn’t necessarily mean blood kin, but Loki didn’t know the specific words for father or son. He did know the word for brothers though. “Yonr?”
“Noij,” Hærn shook his head, getting the gist of the conversation. “Hærn va ahh yonn Ylgr.”
A nephew, then. That made sense of why their markings were similar, but not exact. Loki hadn’t paid much attention to Laufey’s markings before he’d killed him. Now he wished he had. Silvertongue nodded his understanding. Now for a more difficult question. “Laufey yonr?” Loki couldn’t remember the word for the verb ‘to have’. He wanted to know if Laufey had any other kin but Loki didn’t know the general word for that either. He hoped the question would be clear enough. And that he could understand the answer.
Hærn glanced over to Ylgr but his eyes shot back to Loki when he waved a hand and banished the remains of the broken wine bottle. It was a simple spell, but they seemed impressed by his magic. Loki wasn’t sure if that was because Jotunheim was so poor with magic or because they’d never seen a Jotun wield the seiðr before. They had their own sort of summoning abilities with the ice, but he’d never seen nor heard of a frost giant doing any proper magic. He was an anomaly once again. Clearly Laufey had not displayed any such ability, else they would not be so surprised by Loki’s. That likely left either his birth mother or some kind of recessive trait as the cause for his differences from the others. Possibly a combination of both.
Loki longed to ask instead about Kyrmir’s family, but would have to wait. Maybe he could find out more about his own in the meantime. He looked to Ylgr, witchlight still glowing overhead. “Did Laufey have any other offspring?” It was possible they wouldn’t know. They hadn’t known about Loki. In an unstable, ruthless realm like Jotunheim, it was not unwise to conceal heirs to the throne. Loki suspected regicide and other dynastic murders were not uncommon. It was impressive that Laufey had ruled as long as he had. “Any other kin?”
“Sons. Helblindi and Byeleistr,” Ylgr offered warily. “Not like you.”
Loki wasn’t sure if he meant not like him referring to his size or his abilities, but he gave a short laugh. “There are none like me in any realm. These sons, where are they?”
Ylgr shrugged. “Not knowing.”
“Are they alive or dead?” Loki pressed.
“Well you’re not much help, are you?” Loki was frustrated.
“Can leaving Asgard here,” Ylgr shrugged again. Oh, the frost giant had a dry sense of humor! Loki was actually delighted by it.
“Pardon my temper, Ylgr,” Loki apologized, glancing over his shoulder at Kyrmir. “Your help is much appreciated.”
“Hmmff,” Ylgr replied, stoic as ever. “More wine?”
“Yes, of course.” Loki brought another bottle out from his supplies, opened it, and handed it over. He’d give them all his stores and send them more later if it got him what he came here for. Ylgr handed it back.
“Oh for the Norns’ sake!” Loki took a swig of the bottle and thrust it back at the frost giant. “If it were ensorcelled, it wouldn’t affect me anyhow and I’m not going to try something as stupid as poison since I know it is unlikely to have any effect.” The Jotnar, like the Aesir, were resistant to most contaminants, be they pathogens, parasites, or chemicals. It was part of what made them so long-lived, though Loki suspected a warlike nature somewhat balanced that out.
The other members of the party settled in for the night around them, including Hærn, who took the bottle from Ylgr and passed it amongst them. Ylgr made no move to retire, but went to stand closer to the cave entrance to look out into the night. Loki followed him.
“Are you not sleeping?” he asked.
“I watching first.”
Loki immediately grasped his meaning. It was common for any traveling group in what could be hostile territory to leave one or more members to stand guard as the others slept. “I can watch. You rest,” he offered.
“No. I watching.”
They didn’t trust him. Well, Loki could hardly blame them. He didn’t have the language to argue his case logically, however. It took more fluent conversational skills to talk about logic and motive than it did to ask simple questions and he did not wish to start an argument when they were only partway to their destination. He knew nothing about where they were headed or about who they were meeting. If left on his own, then Loki wouldn’t even know which direction to head other than back to where he’d started. His heart sunk at that prospect. He’d already failed Kyrmir so mightily; he could not fail at this final task. Asgard could await his return for a few days. They’d already waited this long, and he was not eager to give them the news of Thor and Fandral’s deaths.
The more he thought about it, the more Silvertongue felt it would be better coming from Odin. He was still their sovereign, not Loki. None of Asgard knew of Loki’s treachery impersonating the Allfather but Loki was unwilling to do so again. He and Odin standing together would present the strongest portrait of the House of Odin. Without either of them, there would be speculation. If Odin was not present, they might wonder what Loki had done with him. If Loki was not present, they would likely suspect him to blame for the bad news. They would never believe their beloved Allfather had murdered his own son. That was news Asgard never needed to hear. With a sigh, Loki realized how entrenched the conspiracy of silence was in the royal house, even now. To rule meant to keep secrets. It softened his scorn at Odin somewhat. It was strange to understand a thing intellectually but still have it hurt emotionally. Loki could see the wisdom and necessity of Odin’s plan to form a permanent peace with Jotunheim using its heir. In his place, Loki might have come up with the very same plan. It was insidious and audacious, and if the stolen relic had not been Loki himself, he might have been impressed.
He still had time to consider the matter, Loki reminded himself. Next to him, Ylgr rumbled and stepped forward to exit the cave to stand guard outside of it. “Asgard sleeping. I watching.”
“Alright,” Loki relented, watching the other Jotun disappear into the dark of the night outside of the cave. “May your watch be quiet,” Loki wished Ylgr in the traditional way and drew his witchlights back into the cave with him. The space within was hardly large enough for all of them stretched out, but Loki wasn’t about to leave Kyrmir outside to make room for himself. Stepping over the others who lazily shared the bottle of wine between them, Loki laid down the only place there was still room for him to do so: alongside Kyrmir. An arm wrapped around the furry bundle who had once been filled with such fire and such determination, Loki buried his face in the furs willing himself to not remember this as their last night together.