Loki dreamed of Kyrmir. Hardly surprising under the circumstances, laid out next to him, an arm wrapped over his broad chest. Kyrmir was cold, everything was cold. Jotunheim had nights that were no more clement than its days. In his Jotun form, Loki could tolerate the chill physically but the chill in his heart twisted his dreams into nightmares. Bad dreams were something to which Loki was also accustomed. His mind was no less active in sleep than it was during his waking hours, it seemed. Whether that was a general curse of cleverness or his own particular constitution, Silvertongue did not know. Perhaps a bit of both since they were not mutually exclusive.
In Loki's dreams, Kyrmir was still alive. He was on the roof of the warehouse, as so often he'd been while working on his projects, and Loki approached to speak to him. It was a familiar scene, a comforting one. So of course everything changed. The skies darkened and where thunder and lightning might have also been comforting as the harbingers of Thor, instead came sheets of fire across the scudding clouds. Whipped by the wind, tongues of flame lashed out, separating the two Jotuns. The warehouse collapsed beneath their feet, plunging Kyrmir and Loki both into a searing cauldron of a pit below. Anathema to frost giants, lava swirled in the chasm, waiting to devour them both.
In slow motion, as nightmares often were, they fell. Loki scrabbled for something to hold onto but the warehouse just crumbled away when he touched it, his desperate, gripping fingers enough to crush whatever they came in contact with. Then he came to a jarring halt, the wind punched out of him. Loki hadn't grabbed anything. Instead, he'd been snagged by a ragged jut of rusty metal, a support pole of some kind from the innards of the demolished warehouse. It took him a moment of wondering why he couldn't take a deep breath before Loki realized the metal was protruding through his body, as the sword had through Kurse's body on Svartalfheim, as it had through his own.
Impaled, unable to move or even to scream, Loki flailed his arms out uselessly after Kyrmir, who hit the molten rock with a roar. It devoured him like a candle dropped on hot coals. Loki couldn't tear his gaze away from the horrific vision of Kyrmir bursting into flames. His skin sizzled and popped as cries of rage turned to shrieks of agony. At one point, Loki could have sworn that flames shot from Kyrmir's mouth and eyes, the sight of which he knew would haunt him. His own life probably would not be much longer, not hung on a spit above the fire to roast. It would not be as quick as Kyrmir's, but it would eventually get the job done. From tortures that mimicked this almost exactly, Loki knew death came far too late for one like him in this position.
He decided to see if he could use the ragged metal sticking through his belly to just finish the job. Surely if Loki could split his own chest open, cut himself in half, then he could fall. It was easier said than done. He had no leverage, no strength, and could hardly even wheeze in a gurgling, wet inhale. Coughing felt like being stabbed all over again. Loki had to resort to making himself bounce down on the crude blade, hoping it would have enough of an edge to work through his body. In the roiling pit below, there was still a ring of flame around where Kyrmir had fallen. Loki made that his target.
In the cave on Jotunheim, surrounded by strangers most Asgardians considered enemies, Silvertongue clung to Kyrmir's body in his sleep. It was only after his moaning and flailing calmed that the other Jotuns he'd awoken with his nightmares approached Loki. He awoke with a start to find three pairs of crimson eyes staring at him.
"Asgard?" Hærn asked, the real question implied. He was a quick study of the Aesir language but didn't yet have the vocabulary to inquire specifically after Loki's mental state.
"It's Loki and I'm fine," Loki snapped, feeling exposed. His arm was still firmly locked around Kyrmir's body, a defensive gesture now as much as it was an emotional reaction to the horror of the dream. One of the frost giants, Gornje, he thought, leaned in closer to peer into his face. Loki bared teeth at him and he pulled back again, muttering in Jotnar to the others. Loki didn't recognize the words, but when Gornje touched his own cheek below his eye, Loki released Kyrmir to do the same. He found icy tears on his own face and humiliation washed through him in a heavy wave. They'd seen him crying in his sleep like a child. No wonder they thought him weak. He was weak.
More unintelligible words in Jotnar were uttered but Loki managed to pick out his own name, Kyrmir's name, and the Jotnar term for a slain warrior. Did these creatures not mourn the deaths of their comrades? Loki wondered if his show of emotion was completely alien to them. Asgard itself had the concept of Valhalla, an idyllic place for the honored dead to reside, to soothe the loss of its warriors but Loki had always been too selfish to get much succor from it. To die in battle was a good death but he couldn't help but think that living would be better.
He thought of Lady Sif, who lost her own father in battle when she was still young. Loki had tried to console her with tales of Valhalla at the time. He'd been young then, too. He'd had no experience first hand with grief so he hadn't much else to offer. Sif had not been appeased by the prospect of Valhalla any more than Loki was now. She'd cried in his arms, insisting she just wanted her father back. It had been heartbreaking for them both. Harvadr had been a good man, a good father, and a faithful Einherjar in the service of Asgard. Sif revered and adored him and his loss was devastating. Loki knew much better now what his friend had gone through and was keenly aware that while his own consoling had been woefully inadequate, there was really nothing but time that eased such pain.
His own pain was just beginning. After Loki saw to it that Kyrmir was honored properly, he would have to return to Asgard to announce the deaths of Thor and Fandral. It was a duty he did not relish even though it would be Odin making the actual announcement. Attending the funeral of his brother and one of his closest friends would be no easy time. A Prince of Asgard was expected to do so with a stoic dignity Silvertongue wasn't certain he could muster. He couldn't even keep it together in his sleep in front of strangers, for the Norns' sake! Gornje stepped back to make way for Ylgr, who had returned from his watch. Loki wasn’t certain who had replaced him. The others brought Ylgr up to date, Loki assumed from the chatter between them.
“Sleeping with your dead in Asgard is custom?” the Jotun sounded genuinely perplexed. Loki supposed he made a strange picture, dragging a corpse along with him to distant realms and then making his bed alongside it. He knew of no other realms with customs like that either. Burial traditions varied from culture to culture on any realm, from pyres to burial to leaving the corpse for nature to subsume once more in the cycle of death and rebirth. Beliefs varied in the Nine Realms, despite Asgard’s predominance.
“No,” Loki explained, sitting up. He was somewhat more at ease with Ylgr present. The language barrier was proving to be troublesome with the others. “We place our dead in ships and send them over the waterfalls that surround Asgard. The bodies and the ships are burned and fall into the Sea of Space that flows between the Nine Realms.”
Ylgr looked confused, so Loki continued. “Kyrmir is not of Asgard, so I brought him home instead.”
“And weeping for your dead?” The frost giant was nothing if not blunt. Loki cringed and forced himself not to wipe at his face reflexively.
“We are not supposed to,” Loki admitted, glancing back at Kyrmir. “It is our belief that those slain in battle go to Valhalla, a place of glory.” It was telling that Loki still used pronouns that indicated he considered himself of Asgard and not of Jotunheim. If anything, he was of both, or of neither truly.
“We knowing of this Valhalla,” Ylgr confirmed with a nod. Others in group joined him, muttering the word with anything but fondness. “Is war cry of Asgard. We remembering.”
Loki closed his eyes and pinched the bridge of his nose for a moment, a long sigh escaping him. Of course they would know Valhalla. How many times had they heard an attacking Asgardian yell “Valhalla, I am coming!”? Since the last attack on Jotunheim had been long ago, at least the last official one, around the time of Loki’s birth, it let Loki know that there were still those who survived that battle, who told tales of it, who might still know something about him and about Kyrmir’s family and warband. Kyrmir himself had been searching for Loki before he’d even been born, he’d said. He’d been part of the invasion, under the rule of Laufey at the time. Of course they remembered.
When Loki didn’t respond immediately, Ylgr pressed on with his questions. “You not believing?”
“I don’t know.”
“You crying for dead frost giant. Asgard not crying for our dead.”
“I am not Asgard!” Loki snapped, looking up finally. “Look at me! Do I look like an Aesir to you?”
“Not looking or acting like Jotun.” Ylgr merely made an observation. None of the others were in the least intimidated by Loki’s flare of temper and still watched from a few steps back.
It was an accusation Loki was accustomed to: not fitting in anywhere. He nodded. “I am trying, for Kyrmir’s sake.”
“You strange N’Ka, Loki of Asgard,” Ylgr declared, but it didn’t sound like an insult. It almost sounded fond and slightly bemused.
Loki gave a shaky laugh. “Agreed.”
Ylgr waved the others off. The gawking was adjourned. They shambled off reluctantly and settled back down for the rest of the night.
“Thank you,” Loki said quietly when they were alone again.
“Sleep now,” Ylgr rumbled with a nod of acknowledgment. His acceptance of Loki’s gratitude was as taciturn as the rest of them tended to be. “Tomorrow more travel.”
It was well before sundown when they met up with what remained of Kyrmir’s warband. There were only three. Cursory introductions were made. Loki was introduced to Hraðgim, Nöseng, and their leader, Výggthá. Ylgr and the others gave their regards to the new Jotnar, explaining the situation. Recognition flashed over the others’ faces when Kyrmir’s name was mentioned and Loki’s stomach gave a lurch that felt dangerously like hope. The journey thus far had been bleak; this was the first flicker that it might not be in vain. They immediately crowded around Kyrmir’s body, insisting to see him. They spent a long time poring over their long lost friend and talking quietly among themselves. It was clear how Kyrmir had died as Loki lifted back the ornate cloth covering his neck. A gruesome sight, but one that needed to be seen. Loki did not want to be suspected of having murdered Kyrmir and returning to Jotunheim to finish off what was left of his people. Being identified as the one who had slain Laufey himself could work either for or against him, depending on the audience. Since these Jotuns had helped Kyrmir on his quest to find Loki, it was a safe assumption that they were no supporters of Laufey, but it made Loki no less a murderer.
No voices rose and after a few minutes, the warband replaced the furs covering Kyrmir. It seemed his death was accepted as an honorable one. Loki didn’t know if it was out of deference to him or because the Jotnar usually shrouded their dead, but he appreciated the gesture, nevertheless. Loki only caught parts of the further conversation and realized quite keenly that there was no way he would complete his task without assistance. As Ylgr turned to depart, Loki stepped in front of him. It was the first time he’d left Kyrmir’s side the entire journey. The warband of three flanked Kyrmir’s sled, eyes alert.
“Wait. Ylgr, please. I still need you.” Silvertongue didn’t like admitting he needed anyone. “I’ll give you anything I have in exchange for your services as translator. Just until I can put Kyrmir to rest.” Glancing over his shoulder, Loki’s look beseeched the warband to intervene, but they probably had no idea what he was saying. “I’m not just leaving him here. I need to see this through.” Loki didn’t like begging, either.
Ylgr looked to his larger group, then at Kyrmir’s friends. Finally, after a moment’s more gaze at Hærn that seemed to convey as much as a conversation might have, he met Loki’s earnest face. Head tilted up at the towering giant before him, Loki stood firm, as if his small frame could actually block the Jotuns from leaving. He didn’t need them all; he just needed Ylgr and was willing to make it worth his time.
Surprisingly, it was Hærn who spoke first, stepping forward. “Asgard having more wine?”
Loki fought off a smile of relief. He had something they wanted. Now they could negotiate. Fruit couldn’t grow in the harsh climate of Jotunheim and the Jotnar were crippled in trade with other realms, dependent upon incoming visitors since they had no means by which to leave the realm on their own. In the end, Loki gave up all of his wine but he got both Ylgr and Hærn in the bargain. It was a deal with which he was quite satisfied. Loki suspected it was not only because they were related, but because Hærn seemed eager to learn more of his language. He was, perhaps, a budding statesman or hopeful traveler. Loki appreciated both and was glad to gain their further assistance. That night, they feasted on freshly caught fish from a nearby river. Hærn generously passed one of the bottles of wine around among them and Kyrmir’s compatriots explained the history of their warband.
There had been eight of them originally, which Loki learned was a fairly average number for a small warband. It was similar to Asgard. Any fewer was a scouting party; any more than that was a squad. Three of them yet lived: Výggthá, Hraðgim, Nöseng. Four were known dead, including Kyrmir. They were all named with great reverence as Ylgr translated as best he could the circumstances of their deaths. Befþumðne, Álbláldot, and Gövemníng had all died in battle, in various places, at various times. One of their party, Lesuðma was missing. They had not heard from him in three Jotun cycles, which were considerably longer than the Aesir or human measure of a year. None had witnessed his death or heard tales of it, so they remained hopeful he was still alive.
Výggthá used a curious term when he first started explaining their numbers: he told Loki that Befþumðne, Álbláldot, and Gövemníng had unra nort, or ‘gone north’. Loki immediately asked where, thinking he could find them as well. Ylgr, with only a bit of amusement at Loki’s ignorance, explained that north wasn’t a place or a direction, but a euphemism for death to the Jotnar. In a land of snow and cold, Loki thought it hardly differentiated anything. It wasn’t his place to argue with their traditions, idiomatic or not.
The warband knew of Kyrmir’s quest to find Loki and were pleased to hear the story of him completing that quest after more than a thousand years. They had all helped him in various aspects along the way so his victory was also theirs. They also had all been present near the site Loki had unleashed the Bifrost against the realm. Wisely, he neglected to specifically mention that it was his doing. The last thing Loki needed was to anger his hosts at this point. He considered it diplomacy, not deception. Killing him for it now would accomplish nothing. It was bad enough they already knew he was the brother of Thor. Many frost giants died that day on Jotunheim when Thor arrived, the same day Loki found out what he really was. He also neglected to mention he’d killed the frost giant who revealed that himself. There was legitimate bad blood between Asgard and Jotunheim and Loki found it ironic that he was, in a way, fulfilling the same destiny now that Odin had originally intended for him. He was forging alliances, making peace. The old man’s implementation was questionable at best, but his goal was an honorable one. Loki just didn’t appreciate being the unwitting pawn in the whole game of inter-realm politics. He would never rule here, never sit on Jotunheim’s throne. It was perhaps his true birthright, but he wanted none of it.
Silvertongue had enough insight into himself to know how it would go. He would tire of the isolation, grow resentful of what would feel like banishment. He would raise an army, he would seek to leave Jotunheim and the cycle would begin again. He would not be the one who brought a permanent peace, not if he was forced to occupy a realm that he hated. After having the throne of Asgard beneath him, no mere throne of ice would do. His ambition coupled with his need to prove himself worthy had always been Loki’s weakness. But it hardly mattered now. The bright beacon by which Loki had always found himself lacking was snuffed out. Thor was gone. Loki had nothing to prove to Odin anymore, he told himself, but deep down he knew he still felt the urge. Even if he was the last surviving son of Asgard, and no son of Asgard at all in truth, he wanted that acceptance; he wanted to be loved.
Kyrmir had given him that in an unlikely meeting. Loki spoke of how Kyrmir had been a teacher to him, of his loyalty and his ingenuity. Mostly, he stressed Kyrmir’s bravery and dedication. He had given his life in the battle against Odin to buy Thor and Loki some time against their foe. He did not say who that foe was only that he was very powerful, and that Kyrmir had fought well. Jotunheim was still at odds with Asgard and did not need to know of Asgard’s weakness. Loki also neglected to mention Thor’s death. Knowing that Asgard’s champion was gone was a temptation no one needed and in truth, Loki wasn’t sure he could keep it together if all of his losses came crashing down upon him again. It was best to focus on one task at a time. Right now, that task was to see Kyrmir honored for his sacrifice.
“So, after the nuivrollkar unra nort,” Loki asked, needing more details about the burial customs of Jotnar warriors, “what happens then?” He glanced at Kyrmir, who was joining them in his own way, his sled not pushed aside or shunned. He was welcomed as a comrade and laid in a place of honor among them. The question was addressed to Výggthá, but any of the Jotnar present would presumably know the answer.
Ylgr translated but then also replied. “Jokl ba'atu.” He gave the Jotnar words for it and then explained as best he could. “They joining the glacier.”
“Is this another figure of speech?” Loki wasn’t sure if it was symbolic again the same way ‘gone north’ was.
“No,” Hærn confirmed. He’d been helping translate small bits here and there and seemed quite proud of his own progress at it. Loki was not unimpressed either and gave him a slight smile. “Nuivrollkar jokl ba'atu,” Hærn continued making gestures with his hands that looked like pushing a door open. “Kyrmir going in ice.”
In a realm made up predominantly of ice, with little use for fire, joining with the ice seemed like a natural consequence of dying on Jotunheim. At these temperatures, things did not decay, they froze. Perhaps after awhile, with the cold and the wind, a body would desiccate. The ice would protect a corpse, preserve it for millennia if desired, a perfect statue.
“Where is this glacier? Is it one specific place?” Loki leaned forward, eager to know finally what it was he needed to do.
“Are many,” Ylgr answered. “Výggthá knowing where others are. Kyrmir’von joining them.”
“Yes,” Loki agreed. It was right that Kyrmir be put to rest with his fellow warriors. “I need to go there.”
Výggthá spoke up and Loki recognized a word he hadn’t expected to hear. It meant sister. Kyrmir hadn’t mentioned any family, so Loki assumed they were all dead or estranged. “Yinna?” Loki repeated in case he’d heard it wrong. “Kyrmir yinna?”
Výggthá nodded and turned to Ylgr to explain. Loki could hardly wait to hear the translation and was on the edge of his seat. It turned out that Kyrmir did indeed have a sister called Kúfn, but her whereabouts were unknown. The last she’d been seen was fleeing from the Bifrost site. Like the other of their number whose death they could not confirm, they considered her missing, not deceased. Loki hung his head, face in his hands.
It was entirely possible he’d killed the last member of Kyrmir’s family.
“Loki?” It was Hærn again. He sounded confused or possibly concerned.
“No idea where I might find Kúfn?”
The question went around the group again. Sadly, the answer was still negative. No one had any idea where to even start looking for her other than a rumor that she’d gone to a place called Snærbiǫð, whose name translated literally to ‘snow land’. Loki groaned. It sounded like it too might be a euphemistic name for death. Even if it wasn’t, again, it hardly differentiated the area from anywhere else on Jotunheim. These naming conventions were a bane. He did not have time to search the entire planet for a missing sister who might not even be alive. He didn’t lift his head. “If you hear of her, you will give her the news of her brother’s death? I would do it myself…”
“Vis,” Výggthá affirmed. Loki glanced up to see him nodding solemnly. Loki returned the nod. It was the best he could do under these circumstances.
“The glacier, how far is it?” He really did not want to have to release Kyrmir into their custody and not see the ceremony through himself, but time was an issue. He could not keep the secret of Thor and Fandral’s deaths forever, and he did not fully trust Odin unsupervised in Asgard, despite the safeguards he’d put in place. The Allfather was wily and powerful and Loki would be a fool to forget that.
“Výggthá saying not far. Going in morning. Taking Kyrmir,” Ylgr assured him. Loki bristled a bit that it sounded less like an offer and more like a command but this was what he’d come for. It didn’t matter how it got achieved, just that it did. Hærn offered him the bottle of wine and Loki declined. It would be another long, sleepless night for him, he expected.
Výggthá was not mistaken. It was not far up a nearby valley to the face of a glacier that oozed between the rugged mountains on either side like a river in slow motion. He gestured to Loki to join him at the front of the group with Kyrmir. Once he reached Výggthá’s side, the giant pointed out an opening to an ice cave that Loki would have otherwise missed. He approached it, towing the sled behind him. The size of it dwarfed them all.
“What is this place called?”
Ylgr asked the question in Jotnar and replied as Loki moved forward in awe. “There is settlement on other side named Ìsskala. This Ìsskala Temple.”
Loki’s incredulous laughter echoed on the shining curves of the entryway. “Ice-Cold Temple? You people really need to work on your naming conventions.” His laughter faded as he went deeper into the ‘temple’. It opened up into a larger space with a bridge winding up and over into chambers that were truly magnificent.
Loki circled slowly, his pace sedate and stately. The funeral procession had begun. Behind him, a surprising noise started up. Instead of a low rumbling or drumming or almost any other sound one would expect the Jotnar to make, they somehow sang with voices both haunting and clear. A chorus of them rang out as Loki stepped into the temple proper. For the first time since arriving on Jotunheim, he had chills.
Along both sides of a cathedral of ice as grand as any of gold in Asgard stood lines of warriors, upright in the ice. They stood guard over this sacred place, honored in death on their feet as they died. There must have been hundreds as Loki’s eyes scanned down the rows. He jumped as Výggthá laid a hand on his shoulder.
“Kyrmir N’Ka Vavoozi, Visaji, Nuivrollkyonr,” he intoned as the others continued the song. “Nakka. Kyrmir ouerzi e’klat jot voninahitra ouera.”
Loki nodded and handed over the tow rope of the sled with a shaking hand. He’d understood the words, Výggthá speaking simply for his benefit. They thanked Loki, acknowledged him as Kyrmir’s N’Ka, his family, his brother in arms. Kyrmir was to stay here now, in his eternal glory with his people and his fellow fallen warriors.
Loki was selfish and his eyes burned with unshed tears. He knew the Jotnar didn’t weep over their dead but he was not truly of Jotunheim. Icy tracks started down his cheeks as the song rose. Hraðgim and Nöseng sang as they unwrapped Kyrmir with slow reverence, two pairs of hands bringing his stiff body upright as they approached a neatly carved vacant chamber alongside other occupied ones. Výggthá pointed to three in turn and named them: Befþumðne, Álbláldot, and Gövemníng had all been brought here, despite their various deaths, so they could remain together in whatever afterlife the Jotnar believed in. As they stood guard in life together, they did in death. Sealed in the ice, they would stay forever or until Jotunheim itself was destroyed. It was a noble tradition and Loki still did not want to part with Kyrmir. He stepped forward, a hand up, but Kyrmir was already in place, standing tall once more. Hraðgim and Nöseng stepped back. Výggthá beckoned Loki forward.
“Ìsskala,” Výggthá said, but Loki didn’t understand what he meant.
Ylgr clarified quietly from behind. “Making the ice now, Loki. Holding Kyrmir always this way. Always with.”
Loki made a choked noise and nodded, frozen crystals already rimming his wet eyes. He didn’t care who saw him now. The four of them started at the bottom and sealed Kyrmir’s body into place in its niche where he could look upon the grandness of the temple and strike fear in the hearts of any who would desecrate it. He wished Thor could be here; he wished none of them were here.
“K’jhh diytra,” Loki whispered. I loved him.
“Nvar’ra,” the warband echoed as the last musical notes faded from the ringing ice. We know.