Loki was uncertain how long he had been in the room with no ceiling. He had realized after a short time that the king of the castle must have created this place as a way to torture prisoners; the cold winds of the land whipped into the room with little obstruction, and the lack of sheets and blanket spoke of intended exposure.
Luckily for the Asgardian prince, he was a giant himself, and therefore far less affected that a true son of Odin would have been. Still, the wind was somewhat uncomfortable, and Loki slept uneasily as the frigid breeze caressed his sore bottom.
He could not sleep on his back for the awful sting that Thurga had put there, and this part perhaps disquieted him more than any of the others. When a heavy knock sounded upon his door, Loki jumped from his restless slumber, locking his bleary eyes on the door, "Who would bother to knock on a prisoner's door?"
Loki heard the bar slide away and the door opened to reveal Thurga's smiling face. "Well at least you no longer pretend to your state of being… tell me, do you still think your role here to be that of a dignitary?"
Loki sneered at her, "Your family's disposition to me from the moment I arrived has made it clear to me that you wish no peace with my adoptive father."
Thurga chided him, waggling a finger his way, "Nay; we do wish to restore things to the way they were, for Odin holds all of the cards and we have none. However…"
Thurga crossed the room to Loki and snatched him up before he could scramble off of the bed. She took hold of his hair and jerked his head up to look into her face, to see her menace closely, "…there is no reason we cannot take the All-Father up on his offer to seek justice in you."
Loki gulped, "S-surely Odin has forbidden you from killing me…"
A dark look crossed over Thurga's face and Loki almost smiled, realizing he had been right. Thurga spoke first, "You said 'your family', but this is your family too, 'brother', and you are merely experiencing what we do to the weakest members of our clan."
Thurga pushed Loki, corralling him out of the room and down the stairs. It finally occurred to Loki to question their destination, "W-where are you taking me?" He grunted as Thurga pushed him along, "You do not have to be so rough; I am not resisting you, brute!"
Thurga only smiled at his discomfort and continued to prod the trickster through the castle of solid ice until they finally arrived in a large room with vaulted ceilings. Thurga pushed Loki until he stood before a dais that was stained with filthy black ichor.
Above the dais on the frozen wall was carved an intricate symbol; a large circle with several lines pointing out of it from near the middle, runes carved all along each line. Though simple, there was something ominous about the symbol on the wall.
Thurga took hold of Loki's shoulder and pushed down hard, forcing him to take a knee. He winced at the impact of his knees against the unforgiving floor, and barked out his irritation, "What is the meaning of this?"
The giantess responded in an uncustomary hushed tone, her voice both commanding to Loki and reverent to the place she had taken him, "You may consider yourself a 'god', as your line is apt to do, but we frostkin know what real gods are. You kneel now before the alter of Bjoran, the Lord of Ice."
Loki gave the foreboding alter another look and grimaced, "Exactly what use do I have of your 'Ice God'? You must know that such a derelict deity such as this holds little sway over one such as I."
Thurga hissed at him, "You do not know our gods any better than you know anything else of what it is to be a Joten; that is why you are here, Loki Laufeyson. Grandfather, our chieftain, would have you learn what you are."
Loki smirked, "If you think that just because we share blood I'm going to prostrate myself to your dead god you're out of your mind. This 'Ice Lord' hasn't come out to say hello to any of you for a long time, has he? What proof do you have that he even…"
Loki's eyes went wide and a satisfied smile spread on Thurga's face as something beyond the ice wall spoke to him. Its words were old; older than time, yet it was difficult to distinguish the difference between the words he heard and his own thoughts.
In fact, so internal was the dialogue that Loki was not certain he was actually hearing anything. He looked to Thurga as he wrapped his arms around himself and shivered; the voice in his mind was cold. "Did you hear that?"
Thurga's knowing smile remained but she shook her head, "No. Bjoran speaks to you alone, lost one."
Loki cast his gaze to the alter and its strange carved backdrop once more, straining to comprehend the archaic things being said to him. The words made him tremble with dread at the raw malice he heard in them, and he gulped as he listened. "I… I don't understand…"
Thurga scoffed, "Of course you don't; you aren't even versed in our native tongue. Your All-Father has made your very existence a mockery of our race."
Loki grimaced at the disdain in her face, "If your god is so powerful, why is he unable to breach the simple bridge of language?"
Thurga didn't have to answer the question; Loki's face paled as the whisper in his mind became a booming shout. The words were still alien to him, but there was no doubting the anger in them. He raised his hands up as he spoke carefully, feeling suddenly as if the air around him was composed of invisible knives set to impale him for his audacity. "O-okay… the Ice Lord understands me; he just… chooses not to speak Asgardian."
Thurga nodded, "Our lord would not sully his tongue with your foreign dialect here in his sanctum; would you expect Odin to speak our tongue in his keep?"
Loki shook his head, considering. "I have actually never heard Odin speak any tongue other than ours."
Thurga smiled, "That is a mark of his pride." Her face grew serious, "He has taken you completely; you still refer to the Asgardian tongue as 'ours'. It is theirs; you are a frost giant, Laufeyson, and you need to reclaim the speech of your birthright."
Loki moved back from the blackened alter and finally regarded Thurga again, haunted by the alien voice that had invaded his thoughts. "I know already you aren't going to give me any choice but to learn the native language of the Joten; but do you intend to force me to do so just to give obeisance to this 'Ice Lord'?"
Thurga moved past him and slowly drew her hand along the lines of the carving etched into the wall. "Whether you worship Bjoran or not, as an icekin you belong to him, and always have." She gave Loki a cold look before hauling him to his feet, "It is a good thing you are just a prisoner, because you make a horrible ambassador."
Loki fumbled through the rough dialect at first, but with time he began to grasp the speech of the Jotens with some measure of competence. Thurga didn't give him any books or bring him to a scholar of any sort to learn the tongue, but instead sat him across from her and began to simply recite words in the language he did understand, and then tell him the icekin version.
Loki shook his head as he frowned, "No… this word isn't even speech; you're just grunting at me!"
Thurga frowned back at him, "It is true that this intonation is not a word as you know words to be, but it still carries heavy meaning and suffices often in place of a greeting or an exit."
Loki scowled, "You mean to say the Joten are happy rutting and grunting at each other like common beasts; this is not language, it is base noise with little meaning."
Thurga reached forward and slapped Loki across the face hard, and he fell from his chair as his hand came to his face. His expression was surprised and angry, "If you were trying to convince me that you aren't a brute you have done quite the opposite!"
Thurga shook her head, her tone still instructive. "I am merely reminding you that sometimes actions can speak louder than words. You are now very certain that your condemnation of our language has irritated me. Just because we speak fewer syllables does not mean that we have said less."
Loki resumed his seat, rubbing his face as he glared. He should have known better than to provoke the barbarian. Just because she was instructing him didn't mean she would be any more tolerant of his own educated opinion. "I personally prefer to save my energy; I can let someone know I'm displeased without having to attack them."
Thurga smiled at the guarded way Loki watched her, as if afraid she would hit him again. "Then you are truly an outsider to our ways and the ways of the people you claimed kinship with; I do not know Asgardians very well, but we Joten know they tend to speak with actions too."
Loki only stared at her and Thurga finally went on teaching him the words and non-words of the Joten people. For the next several days, Thurga dragged him from his bed and began the long monotonous rhythm of speech until it grew late and she returned him to his tower. Loki would spend the moments before sleep took him thinking of how much he hated that woman.
Loki stood on the edge of a precipice; a dark gorge the bottom of which he could not see. The coldest of winds blew on this desolate mountain, and he shivered as the chill sliced through him. Something was down there. Something evil, something that was cruel beyond imagining and had spent centuries down there with nothing to keep it company except its own desire to vent that cruelty.
Loki wanted to turn away but he couldn't. His arms and legs wouldn't move despite his growing terror, and as he watched he thought he saw something move in the darkness below. It was hungry, it desired his soul. It was angry, but its rage was cold.
Loki was an offense to the Ice God, and Bjoran promised to wring agony from Loki for eternity. The Asgardian prince felt his foot moving as if of its own volition. The rebellious limb shakily stepped out over the precipice as Loki screamed in horror, "No!"
Loki's leg did not respond to his desperate command, though, and he leaned forward as his weight went over the edge. As he began to fall a voice filled his mind with numbing fear, "Come. Come to me."
"No!" Loki cried out as he sat up on his stiff bed. Despite the cold wind that wreathed the tower Loki was covered in a sheen of sweat. He rose shakily from the bed and stood looking out at the dark sky above.
He was no longer dreaming, but Loki could still feel the presence he had felt in his sleep. The same malevolence hung in the very air of this land, and
Loki was surprised he had never sensed it before. Jotenheim was cursed. Loki sat on his bed again, thinking.
Lorey had told him that the Jotens themselves had ruined their own land, but now Loki realized it had not been with something as simple as a powerful artifact. The Joten had released an evil on their world; something he now realized was likely not even native to Jotenheim.
He thought furiously. The reasons for the wars between Jotenheim and Asgard, the real reasons, began to become clear. Whatever this Ice Lord was, he had likely influenced Jotenheim long before Laufey had used the artifact, a device that was also almost certainly created through the power of Bjoran.
Odin knew of this evil, had always known. He had forced a peace between Asgard and Jotenheim because he knew he could not hope for peace through any other means, not while the Joten worshipped such a malign deity.
Loki fell to his knees in the small room and hung his head, feeling stupid and foolish for the things he had said and claimed. After sitting there for a time he raised his hands in supplication, his voice bitter but also humbled, "I am sorry, father. I did not know, and I have learned now what you would have me learn here. Please take me back…"
Loki's voice cracked and he felt tears brimming at his eyes, a product of his conflicting emotions, fear and shame. "…please save me from whatever fate the Joten would consign me to. I am not one of them!"
Even if Thurga succeeded in making a Joten of Loki, and he gained Lorey's approval, the trickster knew without doubt that as much as he might have felt out of place in Asgard, Joten would never be his home. And the god that had consumed this world knew it. It would only be a matter of time until Bjoran claimed him.
Loki looked up and realized that he was in Odin's palace. A servant placed a blanket around his shoulders as Odin regarded him in stony silence. Loki didn't bother rising from his knees, lowering his head at the knowing look in his father's eyes.
Odin spoke, "Welcome home, son."
Loki glanced up at Odin again and nodded, relief flooding his face as he rose shakily. "Thank you… father."