Chelsea Grin (20)
Return of the King

"Not brute force, but only persuasion and faith are the kings of this world."
~Thomas Carlyle

There was no epic fanfare, no bold and public proclamation to take on this daring task. Loki took his leave quickly and quietly. Only Natasha, Odin and Heimdall knew; Loki trusted them to keep his departure a secret.

He woke up even earlier than usual. Save for a few sentries, much of Asgard still slept. As he got ready to leave, he decided not to take any weapons with him. Even hidden ones. He wanted to command full trust among the Jotuns as much as possible. It would be foolish of him to underestimate the Frost Giants, despite their barbaric ways. The Jotuns checking for hidden weapons, and discovering that he possessed them, was always a possibility. Loki wasn't taking any chances. Simply being Laufey's son was not going to be enough. Given the former Jotun king's reputation, it might even backfire on Loki. It could risk a hostile reaction among those who have suffered under the tyrant's rule. He would come to settle conflicts, not start new ones. If the worst happened, then he would fail. Presentation was key, and Loki wanted the best possible image of himself.

'Like Natasha, I too have red on my ledger. I'd like to wipe it all out.'

Loki donned a dark cloak, pulled the hood over his head and went to get Draugur out of the stable. He rode to the Observatory, briefly enjoying the cool morning air against his face.

When he arrived, Loki inclined his head to Heimdall. "Hello, Gatekeeper. I'm afraid I cannot use the Bifrost at this time."

Heimdall knew what he meant. Loki had his way of traveling through secret pathways unknown even to the Gatekeeper's watch.

"Then what brings you here?" Heimdall asked.

Loki eyed him steadily. "I come with a firm warning. Should Thor find out and insist that he go after me, do not let him or any of his comrades use the Bifrost to enter Jotunheim. At all costs."

"Understood. I hope that it will go well."

Loki couldn't help but be a little surprised. He knew that Heimdall could be trusted. What surprised him was the Gatekeeper's concern. They normally weren't on good terms. Loki didn't know how to reply. Finally he said, "...Thank you."

Loki took the same path he had used for his previous secret visit. It felt a vein of the Bifrost, only a fraction of its powerful energy and resonance. The harsh, frosty winds of Jotunheim greeted him as he stepped foot onto the realm.

Several Frost Giants, armed to the teeth, surrounded Loki like a pack of wolves. Cruel-looking polearms of all kinds were trained on him, ready to lunge forward in an instant. Though alarmed by their abrupt appearance, Loki did his best to remain calm. He raised both hands slowly and complacently.

"I come to you in peace from Asgard."

The biggest Jotun spoke up. His voice was so deep that Loki could barely hear him amid the whistling wind. "Who sent you here?"

"No one. I come to Jotunheim on my own accord."

"State your name, trespasser."

"Loki Laufeyson, raised as Odinson and a prince of Asgard."

A rumbling murmur circulated among the Jotuns. Loki thought he saw surprise in their red eyes. They lowered their weapons. Hostility didn't seem to glow as fiercely in their blood-colored eyes, which Loki took as a good sign.

The leader of the warriors didn't lower his guard, however. "Laufey's son, you say? Have you come to avenge your father?"

"No. I have negotiations in mind." Loki paused, thinking over his words carefully. "I humbly ask...for permission to speak with whoever currently holds sovereign over this realm."

"...That would be the council of elders." the Jotun leader finally growled. He squinted at Loki suspiciously. "I will have to blindfold you. The way to the elders must be kept secret at all times."

Loki nodded and complied. He made no sudden movements as he let the warrior pull a cloth over his eyes.

"Are you sure this is not a trap?" Loki asked warily.

The Jotun's reply surprised him. "I give you my word as Captain of the Elder Guard. Provided that you keep your word as a mere visitor."

"I do. I have no intention of stirring up conflicts of any kind."

He almost laughed at himself. The God of Mischief he was before would never make such a promise. It was in his nature to do otherwise. That would change today.

"Very well. I will escort you now. Guards, return to your posts."

Heavy yet quick footfalls on the ice could be heard in all directions as the Frost Giants obeyed their superior.

Loki almost flinched in surprise when the Jotun warrior swept him off his feet and carried him. He felt like a child, small and nearly weightless in the hands of the larger, stronger being. Blindfolded and armed with no weapons, Loki was easy prey to the Frost Giant's strength. He had no choice but to trust the warrior not to crush him on the spot.

The Jotun was surprisingly nimble and quick. His footfalls were careful yet sure as he tread the perilous ice. Loki sensed that they were descending the face of an icy cliff. He heard the rattle of chains as Jotun held onto what must be the only rails to help him climb down. Loki tightened his grip on the Jotun's armor. His fingers felt the bones and hide of some animal. The winds were biting and harsh. Luckily, as a Frost Giant, Loki wasn't numbed by the cold. He just didn't want to be blown away and spiral down to his doom. It would make a humiliating death.

Then his stomach dropped as the Jotun jumped. They fell a few feet before landing on the ground. Had he known, Loki wouldn't be so startled. Being robbed of sight felt disorienting and frightening. After a few minutes of hearing the Jotun warrior's footsteps, he finally stopped. He gently set Loki down.

"Wait here."

Loki did as he was told. He heard the Jotun step away. He heard the groaning of a door, ice grinding against ice. He stood there, blind and alone. But not cold. If Thor had been in his shoes, he wouldn't last this long under the merciless weather. Loki actually felt acquainted with the cold by now. It enveloped him like a second layer of clothing. Every breath he took felt fresh and pure in his lungs, free of oppressing heat and humidity. He was one with his mother realm. He felt like a lost child, a prodigal son that finally returned. The frost was her kiss. The cold air was her embrace. The wind was her whisper. "Welcome home," she seemed to say.

This comforted him despite the formidable task ahead. 'I must convince them that my place is here. I will make things right for a change.'

Half a minute later, the warrior returned. He untied the cloth, leaving Loki dazed for a few seconds as he took in the sight of the hallway carved from pale, blue ice.

"The elders have granted you access to their chamber. Come."

Loki squared his shoulders and tensed for a moment. He entered a large, ovular room. The seating of the elders followed that formation. All of them wore dark blue cloaks, their hoods obscuring much of their faces. Dozens of red eyes followed Loki as he strode to the center. Three wizened old Jotuns, as brittle as ice in the spring, perched in seats higher than the rest. Even higher still, a great throne remained unoccupied. A long white banner hung above the throne, the sigil of a black wolf's head masked by a sheen of frost. The wolf looked like a ghost, a shade of a once glorious past.

The Jotun in the middle peered down curiously. His eyes were milky pink, diluted from old age. "So you are Loki Laufeyson."

The former prince of Asgard inclined his head with respectful confirmation, saying nothing in reply.

"I am Elder Droga. To my left is Elder Shrakko, and to my right is Elder Worden."

Loki looked up. "Elders of Jotunheim, thank you for granting me the right to speak with you." The gratefulness he expressed was no lie. He had a better chance of getting his message across to wise elders, rather than a bunch of war-mongering brutes. "Forgive my ignorance, but I was not aware that Jotunheim had a council."

"That is understandable," Droga replied. "Hardly any outsider knows we exist, no thanks to Laufey's overshadowing rule. In Jotunheim's better days, the council served as an advisory branch for the king. We were supposed to be a significant, beneficial influence." Elder Droga let out a sad, rattling sigh, his breath pluming white in the frosty air. "Alas, Laufey had magnified his power beyond our reach. We had no say whether Jotunheim should go into war or not. I'm afraid that his attacks upon Midgard, upon those who call themselves Vikings, were entirely his doing. We were powerless to stop it. Odin of Asgard had to step in. Laufey's arrogance costed him, and us, the Casket of Ancient Winters."

"Without the Casket, Jotunheim fell under a great shadow," Shrakko said. "We remain in darkness to this very day. Divisions formed, civil wars ignited, and all that is good and true fell away. The council of elders stand as the last pinnacles of education and civilization."

The other sages silently nodded in agreement.

Shrakko closed his baggy eyes. "Now we are barely holding on. Jotunheim is in disarray, with many self-proclaimed chieftains and warlords vying for Laufey's throne. As regents ruling in the king's place, we are constantly in danger from raiding tribes. Warriors still loyal to the council and the throne defend us the best they can." The elder opened his eyes and indicated the Frost Giant next to Loki. "Ragbol, and others like him, have shown remarkable perserverance and courage through the centuries. We Elders cannot thank them enough. But I fear that they can only defend us for so long."

Loki glanced at the Jotun warrior next to him. Though Ragbol stood tall and grim, suddenly Loki sensed that he seemed as tired and sad as the Elders.

Loki's heart went out to them. He was seeing another side to this race. His race. He thought the day would never come for him to actually feel sympathy for them. They were consumed by darkness and in danger of losing their identity. Just like how he had been before he met Natasha.

Elder Worden squinted his eyes. "Have care not to tell this man our state of affairs so easily, my fellow Elders."

"He is the son of Laufey. He has a right to know."

Shrakko folded his hands and rested his chin on them. "We have heard that our late king had been slain by you, his own son, while he and his forces infiltrated Asgard. Is this true?"

"...I do not deny it." Loki tried to ignore the hammering of his heart. His face was a stoic mask as he gazed steadily at the council. "But I hope to offer you possiblities, and a chance for redemption in my father's stead. That is, if I am still eligible to succeed the Jotun throne."

Droga paused before replying, "By all terms and are. What say you, then?"

Loki swallowed. 'All right, here it goes.' "There shall be no more fighting, no more bloodshed and no more ill will. This I promise you, if you agree to crown me King. As the son of Laufey and heir to his throne, I pledge to rebuild our world, to truly restore its former glory."

He had said the same thing to Laufey, but that had been a mere lie to earn the Frost Giants' tentative alliance. Now he meant it this time. He had the power to do so. Loki held out his hands and presented to the Jotun court the Casket.

"Behold...the heart of this world, and almost a heart of my own. You could say that the Casket and I are one. I have used its powers to slay Surtur, but I do not intend to use it for my own benefit. Now I wish to initiate the restoration of this world."

The assembly of elders and high lords were silent for a few seconds, pondering over Loki's words.

Finally, Elder Worden spoke up with accusation ringing in his voice. "I do not believe him. Why should we trust our king's killer?"

"Have you not forgotten what Laufey's reign has done to us, Worden?" Droga replied mildly. "If Laufey's son had the power to defeat Surtur, he certainly has the power to unite our people."

Worden said nothing for a few seconds. He seemed to ponder Droga's words before finally responding. "Very well. I must admit that his victory against Surtur is nothing short of admirable." He turned to Loki. "But I hope you understand the considerable burden you are about to take. Even one who has quenched the fire will find it difficult to unite shards of ice. Your claim to the throne, while legitimate and supported by the council, will certainly be met with challenges."

Loki nodded. "I am well aware of this. Power and diplomacy must be exercised equally if I am to quell and unite the Jotuns. I do not claim to solve this problem quickly. But I'm determined to see this through."

A faint smile found its way to Droga's face. "Your confidence is reassuring. Our best interest always lies in the king. We are willing to acquit your crime of murdering Laufey if, in turn, you cooperate with us."

"Of course. I welcome your support with open arms. I'll need all the help I can get."

It was important that, unlike his father before him, Loki established good terms with the council. As an important advisor to Odin for many years, Loki knew that the council's role was important and should be respected.

Droga looked down on Loki with approval. "You made a great sacrifice to take the life of Surtur, at the near cost of your own. Now you offer yourself again for the sake of our world. You have commanded our full respect. We have feared Surtur and his fiery brethren for eons. With him gone thanks to you, Muspelheim has greatly diminished in power. This gives us a chance to rise again under your rule."

The elder rose from his seat. Then he made a low bow. "Welcome home, Loki Laufeyson...the new King of Jotunheim."

Loki watched in awe as the rest of the court followed suit. Even the surrounding guards bowed. Here were the oldest, tallest, strongest and highest-ranked of the Jotuns. And they bowed before him. He didn't know what to say.

As if compelled by some unseen force, perhaps an overwhelming sense of obligation, Loki walked from where he stood at the center. He ascended to the empty throne. But he did not sit down. He remained standing, and turned his gaze up to the banner. The black wolf's head snarled above him. He remembered what the it was called now. A Varg. They were monstrous wolf-like creatures native to Jotunheim, known for their ferocity alone and in packs alike. Their howls were as chilling as the wind, their fangs as sharp as ice. They were very vengeful creatures; unlike most beasts, Vargs never forget. Loki had the ability to turn into many things. But now he understood. At the core, he was a Varg.

Loki lifted his right hand high. With a great sweeping gesture, he summoned the wind to blow the frost from the banner. The cloth rippled free from the constraint of time and disuse. The Varg looked even blacker, more alive.

"I cannot sit on this throne. Not yet. But for now, let this realm know that Laufey's heir has returned."

Though he did not raise his voice, it resonated with authority that filled the elders with awe they had not felt in years.

"What will you do now?" an elder from the lower ring quietly asked.

"I must go to Asgard and tell Odin Allfather the news." He hesitated and thought of Natasha. 'I'll tell her too.' "...Then I shall return."

Loki made his way to the chamber's entrance, allowing Ragbol to flank him. The elders bowed once more.

"Farewell, Loki Laufeyson," Droga said. "We look forward to meeting you again."

The doors closed, leaving the elders in silence. Then Droga spoke again. "I haven't felt this peaceful in years. Finally...after all this time, there can be peace and hope for Jotunheim once more. Do you see, my fellow Elders? The people of Jotunheim have become no better than a rabble of dogs. Now the true wolf has returned among us."

Loki became the bridge of peace between Asgard and Jotunheim, just like what Odin wanted.

But it presented another problem. A problem that was personal and different, in contrast to the warring Jotun factions Loki would have to face. A problem in which he can't find an answer. As Ragbol escorted him, Loki had only one question in mind.

'If I become king...what would that mean for my life with Natasha?'

Loki has reached a new level of boss...literally! What challenges await him? ;)

I apologize for the lack of Natasha in this chap. The next one will be Nat-centered, I promise.

Favorites, follows and reviews are always appreciated! I want to know if I've been doing okay, or this story is slowly becoming crap. Please be kind to tell me.