In the roots of Asgard’s mountains they carved him out a cell.
Tomb, his angry mind argued as his broken feet stumbled down the uneven slope. They guided him forward in silence and at the bottom, where the air was warm and still, they were resolved to keep him. Until such a time as he outlived his lies.
They bound his wrists and snared his tongue and lay him down gently in the darkness.
Odin, with gentle eyes, and Thor, with gentle hands, smoothing back the tangles in his hair, thumbs over his forehead. “We will wait for you, brother.” As if he had gone somewhere wandering and wasn’t trussed up at their feet. “Find your humanity.”
That puny mesh of philosophy and emotion that so repulsed him. Find in yourself that you are small. Find that you are useless and weak, as we know you to be. Then we will welcome you home with arms of forgiveness. Only remember that you are the lesser being.
Remember that he lived at the summit of their mercy. Loki knew well enough how to listen for unsaid meanings behind simple words.
Beaten and crooked. Bleeding. Loki looked to them with his eyes, the only windows left, and tried to make them understand. I will die if you keep me silent, he insisted, leaning forward even on his knees. It will kill me.
But they knew not how to listen in return; they had no ears for him. Loki was lost, and dangerous, and they would not risk his eloquence.
So the mountain was shut, and his body left alone, the dense walls of the earth swallowing the sound of retreating footsteps.
Alone in this prison they thought to leave him to his own rehabilitation. But gagged and blind, isolated, Loki felt only the first digging fingers of his unmaking.
Give me back my tongue.
They had trapped the madness inside. And now he could not spit the poison out.
In the beginning his anger kept him whole. Not sane, but linear; at the very least a creature recognizable to itself.
For that first year he sat motionless, legs crossed beneath him, eyes staring upwards from some dark and unfathomable depth he could not guess. He looked into the black and meditated on all that was wrong. On the lies of his childhood and the slights of his peers. He thought of his family and burned with recollections. They’d told him he belonged to them, knowing he was strange, they’d told him he belonged. In actual fact, he guessed, only Thor had ever rightly loved him, and he out of ignorance. Out of a common misunderstanding for Loki’s origin.
Though Odin still called him “son” and Thor still called him “brother” truth could not be changed with make-believe.
They will not even say what they know of me.
Neither a king nor a monster (for neither could be tolerated from someone like him) but an enduring perversion. A mistake. His good deeds misshapen by malice, and his evil deeds by sentiment. Whatever Loki did, he could never be in the right.
He was “confused” and “prideful” and “misguided.” Of course, none ever mentioned where his guidance had come from, that for all his life it had been Odin and Thor steering his confusions. That, in the Allfather’s hands, Loki had grown up at war with himself, pinned between a craving for mayhem and a desire for glory, never knowing why he alone had to live with such a rift inside him.
Then he was shuffled aside by all the others. Always a “trickster” and never a friend.
Loki was prideful? Loki was the chaos-maker?
I am just the effigy of some imagined warrior. It was Odin who had taken a creature of ice and tried to raise him in the sunlight. Odin who, with bloody hands, had reached down and scooped a babe from the frost of his deathbed. Odin who possessed enough conceit to believe he could shape a monster into a hero.
There was never any hope for Loki. No more hope than for saplings in a hurricane or wingless birds in a flood.
I am both the damage and the disaster.
He stood and walked the circumference of his holding. ‘Doomed,’ was the word. Forsaken. He screamed behind his gag at the walls, but the sound could rise no higher than his throat. He conjured magic verses but they remained bottled up inside his chest. He dug at the binding around his mouth, scratching wounds into his jaw and cheeks and neck. He clawed at his own sightless eyes and after while could no longer be sure he was only blind from the darkness.
He couldn’t remember what it had been like to see.
After he had exhausted his ferocity, Loki lay down on his side to wait until the silence suffocated him. It was a slow throttling. The warm air became cold without the heat of his anger. The floor became warm with the escaping strength of his body. Old words of his own, unsaid things, grew rotten in his belly and made him sick.
There were so many. He was filled to the brim with them. And with no other outlet they rose and battered him from the inside, finally leaking out his blind eyes.
For many years more he languished in a fever. He became almost repentant in that time.
Last came the specters. Shapeless, tortured bodies filling the void. The ghosts of the forgotten, meager creatures, gathering around him, whispering his name like a spell. Crying for justice and for vengeance. Crying in agony with their pitiful voices. They came with blame and hate.
And, worst of all, compassion.
You are like to us, they said. You are lost.
They drew closer until he could feel their dragging touches.
And what were you but shadows? He wondered in his delirium, trying to pull away. What were you ever but the facsimiles of your own nightmares? A race of dying, crawling, incipience. Killing each other over imaginary gods. I meant to bring you peace.
Humanity had no heroes. No colors. They were all just swatches of gray and black. What was humanity if it not darkness and confusion? What, if not conflict? They would have fought and died even without Loki’s war. They would have perished in un-glorious feuds, and in the end their world would have remained unchanged.
There would always be suffering in humanity. Odin and Thor were fools if they thought such a basic rule could be changed or overcome. A race that bore their monsters with them everywhere, and became the very things they loathed out of base, vile fear.
What does my brother see in you?
What does he see in you? The ghosts laughed back in his ear. What goodness in hideous Loki? What redemption in the monster?
Loki covered his ears and buried his face in the dirty rock and let the silence take him.
Nothing. Decades of it. He was a long time absent from his mind.
At great length the dead hush passed. Cold and dizzy, Loki stirred and heard the tapping of the world above. His lungs, struggling, pulled on the air. Somewhere a heart was beating.
He pressed his ear into the ground. The mountain was quiet and the ghosts had gone away. He listened. Roaring, his memories began to return.
“You are my son,” the God had said.
What more? What undreamt, unsaid, monstrous more? The orphan of Asgard and a fiend from the old ways.
Some truths, Loki thought, can only be told with lies.
The beating roused him slowly from his stupor. It echoed. It screamed. It cut him down the middle because the heart was his.
I will not be silenced.
Shivering and stiff, famished and weak, Loki pushed himself to his feet. He stood and looked about him at the still black shadows.
“I will speak,” he said, and though his voice was shattered the gag fell from his mouth. It rang to the ground like a cut bell. In huge gulps Loki breathed the warm air of his mountain womb. “I will be heard,” he whispered. It was the loudest sound and the rocks could not hold it down and through the very earth it traveled. Roots and branches of trees trembled on the surface where cold winds blew. The oceans rippled.
He walked to the gates of the mountain and, bending close, he spoke to her. He said:
“Let me go,” in a voice like a child’s. And she did. The doors opened and Loki climbed to the surface. Pale faced, ravaged and thin, but smiling wide.
The guards at the mountain's mouth were astonished to see him. Their swords drew sharp and steady on his throat. Loki held up his palms in a peaceful gesture.
“Take me to the king,” he said in a voice like a mother’s. And they did.
The Allfather rose with difficulty when Loki walked into the hall. And the ceiling was as tall as ever, and the splendor of the city as grand, but the God himself was stooped and leaning. As he approached, Loki thought that he must have unknowingly brought his prison with him because a hush followed his steps.
“Loki. Odinson,” the God addressed him. He didn’t ask how Loki had escaped. As king, Odin gave answers and did not seek them. In a painful motion, Loki knelt on the stairs before the throne. Putting his weight on his bruised knees.
“I’ve come to apologize,” he said in a voice like a son’s. “I was misguided. Forgive me.” He waited for further acknowledgment. When none came he looked up and saw a warm expression falling from his father’s face.
“You are forgiven,” said the king.
“And your monsters?” Thor wanted to know. Because Loki had confessed before they had taken him down to the mountain. He had bowed under the combined weight of Thunder and Widsom and told them about the double nature of his soul. Loki rose at his father’s nod and faced his brother. Have I always been so much taller than he? It mattered not.
Only with lies could some truths be told.
“There are no monsters left in Asgard,” said Loki in a voice like a brother’s.
Behind Thor was Loki’s own reflection in the gold of the palace walls. It grinned over his brother’s shoulder back at him. Ice blue eyes and twisted mouth. Sallow and sad and restless.
With silver whispers on his tongue.