The Sword of Summer (Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard 1) - Page 16

‘He’s got that friend here,’ Blitzen recalled. ‘The falafel guy.’

Sam froze in her tracks. ‘What?’

She looked around as if just realizing where we were.

‘It’s cool,’ I promised. ‘I know a guy at Fadlan’s Falafel. You’ll thank me for it. Stuff is amazing –’

‘No – I – oh, gods –’ She hastily put her scarf over her hair. ‘Maybe I’ll wait outside – I can’t –’

‘Nonsense.’ Blitz hooked his arm through hers. ‘They might serve more food if we’ve got a pretty woman with us!’

Sam clearly wanted to bolt, but she allowed Hearth and Blitz to steer her into the food court. I guess I should’ve paid more attention to how uncomfortable she was acting, but once you put me within a hundred feet of Fadlan’s Falafel I get tunnel vision.

Over the past two years, I’d struck up a friendship with the manager, Abdel. I think he saw me as his community-service project. The shop always had surplus food – slightly out-of-date pitta bread, day-old shawarma, kibbeh that had been sitting under the heat lamps a little too long. Abdel couldn’t legally sell the stuff, but it still tasted perfectly fine. Instead of throwing it out, Abdel gave it to me. Whenever I came around, I could count on a falafel flatbread sandwich or something just as tasty. In return, I made sure the other homeless folks in the atrium stayed polite and cleaned up after themselves so Abdel’s paying customers weren’t scared away.

In Boston, you couldn’t walk a block without stumbling into some icon of liberty – the Freedom Trail, the Old North Church, the Bunker Hill Monument, whatever – but, to me, liberty tasted like Fadlan’s Falafel. That stuff had kept me alive and independent ever since my mom died.

I didn’t want to overwhelm Abdel with too many people, so I sent Blitz and Hearth to grab a table while I escorted Sam to get the food. The whole way, she dragged her feet, turning aside, fiddling with her headscarf as if she wanted to disappear inside it.

‘What’s the matter with you?’ I asked.

‘Maybe he’s not there,’ she muttered. ‘Maybe you can say I’m your tutor.’

I didn’t know what she was talking about. I bellied up to the counter while Sam hung back, doing her best to hide behind a potted ficus tree.

‘Is Abdel here?’ I asked the guy at the register.

He started to say something, but then Abdel’s son Amir came out from the back, grinning and wiping his hands on his apron. ‘Jimmy, how’s it going?’

I relaxed. If Abdel wasn’t around, Amir was the next best thing. He was eighteen or nineteen, trim and good-looking, with slick dark hair, an Arabic tattoo on his biceps, and a smile so brilliant it could’ve sold truckloads of teeth whitener. Like everybody at Fadlan’s Falafel, he knew me as ‘Jimmy’.

‘Yeah, I’m good,’ I said. ‘How’s your pop?’

‘He’s at the Somerville location today. Can I get you some food?’

‘Man, you’re the best.’

Amir laughed. ‘No biggie.’ He glanced over my shoulder and did a double take. ‘And there’s Samirah! What are you doing here?’

She shuffled forward. ‘Hi, Amir. I am … tutoring Ma– Jimmy. I am tutoring Jimmy.’

‘Oh, yeah?’ Amir leaned on the counter, which made his arm muscles flex. The dude worked full-time at his dad’s various shops, yet he somehow managed to avoid getting even a speck of grease on his white T-shirt. ‘Don’t you have school?’

‘Um, yes, but I get credit for tutoring off campus. Jimmy and … his classmates.’ She pointed towards Blitz and Hearth, who were having a rapid-fire argument in sign language, tracing circles in the air. ‘Geometry,’ Samirah said. ‘They’re hopeless with geometry.’

‘Hopeless,’ I agreed. ‘But food helps us study.’

Amir’s eyes crinkled. ‘I’ve got you covered. Glad to see you’re okay, Jimmy. That bridge accident the other day – the paper had this picture of a kid who died? Looked a lot like you. Different name, but we were worried.’

I’d been so focused on falafel that I’d forgotten to think about them making that connection. ‘Ah, yeah, I saw that. I’m good. Just studying geometry. With my tutor.’

‘Okay!’ Amir smiled at Sam. The awkwardness was so thick you could’ve cut it with a broadsword. ‘Well, Samirah, say hi to Jid and Bibi for me. You guys go ahead and sit. I’ll bring out some food in a sec.’

Sam muttered something that might have been Thanks a lot or Kill me now. Then we joined Blitz and Hearth at the table.

‘What was that about?’ I asked her. ‘How do you know Amir?’

She pulled her scarf a little lower over her forehead. ‘Don’t sit too close to me. Try to look like we’re talking about geometry.’

‘Triangles,’ I said. ‘Quadrilaterals. Also, why are you embarrassed? Amir is awesome. If you know the Fadlan family, you’re like a rock star to me.’

‘He’s my cousin,’ she blurted. ‘Second cousin, twice removed. Or something.’

I looked at Hearth. He was scowling at the floor. Blitz had taken off his ski mask and glasses, I guess because the interior light didn’t bother him as much, and was now sullenly spinning a plastic fork on the table. Apparently I’d missed a good argument between him and Hearth.

‘Okay,’ I said. ‘But why so nervous?’

‘Can you drop it?’ she said.

I raised my hands. ‘Fine. Let’s all start over. Hi, everybody. I’m Magnus, and I’m an einherji. If we’re not going to study geometry, could we talk about how we’re going to find the Sword of Summer?’

Nobody answered.

A pigeon waddled past, pecking at crumbs.

I glanced back at the falafel shop. For some reason, Amir had rolled down the steel curtain. I’d never seen him close the shop during lunch hour. I wondered if Sam had somehow offended him and he’d cut off my falafel allowance.

If so, I was going to go berserker.

‘What happened to our food?’ I wondered.

At my feet, a small voice croaked, ‘I can help with both those questions.’

I looked down. My week had been so wack I didn’t even flinch when I realized who had spoken.

‘Guys,’ I said, ‘this pigeon wants to help.’

The pigeon fluttered onto our table. Hearth nearly fell out of his chair. Blitz snatched up a fork.

‘Service here can be a little slow,’ said the pigeon. ‘But I can speed up your order. I can also tell you where to find the sword.’

Sam reached for her axe. ‘That’s not a pigeon.’

The bird regarded her with a beady orange eye. ‘Maybe not. But if you kill me you’ll never get your lunch. You’ll also never find the sword or see your intended again.’

Samirah’s eyes looked like they were going to shoot across the atrium.

‘What is he talking about?’ I said. ‘Intended what?’

The bird cooed. ‘If you ever want Fadlan’s Falafel to open again –’

‘Okay, that’s a declaration of war.’ I considered grabbing for the bird, but even with my einherji reflexes I doubted I could catch it. ‘What did you do? What’s happened to Amir?’

‘Nothing yet!’ said the pigeon. ‘I’ll bring you your lunch. All I want is first pick of the food.’

‘Uh-huh,’ I said. ‘And, assuming I believe you, what would you want in exchange for information about the sword?’

‘A favour. It’s negotiable. Now, does that falafel shop stay closed forever, or do we have a deal?’

Blitzen shook his head. ‘Don’t do it, Magnus.’

Hearth signed, Pigeons cannot be trusted.

Sam met my eyes. Her expression was pleading – almost frantic. Either she liked falafel even more than I did, or she was worried about something else.

‘Fine,’ I said. ‘Bring us our lunch.’

Immediately the shop’s steel curtain rolled up. The cashier stood like a statue, the phone to his ear. Then he unfroze, glanced over his shoulder and shouted an order to the cook as if nothing had ha

ppened. The pigeon took off and sped towards the shop, disappearing behind the counter. The cashier didn’t seem to notice.

A moment later, a much larger bird shot out of the kitchen – a bald eagle with a tray in his claws. He landed in the middle of our table.

‘You’re an eagle now?’ I asked.

‘Yeah,’ he said in the same croaky voice. ‘I like to mix it up. Here’s your food.’

It was everything I could’ve asked for: steaming squares of spiced ground-beef kibbeh; a stack of lamb kebabs with mint yogurt dip; four fresh slabs of pitta bread filled with deep-fried nuggets of chickpea goodness, drizzled in tahini sauce and garnished with pickle wedges.

‘Oh, Helheim yes.’ I reached for the tray, but the eagle pecked at my hand.

‘Now, now,’ he chided. ‘I get first pick.’

Ever seen an eagle eat falafel?

That horrifying image now haunts my nightmares.

Faster than I could blink, the eagle struck, vacuuming up everything but a single wedge of pickle.

‘Hey!’ I yelled.

Sam rose, hefting her axe. ‘He’s a giant. He’s got to be!’

‘We had a deal.’ The eagle belched. ‘Now about the sword –’

I let loose a guttural roar – the cry of a man who has been deprived of his rightful kibbeh. I drew my sword and smacked the eagle with the flat of the blade.

It wasn’t the most rational move, but I was hungry. I was angry. I hated being taken advantage of, and I didn’t particularly like bald eagles.

The blade hit the bird’s back and stuck there like superglue. I tried to pull it away, but it wouldn’t move. My hands were grafted to the sword grip.

‘Okay, then,’ the eagle squawked, ‘we can play it that way.’

He took off through the food court at sixty miles an hour, dragging me along behind him.


An Apple a Day Will Get You Killed

Add to my list of Least Favourite Activities: eagle surfing.

The stupid bird shouldn’t have been able to take off with a more-or-less-full-grown Magnus in tow. Yet he did.

Behind me, Blitz and Sam yelled helpful stuff like ‘Hey! Stop!’ as the eagle dragged me through tables, chairs and potted plants, then blasted through the double glass doors and soared over Charles Street.

A guy having lunch in the tenth-floor condo across the street spewed Cheetos when I shot past. I left a nice footprint on his window.

‘Let me go!’ I yelled at the eagle.

The bird cackled as he pulled me along a rooftop. ‘You sure about that? Heads up!’

I twisted, barely avoiding a face-first encounter with an industrial AC unit. I ploughed through a brick chimney, using my chest as a battering ram. Then the eagle plummeted down the other side of the building.

‘So!’ the eagle said. ‘You ready to negotiate that favour?’

‘With a mutant pigeon who steals falafel?’ I yelled. ‘No thanks!’

‘Suit yourself.’ The eagle veered, slamming me into a fire escape. I felt my ribs crack, like vials of acid breaking inside my chest. My empty stomach tried unsuccessfully to hurl.

We climbed above one of the churches on Boylston and circled the steeple. I had an addled thought about Paul Revere and the whole One if by land, two if by sea thing.

And if you see a dude being dragged by a giant eagle, uh, I don’t even know how many lights that is.

I tried to heal my ribs through willpower, but I couldn’t concentrate. The pain was too intense. I kept running into walls and kicking out windows.

‘All I want,’ the eagle said, ‘is a favour for a favour. I’ll tell you how to get the sword, but you have to get me something while you’re at it. Nothing much. Just an apple. One apple.’

‘What’s the catch?’

‘The catch is that if you don’t agree … oh, look! Pigeon spikes!’

Ahead of us, the edge of a hotel roof bristled with steel like a miniature line of World War I barbed wire. The spikes were there to discourage roosting birds, but they’d also do a great job shredding my soft underbelly.

Fear got the best of me. I don’t like pointy objects. My gut was still sensitive from my recent death by molten asphalt.

‘Fine!’ I yelled. ‘No spikes!’

‘Say: By my troth, I agree to your terms.’

‘I don’t even know what that means!’

‘Say it!’

‘By my troth, I agree to your terms! Yes, apples! No, spikes!’

The eagle climbed, narrowly clearing the roof. The tips of my shoes twanged against the barbs. We circled Copley Square and landed on the roof of the Boston Public Library.

The sword came free of the eagle’s back. My hands unglued themselves, which was great, except that I now had nothing to hold on to. The curved red clay tiles were almost impossible to stand on. The roof slanted precariously. Eighty feet below me stretched a wide expanse of asphalt-flavoured death.

I crouched to avoid falling. Carefully, I sheathed my sword, which melted back into a length of chain.

‘Ow,’ I said.

My ribs ached. My arms had been pulled half out of their sockets. My chest felt like it had been permanently tattooed with a brick-wall design.

To my left, the eagle perched on a lightning-rod spire, lording over the decorative bronze griffins around the base.

I’d never thought of eagles as having expressions, but this one definitely looked smug.

‘I’m glad you saw reason!’ he said. ‘Though, honestly, I enjoyed our little flight through the city. It’s good to speak with you alone.’

‘I’m blushing,’ I grumbled. ‘Oh, no, wait. That’s the blood all over my face.’

‘Here’s the information you need,’ the eagle continued. ‘When your sword fell in the river, the current carried it downstream. It was claimed by the goddess Ran. Lots of valuable things end up in her net.’


The eagle clicked his beak. ‘Sea goddess. Has a net. Try to keep up.’

‘Where do I find her? And please don’t say “the sea”.’

‘She could be anywhere, so you’ll have to get her attention. The way to do that: I know this guy, Harald. He’s got a boat at the Fish Pier, does deep-sea excursions. Tell him Big Boy sent you.’

‘Big Boy.’

‘One of my many names. Harald will know what you mean. Convince him to take you fishing in Massachusetts Bay. If you cause enough of a ruckus out there, you’ll attract Ran’s attention. Then you can negotiate. Ask her for the sword and one of Idun’s apples.’


‘Are you just going to repeat every name I give you? It’s I-D-U-N. She distributes the apples of immortality that keep the gods young and spry. Ran is sure to have one lying around, because, seriously, once you see her you’ll be able to tell she’s not good about remembering to eat her apples. When you have the apple, bring it back here. Give it to me, and I’ll release you from your vow.’

‘Two questions. Are you insane?’


‘Second question: how is fishing in the bay going to create a ruckus that attracts a sea goddess?’

‘That depends on what you fish for. Tell Harald you need the special bait. He’ll understand. If he protests, tell him Big Boy insists.’

‘I have no idea what that means,’ I confessed. ‘Assuming I meet Ran, how am I supposed to bargain with her?’

‘That’s three questions. Also, that’s your problem.’

‘Last question.’

‘This is four now.’

‘What’s to keep me from getting the sword and not bringing you an apple?’

‘Well, you swore by your troth,’ said the eagle. ‘Your troth is your word, your faith, your honour, your soul. It’s a binding oath, especially for an einherji. Unless you want to spontaneously combust and find yourself trapped forever in the icy darkness of Helheim …’

I chewed my lip. ‘I guess I’ll keep my promise.’

‘Excellent!’ The eagle flapped his wings. ‘Here come your friends, which is my cue to leave. I’ll see you when you have my fresh produce!’

The eagle soared away and disappeared behind the glass walls of the Hancock Tower, leaving me to find my own way off the roof.

Down in Copley Square, Blitzen, Hearthstone and Sam were just running onto the frozen lawn. Sam saw me first. She stopped in her tracks and pointed.

I waved.

I couldn’t see her expression, but she spread her arms like, What the heck are you doing up there?

With some difficulty, I got to my feet. Thanks to my ValhallaCare health plan, my injuries were already starting to mend, but I still felt sore and stiff. I picked my way to the edge of the roof and peered over. Magnus 1.0 never would’ve considered it, but now I plotted a series of ten-foot jumps – to that window ledge, that flagpole, the top of that light fixture, then the front steps – and I thought, Yeah, no problem.

In a matter of seconds, I’d safely reached the ground. My friends met me at the sidewalk.

‘What was that about?’ Blitzen demanded. ‘Was he a giant?’

‘Dunno,’ I said. ‘His name is Big Boy, and he likes apples.’

I told them the story.

Hearthstone smacked his forehead. He signed, You swore by your troth?

‘Well, it was either that or get shredded by pigeon spikes, so yeah.’

Sam stared at the sky, maybe hoping to see an eagle she could hit with her axe. ‘This will end badly. Deals with giants always do.’

‘At least Magnus found out where the sword is,’ Blitzen said. ‘Besides, Ran’s a goddess. She’ll be on our side, right?’

Sam snorted. ‘I guess you haven’t heard the stories about her that I have. But, at this point, we don’t have much choice. Let’s find Harald.’


Go Smelly or Go Home

I’d never been scared of boats until I saw Harald’s.

Painted on the prow was HARALD’S DEEP-SEA EXCURSIONS AND DEATH WISHES, which seemed like a lot of verbiage for a twenty-foot-long dinghy. The deck was a mess of ropes, buckets and tackle boxes. Nets and buoys festooned the sides like Christmas decorations. The hull had once been green but had faded to the colour of well-chewed spearmint gum.

Nearby on the dock sat Harald himself, in splattered yellow overalls and a T-shirt so grungy, my donation-box Wiggles shirt would’ve been an upgrade. He was a sumo-size guy with arms as thick as the rotating meat spits back at Fadlan’s Falafel. (Yes, I was still thinking about food.)

Tags: Rick Riordan Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard Fantasy
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