‘Letting go … My mom …’
‘Yes.’ Frey retrieved something from his throne – a sealed ceramic jar about the size of a heart. He placed it in my hands. ‘You know what she would want?’
I couldn’t speak. I nodded, hoping my expression told Frey how grateful I was.
‘You, my son, will bring hope to the Nine Worlds. You have heard the term Indian summer? You will be our last such season – a chance for warmth, light and growth before the long winter of Ragnarok.’
‘But …’ I cleared my throat. ‘But no pressure.’
Frey flashed his brilliant white teeth. ‘Exactly. Much needs to be done. The Aesir and Vanir are scattered. Loki grows stronger. Even in his bonds, he has played us against each other, distracted us, made us lose focus. I am guilty of becoming distracted as well. For too long I have been removed from the world of men. Only your mother managed to …’ He focused on the jar in my hands. ‘Well, after my big speech about not holding on to the past …’ He smiled ruefully. ‘She was a vibrant soul. She would be proud of you.’
‘Dad …’ I wasn’t sure what else to say. Maybe I just wanted to try out the word again. I’d never had much experience using it. ‘I don’t know if I’m up to this.’
From the pocket of his flannel shirt, he pulled a tattered piece of paper – the MISSING flyer Annabeth and her dad had been distributing on the day I died. Frey handed it to me. ‘You will not be alone. For now, rest, my son. I promise it won’t be another sixteen years before we meet again. In the meantime, you should call your cousin. You should talk. You will need her help before all is said and done.’
That sounded ominous, but I didn’t get the chance to ask about it. I blinked and Frey was gone. I was sitting in the longship again, holding the flyer and the ceramic jar. Next to me sat Halfborn Gunderson, sipping from a cup of mead.
‘Well.’ He gave me a bloody grin. Most of his wounds had faded to scar tissue. ‘I owe you my life. How about I buy you dinner?’
I blinked and looked around us. Our ship had docked in Valhalla, on one of the rivers that ran through the lobby. How we’d got there, I had no idea. My other friends stood on the wharf, speaking with Helgi the hotel manager – grim faces all around as they regarded the off-loaded bodies of the three dead Valkyries.
‘What’s going on?’ I asked.
Halfborn drained his cup. ‘We’ve been summoned to the feast hall to explain ourselves before the thanes and the host of einherjar. I hope they let us eat before they kill us again. I’m starving.’
Oh … So That’s Who Fenris Smelled in Chapter Sixty-Three
We must have lost an entire day returning to Valhalla, because dinner was under way in the Feast Hall of the Slain. Valkyries flew around with mead pitchers. Einherjar threw bread and roasted Saehrimnir at each other. Clusters of musicians jammed out all over the room.
The fiesta slowly quietened as our procession made its way towards the thanes’ table. An honour guard of Valkyries carried the bodies of Gunilla, Irene and Margaret, covered with white linen, on stretchers. I had hoped the fallen might come back to life when they reached Valhalla. Couldn’t Valkyries become einherjar? But it didn’t happen.
Mallory, X, T.J. and Halfborn followed the litters. Sam, Blitzen, Hearth and I brought up the caboose.
Warriors glared at us as we passed. The Valkyries’ expressions were even worse. I was surprised we weren’t killed before we reached the thanes. I suppose the crowd wanted to see us publicly humiliated. They didn’t know what we’d done. They just knew we were escaped rogues brought back for judgement, following the bodies of three Valkyries. We weren’t shackled, but I still shuffled along as if the rope Andskoti was wrapped around my ankles. I cradled the ceramic jar in the crook of my arm. Whatever else happened, I couldn’t lose that.
We stopped in front of the thanes’ table. Erik, Helgi, Leif and all the other Eriks looked grim. Even my old buddy Hunding the bellhop stared at me with shock and disappointment, as if I’d taken away his chocolate.
Helgi finally spoke. ‘Explain.’
I saw no reason to hold anything back. I didn’t speak loudly, but my words echoed through the hall. When I got to the fight with Fenris, my voice failed me. Sam picked up the story.
When she was done, the thanes sat silently. I couldn’t read their mood. Perhaps they were more unsure now than angry, but it didn’t matter. Despite my talk with my father, I didn’t feel proud of what we’d accomplished. I was only alive because the three Valkyries in front of me had kept the fire giants at bay while we chained the wolf. No punishment from the thanes could make me feel worse than that.
Finally Helgi rose. ‘This is the most serious matter to come before this table in many years. If you speak truly, you have done deeds worthy of warriors. You have stopped Fenris Wolf from breaking free. You have sent Surt back to Muspellheim. But you acted as rogues – without the leave of the thanes and in … questionable company.’ He glanced distastefully at Hearth, Blitz and Sam. ‘Loyalty, Magnus Chase … loyalty to Valhalla is everything. The thanes must discuss all this in private before passing judgement, unless Odin wishes to intercede.’
He glanced at the vacant wooden throne, which of course stayed empty. Perched on the backrest, the ravens fixed me with their glittering black eyes.
‘Very well,’ Helgi sighed. ‘We –’
To my left, a booming voice said, ‘Odin wishes to intercede.’
Nervous murmurs rippled through the feast hall. X raised his stone-grey face towards the thanes.
‘X,’ T.J. whispered, ‘this is no time for jokes.’
‘Odin wishes to intercede,’ said the half-troll stubbornly.
His appearance changed. His huge trollish shape dropped away like camouflage fabric. In X’s place stood a man who looked like a retired drill sergeant. He was barrel-chested, with massive arms stuffed in a short-sleeve Hotel Valhalla polo shirt. His grey hair was close-cropped, his beard cut square to accentuate his hardened, weathered face. A black patch covered his left eye. His right eye was dark blue, the colour of vein blood. At his side hung a sword so massive it made Jack the pendant tremble on his chain.
The man’s name tag read: ODIN, ALL-FATHER, OWNER AND FOUNDER.
‘Odin.’ Sam dropped to one knee.
The god smiled down at her. Then he gave me what I thought was a conspiratorial wink, though it was hard to tell, since he had only one eye.
His name rippled through the feast hall. The einherjar got to their feet. The thanes rose and bowed deeply.
Odin, formerly the half-troll known as X, marched around the table and took his place on the throne. The two ravens landed on his shoulders and pecked affectionately at his ears.
‘Well!’ Odin’s voice boomed. ‘What does a god have to do to get a cup of mead around here?’
We Are Subjected to the PowerPoint of Doom
Odin got his drink, offered some toasts, then began pacing in front of his throne, talking about where he’d been and what he’d been doing the past few decades. I was too shocked to register much of Odin’s speech. I think most of the einherjar felt the same way.
The room only began to unfreeze when Odin summoned up the glowing Valkyrie-Vision screens. Einherjar blinked and stirred as if coming out of mass hypnosis.
‘I am a seeker of knowledge!’ Odin announced. ‘This has always been true. I hung from the World Tree for nine days and nights, racked with pain, in order to discover the secret of runes. I stood in line in a blizzard for six days to discover the sorcery of the smartphone.’
‘What?’ I muttered.
Blitzen coughed. ‘Just roll with it.’
‘And more recently,’ Odin announced, ‘I endured seven weeks of motivational-speaker training at a hotel in Peoria to discover … this!’
A clicker appeared in his hand. On all the magical screens, a PowerPoint title slide glowed, with a whirling emblem that read: ODIN’S PLAN: HOW TO HAVE A HIGHLY SUC
‘What is going on?’ I whispered to Sam.
‘Odin is always trying different things,’ she said. ‘Looking in new places for knowledge. He is very wise, but …’
Hearthstone signed as discreetly as possible: This is why I work for Mimir.
‘So you see,’ Odin continued, pacing back and forth, his ravens flapping their wings for balance, ‘everything these heroes have done, they did with my knowledge and my permission. I have been with them the entire time – either in person or in spirit.’
The screen changed. Odin started lecturing through some bullet points. My eyes kind of glazed over, but he talked about why he’d hidden in Valhalla as X the half-troll:
‘To see how you would welcome such a warrior and how you would carry out your duties when you didn’t think I was around. You all need to work on your positive empowerment and self-actualization.’
He explained why he’d chosen Samirah al-Abbas as a Valkyrie:
‘If the daughter of Loki can show such bravery, why can’t we all? Samirah demonstrates the seven heroic qualities I’ll be highlighting in my upcoming book, Seven Heroic Qualities, which will be available in the Valhalla gift shop.’
He explained why the Norns’ prophecy didn’t mean what we thought it did:
‘Wrongly chosen, wrongly slain,’ he recited. ‘Magnus Chase was wrongly chosen by Loki – who thought this boy could be easily influenced. Instead, Magnus Chase proved himself a true hero!’
Despite the compliment, I liked Odin better as a taciturn half-troll than as a motivational speaker. The dinner crowd didn’t seem sure what to make of him either, though some of the thanes were dutifully taking notes.
‘Which brings us to the affirmations portion of this presentation.’ Odin advanced his slide show. A photograph of Blitzen popped up. It had obviously been taken during the crafting contest with Junior. Sweat streamed down Blitzen’s face. His expression was agonized, as if somebody had just dropped a hammer on his foot.
‘Blitzen, son of Freya!’ Odin said. ‘This noble dwarf won the rope Andskoti, which rebound Fenris Wolf. He followed his heart, mastered his fears and served my old friend Mimir faithfully. For your heroism, Blitzen, you shall be released from Mimir’s service and given funding to open the shop you have always wanted. Because I have to say …’ Odin waved his hand over his hotel polo shirt. Suddenly he was wearing a chain-mail waistcoat. ‘I picked up your prototype after the contest, and it’s a very fine fashion statement. Any warrior would be wise to acquire one!’
The einherjar murmured in approval. Some oohed and ahhed.
Blitzen bowed deeply. ‘Thank you, Lord Odin. I am – I can’t begin to – Could I use that endorsement for my product line?’
Odin smiled benevolently. ‘Of course. And next we have Hearthstone the elf!’
Hearth’s photo appeared on the screens. He was slumped in the window of Geirrod’s palace. He had a silly grin on his face. His hands were making the sign for washing machine.
‘This noble creature risked everything to rediscover rune magic. He is the first true sorcerer to appear from the mortal realms in centuries. Without him, the quest to restrain the Wolf would have failed many times over.’ Odin beamed down at the elf. ‘My friend, you also shall be released from Mimir’s service. I will personally bring you to Asgard, where I will teach you the runes in a ninety-minute one-on-one free tutoring session, accompanied by a DVD and signed copy of my book Rune Magic with the All-Father.’
Hearthstone looked stunned. He managed to sign, Thank you.
The screen changed. In Sam’s photo, she was standing nervously at the counter of Fadlan’s Falafel, her face turned aside, blushing furiously as Amir leaned towards her, grinning.
‘Ooooooo,’ said the crowd of einherjar, followed by a fair amount of snickering.
‘Kill me now,’ Sam muttered. ‘Please.’
‘Samirah al-Abbas!’ Odin said. ‘I personally chose you to be a Valkyrie because of your courage, your resilience, your potential greatness. Many here mistrusted you, but you rose to the challenge. You followed my orders. You did your duty even when you were reviled and exiled. To you, I give a choice.’
Odin regarded the fallen Valkyries who lay before the thanes’ table. He allowed a respectful silence to fall across the room.
‘Gunilla, Margaret, Irene – all knew the risks of being a Valkyrie. All gave their lives to make today’s victory possible. In the end, they saw your true worth, and they fought at your side. I believe they would agree you should be reinstated as a Valkyrie.’
Sam’s knees almost gave out. She had to lean on Mallory Keen for support.
‘I offer you a choice of jobs,’ Odin continued. ‘I need a captain for my Valkyries. I can think of no one better than you. This would allow you more time to spend in the mortal world, perhaps a chance to rest after your harrowing quest. Or –’ his blue eye gleamed – ‘you could choose a much more dangerous assignment, working directly for me as the need arises on other, shall we say, high-risk, high-reward missions.’
Sam bowed. ‘All-Father, you honour me. I could never replace Gunilla. All I ask for is the chance to prove myself, as many times as necessary, until no one here has any doubt of my loyalties to Valhalla. I will take the more dangerous assignment. Command me, and I will not fail.’
This went down pretty well with the crowd. The einherjar applauded. Some shouted approval. Even the other Valkyries regarded Sam with less hostile expressions.
‘Very well,’ Odin said. ‘Once again, Samirah, you prove your wisdom. We will speak later of your duties. And now … Magnus Chase.’
The screens changed. There I was: frozen mid-scream as I fell from the Longfellow Bridge. ‘Son of Frey, you retrieved the Sword of Summer. You kept it from the grip of Surt. You have proven yourself … well, perhaps not a great warrior –’
‘Thanks,’ I muttered.
‘– but certainly a great einherji. I think we are in agreement – all of us here at the thanes’ table – that you, too, deserve a reward.’
Odin glanced to his left and right. The thanes stirred, hastily muttering, ‘Yes. Um. Absolutely.’
‘I do not offer this lightly,’ Odin said. ‘But if you still feel that Valhalla is not your place I will send you to Folkvanger, where your aunt holds court. As a child of the Vanir, perhaps that would be more to your liking. Or –’ his blue eye seemed to pierce right through me – ‘if you wish, I will even allow you to return to the mortal world and be released from your duties as an einherji.’
The room filled with murmuring and tension. From the faces of the crowd, I could tell this was an unusual offer. Odin was taking a risk. If he set a precedent of letting einherjar return to the world, wouldn’t others want to go too?
I looked at Sam and Blitzen and Hearthstone. I looked at my hallmates from floor nineteen – T.J., Halfborn, Mallory. For the first time in years, I didn’t feel homeless.
I bowed to Odin. ‘Thank you, All-Father. But wherever these friends of mine are – that’s my home. I am one of the einherjar. I am one of your warriors. That is reward enough.’
The whole dining hall erupted in cheering. Goblets banged on tables. Swords clattered against shields. My friends surrounded me, hugging me and clapping me on the shoulders. Mallory kissed my cheek and said, ‘You are a huge idiot.’ Then she whispered in my ear, ‘Thank you.’
Halfborn ruffled my hair. ‘We’ll make you a warrior yet, Frey-son.’
When the cheering died down, Odin raised his hand. His clicker elongated into a glowing white spear.
‘By Gungnir, the hallowed weapon of the All-Father, I declare that these seven heroes shall have full rights of passage through the Nine Worlds, including Valhalla. Wherever they go, they shall go in my name, serving the will of Asgard. Let no one interfere on pain of death!’ He lowered his spear. ‘Tonight, we feast in their honour. Tomorrow, our fallen comrades shall be given to water and flame!’
r /> SEVENTY-ONE
We Burn a Swan Boat, Which I’m Pretty Sure Is Illegal
The funeral was held on the pond in the Public Garden. Somehow, the einherjar had got possession of a swan boat – the kind that normally don’t ply the waters during the winter. They’d modified the boat, turning it into a floating funeral pyre for the three Valkyries. The bodies were wrapped in white and laid on a bed of wood, with weapons and armour and gold heaped around them.
The pond was frozen over. There shouldn’t have been any way to launch the boat, but the einherjar had brought along a friend – a fifteen-foot-tall giantess named Hyrokkin.
Despite the weather, Hyrokkin was dressed in cut-off shorts and an XXXXL T-shirt from the Boston Rowing Club. Before the ceremony, she stomped barefoot all over the pond, breaking the ice and scaring the ducks. Then she came back and waited respectfully at the shore, her shins glazed with freezing water, while einherjar came forward to say their goodbyes to the fallen. Many left weapons, coins or other keepsakes on the funeral pyres. Some spoke about how Gunilla, Margaret or Irene had been responsible for bringing them to Valhalla.
Finally Helgi lit the fire. Hyrokkin pushed the boat into the pond.
There were no pedestrians in the Public Garden. Maybe magic kept them away. If any had been around, maybe some glamour would’ve kept them from seeing the crowd of undead warriors watching a ship burn.
My eyes drifted to the spot under the bridge where two weeks ago I’d been alive, homeless and miserable. Only now could I admit how terrified I’d felt all the time.
The boat roared into a column of fire, obscuring the bodies of the Valkyries. Then the flames vanished as if somebody had turned off the gas, leaving no trace of the boat – just a steaming circle in the pond.
Mourners turned and drifted through the park, heading towards the Hotel Valhalla on Beacon Street.
T.J. gripped my shoulder. ‘You coming, Magnus?’
‘In a bit.’
As my hallmates headed back home, I was happy to see Halfborn Gunderson slip his arm around Mallory Keen’s waist. She didn’t even cut his hand off for doing so.
Blitzen, Hearth, Sam and I stayed behind, watching steam curl off the pond.
Finally Hearth signed, I am going to Asgard. Thank you, Magnus.
I’d seen the envious looks some of the einherjar had given him. For decades, maybe centuries, no mortal had been allowed to visit the city of the gods. Now Odin had agreed to teach an elf.
‘That’s awesome, man,’ I said. ‘But listen – don’t forget to come back and visit, huh? You’ve got a family now.’
Hearthstone smiled. He signed, I hear you.
‘Oh, he’ll visit, all right,’ Blitzen said. ‘He’s promised to help me move into my new store. I’m not lugging all those boxes without some magic assistance!’
I felt happy for Blitz, though it was hard to think about yet another one of my friends going away. ‘I’m sure you’ll have the best shop in Nidavellir.’
Blitzen snorted. ‘Nidavellir? Bah. Dwarves don’t deserve my fashion brilliance. That red gold from Odin will buy me a nice storefront on Newbury Street. Blitzen’s Best will be open in the spring, so you have absolutely no excuse not to come by and get fitted for one of these.’ He brushed aside his overcoat, revealing a glittering, stylish bulletproof waistcoat.
I couldn’t help it. I gave Blitzen a hug.
‘All right, kid, all right.’ He patted me on the back. ‘Let’s not wrinkle the fabric.’
Sam grinned. ‘Maybe you can make a new hijab for me. The old one got kind of ripped to shreds.’
‘I’ll make it for you at cost, with more magical properties!’ Blitzen promised. ‘And I have some ideas for colours.’
‘You’re the expert,’ Sam said. ‘As for me, I’ve got to get home. I’m grounded. I have a pile of make-up work from school.’
‘And you have a boyfriend to deal with,’ I said.
She blushed, which was kind of cute. ‘He’s not … All right, fine. Yes, I should probably deal with that, whatever that means.’ She poked me in the chest. ‘Thanks to you, I can fly again. That’s the main thing. Try not to die too often until I see you again.’
‘When will that be?’
‘Soon,’ Sam promised. ‘Odin wasn’t kidding about the high-risk assignments.