“A thousand years in that stupid box, and now I’m free! HAHAHAHAHA!”
Behind him, the inner walls of his coffin were scored with hundreds of marks where he’d been keeping track of years. There was no sign of Thor’s hammer, though, which meant the zombie had been locked in there without a decent way to stream Netflix.
Jack quivered with excitement. “Will you look at that sword? She’s so hot!”
I did not know 1) how he could tell the sword was female, or 2) how he could tell she was hot. I was not sure I wanted answers to those questions.
Sam, Blitz, and Hearth edged away from the zombie. Jack’s point floated toward the lady sword, but I forced him to the floor and leaned on him. I didn’t want him to offend Mr. Zombie or his blade by being too forward.
“Uh, hi,” I told the zombie. “I’m Magnus.”
“You have a lovely golden glow!”
“Thanks. So how is it that you’re speaking English?”
“Am I?” The king tilted his ghoulish head. Wisps of white clung to his chin—maybe cobwebs or the remnants of a beard. His eyes were green and bright and entirely human. “Perhaps it’s magic. Perhaps we are communicating on a spiritual level. Whatever the case, thank you for releasing me. I am Gellir, prince of the Danes!”
Blitzen peeked out from behind me. “Gellir? Is Blood River your nickname?”
Gellir’s laugh sounded like a maraca filled with wet sand. “No, my dwarven friend. Blood River is a kenning I earned from my blade, the Skofnung Sword.”
Hearth had backed into the coffin lid and fallen over it. He stayed in crab-walk position, his eyes wide with shock.
“Ah!” Gellir said. “I see your elf has heard of my sword.”
Jack lurched under my elbow. “Uh, señor? I’ve heard of her, too. She’s like…wow. She’s famous.”
“Wait,” Sam said. “Prince Gellir, is there possibly a—a hammer around here somewhere? We heard you might have a hammer.”
The zombie frowned, which caused fault lines to open on his leathery face. “A hammer? No. Why would I want a hammer when I am the Lord of the Sword?”
Sam’s eyes dimmed, or maybe that was just my glow starting to fade.
“You’re sure?” I asked. “I mean, the Lord of the Sword is great. But you could also be, I don’t know, the Slammer of the Hammer.”
Gellir kept his gaze on Sam. His frowned deepened. “One moment. Are you a woman?”
“Uh…yes, Prince Gellir. My name is Samirah al-Abbas.”
“We call her the Max with the Ax,” I offered.
“I will hurt you,” Sam hissed at me.
“A woman.” Gellir tugged at his chin, pulling off some of his cobweb whiskers. “That’s a shame. I can’t unsheathe my sword in the presence of a woman.”
“Oh, what a bummer,” Jack said. “I want to meet Skoffy!”
Hearthstone struggled to his feet. He signed: We should leave. Now. Not let zombie draw sword.
“What is your elf doing?” Gellir asked. “Why does he make those strange gestures?”
“It’s sign language,” I said. “He, uh, doesn’t want you to draw your sword. He says we should leave.”
“But I can’t allow that! I must show my gratitude! Also, I need to kill you!”
My glow was definitely fading now. When Jack spoke, his runes lit the tomb in ominous red flashes. “Hey, zombie guy? Gratitude is usually more like sending a nice card, and less like I need to kill you.”
“Oh, I’m very grateful!” Gellir protested. “But I’m also a draugr, the chief wight of this barrow. You are trespassing. So, after I finish thanking you properly, I’ll have to consume your flesh and devour your souls. But, alas, the Skofnung Sword has very clear restrictions. It cannot be drawn in daylight or in the presence of a woman.”
“Those are stupid rules,” Sam said. “I mean, those are very sensible rules. So, you can’t kill us?”
“No,” Gellir allowed. “But don’t worry. I can still have you killed!”
He rapped the sheath of his sword three times against the floor. To absolutely no one’s surprise, the twelve mummified warriors stepped out from their niches along the walls.
The draugr had zero respect for zombie clichés. They did not shamble. They didn’t moan incoherently or act dazed like proper zombies should. They drew their weapons in perfect unison and stood ready for Gellir’s order to kill.
“This is bad,” said Jack, master of the obvious. “I’m not sure I can take out this many before they kill you guys. And I don’t want to look incompetent in front of that hot lady sword!”
“Priorities, Jack,” I said.
“Exactly! I hope you’ve got a plan that makes me look good!”
Sam gave us a new light source. In her free hand, a glowing spear appeared—the field weapon of a Valkyrie. Its harsh white light made the zombies’ faces start to steam.
Hearthstone hefted his pouch of runestones. Blitzen whipped off his bow tie—which, like his entire line of spring fashion, was lined with ultra-flexible chain mail. He wrapped the tie around his fist, ready to smash some zombie faces.
I didn’t like our odds: four against thirteen. Or five, if you included Jack as a separate person. I didn’t, because that meant I would have to pull my own weight.
I wondered if I could invoke the Peace of Frey. Thanks to my dad, a pacifist-type god who didn’t allow fighting in his sacred places, I could sometimes disarm everyone in a wide circle around me, blasting their weapons right out of their hands. That was kind of my finishing trick, though. I would look really dumb if I tried it now in this enclosed space and the zombies just picked up their swords again and killed us.
Before I could decide what would be most impressive to a hot lady sword, one of the zombies raised his hand. “Do we have a quorum?”
Prince Gellir slumped as though one of his vertebrae had disintegrated.
“Arvid,” he said, “we’ve been locked in this chamber for centuries. Of course we have a quorum! We’re all present because we can’t leave!”
“Then I move that we call this meeting to order,” said another dead man.
“Oh, for the love of Thor!” Gellir complained. “We’re here to massacre these mortals, feed on their flesh, and take their souls. That’s obvious. Then we’ll have enough strength to break free of our tomb and wreak havoc upon Cape Cod. Do we really need—?”
“I second,” called another zombie.
Gellir smacked his own skeletal forehead. “Fine! All in favor?”
The twelve other dead guys raised their hands.
“Then this massacre, er, meeting is called to order.” Gellir turned to me, his eyes gleaming with irritation. “My apologies, but we vote on everything in this group. It’s the tradition of the Thing.”
“You know, the Thing,” Gellir said. “From the word thingvellir, meaning field of the assembly. The Norse voting council.”
“Ah.” Sam wavered between her ax hand and her spear hand, as if unsure which to use…or whether that decision would require a new motion. “I’ve heard of the Thing. It was a site where ancient Norse met to settle legal disputes and make political decisions. The meetings inspired the idea of Parliament.”
“Yes, yes,” Gellir said. “Now, the English Parliament—that wasn’t my fault personally. But when the Pilgrims came along—” He pointed his chin toward the ceiling. “Well, by that time, our tomb had been here for centuries. The Pilgrims landed, camped out over us for a few weeks. They must have subconsciously felt our presence. I’m afraid we inspired the Mayflower Compact, started all that business about rights and democracy in America, blah, blah, blah.”
“May I take the minutes?” asked a zombie.
Gellir sighed. “Dagfinn, honestly…Fine, you’re secretary.”
“I love being secretary.” Dagfinn stuck his sword back in its sheath. He pulled a notepad and a pen from his belt, though what a Viking corpse was doing w
ith school supplies I couldn’t tell you.
“So…wait,” Sam said. “If you’ve been stuck in that box, how do you know what was going on outside the tomb?”
Gellir rolled his lovely green eyes. “Telepathic powers. Duh. Anyway, ever since we inspired the Pilgrims, my twelve bodyguards have been insufferably proud of themselves. We have to do everything by parliamentary rules…or Thing-a-mentary rules. Not to worry, though. We’ll kill you soon enough. Now, I make a motion—”
“First,” another zombie interrupted, “is there any old business?”
Gellir made a fist so tight I thought his hand would crumble. “Knut, we are draugr from the sixth century. For us, everything is old business!”
“I move that we read the minutes from the last meeting,” said Arvid. “Do I hear a second?”
Hearthstone raised two fingers. I didn’t blame him. The more time they spent reading the minutes of past massacres, the less time they’d have for killing us in a future one.
Dagfinn flipped back in his notebook. The pages turned to dust in his fingers. “Ah, actually, I don’t have those minutes.”
“Well, then!” Gellir said. “Moving right along—”