“So anyway,” I said, “we have to assume we can’t sneak Thor in with the wedding party.”
“And he can’t simply bust into an earth giant’s lair,” Blitz added.
Thor harrumphed. “I’ve tried, believe me. The stupid giants are buried too deep in rock too dense.”
“You’re an expert on density,” Alex guessed.
I gave her a shut up look. “So we have to use the front door. I’m guessing they won’t tell us where that is until the last minute to avoid an ambush or unwelcome tagalongs.”
“What does the invitation say?” Sam asked.
I took it out and showed them. The time slot now read: TOMORROW MORNING!!! The location slot still said: WE’LL GET BACK TO YOU.
“That’s okay,” I said. “I think I may know where the entrance will appear.”
I explained to Thor about the photo of Bridal Veil Falls.
The thunder god did not look overjoyed. “So either you’re wrong and this is a random photograph, or you’re right and you’re choosing to believe information from your treacherous uncle?”
“Well…yeah. But if it is the entrance—”
“I could scout it out,” Thor said. “I could have a team of gods in place, undercover, ready to follow the wedding party inside all stealthy-like.”
“A team of gods sounds excellent,” I agreed.
“Depending on the gods,” Blitz murmured.
“We also have some einherjar standing by,” Sam suggested. “Good warriors. Trustworthy.”
She said trustworthy like it was a word Thor might not have heard before.
“Hmm.” Thor twirled one of his pigtails. “I suppose this could work. And once Thrym summons the hammer—”
“If he summons it,” Alex said. “He’s using it as the, er, morning after gift.”
Thor looked aghast. “Regardless, he must summon it for the ceremony! The bride has the right to insist. The symbol of my hammer is always used to bless a wedding. If Thrym has the real thing, he must use it if you request it. And once he does, we’ll move in and kill everyone!”
Except us, Hearthstone said.
“Exactly, Mr. Elf! It will be a glorious bloodbath!”
“Lord Thor,” Sam said, “how will you know when the time is right to charge in?”
“That’s easy.” He turned and patted Marvin’s and Otis’s heads. “You’ll ride my chariot into the wedding hall. That’s a common enough practice for lords and ladies. With a little concentration, I can see and hear what my goats see and hear.”
“Yes,” Otis said. “It gives me a tingling feeling right behind my eyeballs.”
“Be quiet,” Marvin said. “Nobody wants to hear about your tingling eyeballs.”
“When the hammer appears”—Thor grinned evilly—“we move in, gods and einherjar. We slaughter the giants, and all will be well. I feel better already!”
“Yay!” Jack cheered, clinking against Thor’s staff in a high five…or a high just-one.
Samirah raised her index finger like, one moment. “There’s something else. Loki wants the Skofnung Sword so he can cut himself free. How do we make sure he doesn’t get it?”
“That will never happen!” Thor said. “Loki’s place of punishment is in a completely different location, sealed long ago by the gods. Loki is bound even better than Fenris Wolf.”
And we saw how well that worked out, Hearth signed.
“The elf speaks wisely,” Thor agreed. “There is nothing to worry about. Loki can’t be at the wedding in the flesh. Even if Thrym gets hold of the Skofnung Sword, he won’t have time to find Loki or free him—not before we swoop in and kill the big oaf!”
Thor swung his iron staff to demonstrate his ninja moves. His left pigtail came loose in the process, which only added to the intimidating effect.
A cold feeling spread through my gut. “I don’t know about this plan. It still feels like we’re missing something important.”
“My hammer!” Thor said. “But we’ll get that back soon enough. Mr. Elf and Mr. Dwarf, why don’t you go to Valhalla and alert the einherjar?”
“Sir, we would…” Blitz adjusted his pith helmet. “But we’re not technically allowed in Valhalla, not being, you know, dead.”
“I can fix that!”
“Don’t kill us!” Blitz yelped.
Thor just rummaged around his worktable until he found a two-by-four with a key attached to one end. Burned into the side of the plank were the words THOR’S HALL PASS.
“This will get you into Valhalla,” he promised. “Just return it. I’m going to fix this chariot so our gender argr bride can use it tomorrow. Then I’ll gather my assault squad and scout out this location, Bridal Veil Falls.”
“And the rest of us?” I asked reluctantly.
“You and the two children of Loki will be our guests tonight!” Thor announced. “Go see Sif upstairs, and she will get you settled. In the morning, you will ride forth to a glorious matrimonial massacre!”
“Oh,” Otis said with a sigh. “I do love weddings.”
I Prepare for Funkytown Combat
THE NIGHT before a big massacre, you might think I would toss and turn.
Nope. I slept like a rock giant.
Sif gave each of us a guest room in the upper levels of Bright Crack. I collapsed on my rowan-wood bed with its sheets of woven gold and didn’t stir until the next morning when I heard the alarm clock—a small gold Mjolnir trophy that wouldn’t stop singing a divine chorus of Ahhhhhhhh! Ahhhhhhhh! Ahhhhhhhh! until I grabbed it off the nightstand and threw it against the wall. I have to admit, that was a satisfying way to wake up.
I don’t think Sam and Alex slept quite as well. When I met them in Sif’s atrium, they both looked bleary-eyed. In Alex’s lap was a plate of what used to be doughnuts. She had broken them into pieces to make a frowny face. Her fingers were caked in powdered sugar.
Sam held a cup of coffee to her lips as if she liked the smell but couldn’t remember how to drink. The Skofnung Sword was slung across her back.
She looked up at me and asked, “Where?”
At first, I didn’t understand the question. Then I realized she was asking if I knew where we were going today.
I fumbled through my pockets for the wedding invitation.
The when space now read: TODAY! AT 10 A.M. ARE YOU EXCITED?!?
The where space read: PROCEED TO THE TACO BELL ON I-93 SOUTH OF MANCHESTER, NH. AWAIT FURTHER INSTRUCTIONS. NO AESIR, OR THE HAMMER GETS IT!
I showed this to Alex and Sam.
“Taco Bell?” Alex grumbled. “Those monsters.”
“Something’s not right.” Sam took a sip of coffee. The cup trembled in her hands. “Magnus, all night I was thinking about what you said. We are missing something important, and I don’t mean the hammer.”
“Perhaps,” said the voice of our hostess, “you’re missing the appropriate clothes.”
Before us stood Sif, having appeared out nowhere, as goddesses tend to do. She wore the same red-orange dress, the same green-and-silver brooch, and the same pained smile that said, I think you’re my house servants, but I don’t remember your names.
“My husband tells me you want to play dress-up.” She gave Alex an up-and-down look. “I suppose it will be easier than putting Thor in a wedding dress, but we have a lot of work to do. Come along.”
She strolled toward a hallway at the back of the atrium, crooking a finger over her shoulder for Alex to follow.
“If I’m not back in an hour,” Alex said, “it means I have strangled Sif and am hiding the body.”
Her expression gave absolutely no indication she was kidding. She sashayed off, doing such a good imitation of Sif’s walk that I would’ve given her a trophy.
Sam rose. Coffee cup in hand, she walked to the nearest window. She stared across the rooftops of Asgard. Her eyes seemed to fix on the shield-thatched golden dome of Valhalla.
“Alex isn’t ready,” she said.
I joined her at the wind
ow. A wisp of dark hair had escaped the edge of her hijab by her left temple. I had a protective urge to tuck it back in. Since I valued my hand, I didn’t.
“Do you think she’s right?” I asked. “Can she…you know, resist your dad?”
“She thinks she’s right,” Sam said. “She has some theory about claiming her own powers, not letting Loki possess her. She even volunteered to teach me. But I don’t think she’s ever tested herself against our father. Not really.”
I thought about my conversation with Alex in the woods of Jotunheim, how confidently she had talked about using the image of the Urnes snakes for herself, stepping out of her parent’s poisonous shadow. It was a nice idea. Unfortunately, I’d seen how easily Loki could manipulate people. I’d seen what he’d done to my Uncle Randolph.
“At least we won’t be alone.” I gazed at Valhalla in the distance. For the first time, I felt a twinge of homesickness for the place. I hoped Blitz and Hearth had gotten there safely. I imagined them with the gang from floor nineteen, preparing their weapons and suiting up in wedding attire for a daring raid that would save our butts.
As for Thor…I didn’t have much faith in him. But with luck he and a bunch of other Aesir would be dug in around Bridal Veil Falls, dressed in camouflage with high-powered hand catapults or rocket spears or whatever other weapons god commandos were wielding these days.
Sam shook her head. “Help or no…Alex doesn’t know what it was like in that wight’s tomb. She’s not fully aware of what Loki is capable of, how easily he can just…” She snapped her fingers.
I wasn’t sure what to say. It’s okay, you couldn’t help it didn’t seem useful.
Sam sipped her coffee. “I should be the one in the wedding dress. I’m a Valkyrie. I have powers Alex doesn’t have. I have more experience fighting. I—”
“You made a promise to Amir. You have lines you can’t cross. That’s not a weakness. It’s one of your strengths.”
She studied my face, maybe judging how serious I was. “Sometimes it doesn’t feel like a strength.”
“After what happened in that tomb in Provincetown?” I said. “Knowing what Loki can do and not knowing whether you can resist him, you’re still going right back in to fight him. You ask me, that’s way above Valhalla-level courage.”
She set down her cup on the windowsill. “Thanks, Magnus. But today, if you have to choose…If Loki tries to use Alex and me as hostages, or—”