yet, human? The smell of Grande Scrambler Burritos is making me sick.”
I checked the invitation. The where line now said: PROCEED TO BRIDAL VEIL FALLS. YOU ONLY HAVE FIVE MINUTES.
I read it twice just to make sure I wasn’t imagining it. I’d guessed correctly. Uncle Randolph really might have been trying to help me. Now we had a chance at smuggling in some godly wedding crashers.
On the other hand, there was no avoiding the wedding now. I’d won a lottery in which the grand prize was a one-way trip into an evil earth giant’s lair of pickle jars, beer bottles, and death. I doubted he would even honor Sif’s coupon trophies.
I showed the invitation to the goats and the girls.
“So you were right,” Sam said. “Maybe Thor—”
“Shh,” warned Alex. “From this point on, I think we should assume Loki is watching and listening.”
That was another cheerful thought. The goats looked around as if Loki might be hiding nearby, possibly disguised as a grande burrito.
“Yeah,” Marvin said, a little too loudly, “maybe Thor…would be sad, because there’s no way he could make it to Bridal Veil Falls with an assault team in only five minutes, since we just got this information now and are at a huge disadvantage. Bummer!”
His subterfuge skills were almost as refined as Otis’s. I wondered if the two goats had matching trench coats, hats, and sunglasses.
Otis gave his bells a jolly jingle. “We’d better hurry along to our deaths. Five minutes isn’t much time, even for Thor’s chariot. Hop aboard.”
Hopping wasn’t possible for Sam and Alex in their wedding dresses. I had to pull them up, which neither of them enjoyed, judging from the muttering and cursing behind their veils.
The goats took off at a full gallop…or whatever it is goats do. Canter? Trot? Strut? At the edge of the parking lot, the chariot went airborne. We jingled as we flew from the restaurant like Taco Claus’s sleigh, bringing Cheesy Gordita Crunches to all the good little boys and girls and giants.
The goats picked up speed. We cut through a cloud bank at a thousand miles per hour, the cold mist slicking back my hair and wilting my shirt frills. I wished I had a veil like Sam and Alex, or at least some goggles. I wondered if Jack could make like a windshield wiper.
Then, just as quickly, we began to descend. Below us spread the White Mountains—rolling gray ridges with veins of white where the snow clung to life in the crevices.
Otis and Marvin dive-bombed one of the valleys, leaving my internal organs up in the clouds. Stanley the horse would have approved. Sam did not. She clutched the railing and muttered, “Minimums, guys. Watch your approach speed.”
Alex snickered. “Don’t be a backseat pilot.”
We landed in a forested ravine. The goats trotted onward, snow churning around the chariot wheels like thickening ice cream. Otis and Marvin didn’t seem to mind. They forged ahead, jingling and exhaling steam, pulling us deeper into the shadow of the mountains.
I kept watching the ridges above us, hoping to spot some Aesir and einherjar hidden in the brush, ready to help should something go wrong. I would have loved to see the glint of T.J.’s bayonet or Halfborn’s painted berserker face, or hear a bit of Gaelic cursing from Mallory. But the woods seemed empty.
I remembered what Utgard-Loki had said—that killing us and taking the Skofnung Sword would be much easier than letting us go through with the wedding plans.
“Hey, guys…how do we know Thrym isn’t a fan of, uh, option one?”
“He wouldn’t kill us,” Sam said. “Not unless he has to. He wants this marriage alliance with Loki, which means he needs me—I mean her, Samirah.” She pointed to Alex.
Marvin tossed his horns as if trying to dislodge his bells. “You guys worried about an ambush? Don’t be. Wedding parties are guaranteed safe passage.”
“True,” Otis said. “Though the giants could always kill us after the ceremony, I hope.”
“You mean you guess,” Marvin said. “Not you hope.”
“Hmm? Oh, right.”
“Let’s be quiet now,” Marvin groused. “We don’t want to cause an avalanche.”
The possibility of a spring avalanche seemed unlikely. There wasn’t that much snow on the sides of the mountains. Still, after all we’d been through, it would be pretty stupid to get buried under a ton of frozen debris in this snazzy tuxedo.
Finally, the chariot drew up to a cliff face about ten stories tall. Sheets of ice glazed the rocks like a curtain of sugar. Underneath, the waterfall was slowly coming back to life, gurgling and shifting and pulsing with light.
“Bridal Veil Falls,” Alex said. “I went ice climbing here a couple of times.”
“But not in a wedding dress,” I guessed. (Or maybe I hoped. Otis had confused me.)
“What do we do now?” Sam wondered.
“Well, it’s been four minutes,” Marvin said. “We’re not late.”
“Be a shame if we missed the doorway,” I said. (Pretty sure that was a hope.)
Right on cue, the ground rumbled. The waterfall seemed to stretch, waking up from its winter sleep, sloughing off icy sheets that splintered and crashed into the stream below. The cliff face split right down the middle, and the water sluiced to either side, revealing the mouth of a large cave.
From the darkness, a giantess emerged. She was about seven feet tall—petite for a giant. She wore a dress stitched entirely from white furs, which made me feel sad for the animals—polar bears, most likely—that had given their lives for it. The woman’s stark white hair was braided on either side of her face, and I kind of wished she had a veil, because, yikes. Her bulging eyes were the size of navel oranges. Her nose looked like it had been broken several times. When she grinned, her lips and teeth were stained black.
“Hello, there!” She had the same gravelly voice I remembered from my dream. I involuntarily flinched, afraid she might swat my pickle jar.
“I am Thrynga,” she continued, “princess of the earth giants, sister of Thrym, son of Thrym, son of Thrym! I am here to welcome my new sister-in-law.”
Alex turned toward me. I couldn’t see her face, but the small creaking sound in her throat seemed to mean Abort! Abort!
Sam curtseyed. She spoke in a higher-pitched tone than usual. “Thank you, Thrynga! My lady Samirah is delighted to be here. I am her maid of honor—”
“Prudence,” I offered.
Sam looked at me, her eye twitching above her bandit scarf. “Yes…Prudence. And this is—”
Before she could take revenge by naming me Clarabelle or Horatio Q. Pantaloons, I said, “Magnus Chase! Son of Frey and carrier of the bride-price. Nice to meet you.”
Thrynga licked her black-stained lips. Seriously, I wondered if she sucked on ballpoint pens in her spare time.
“Ah, yes,” she said. “You are on the guest list, son of Frey. And that is the Skofnung Sword you bear? Very good. I will take that.”
“Not until gifts are exchanged during the ceremony,” I said. “We want to observe tradition, don’t we?”
Thrynga’s eyes flashed dangerously—and hungrily. “Of course. Tradition. And speaking of that…” From her polar-bear-fur sleeves, she produced a large stone paddle. I had a brief moment of terror, wondering if giants traditionally paddled their wedding guests.
“You don’t mind if I do a quick security sweep?” Thrynga waved the wand over the goats. Then she inspected the chariot, and finally, us. “Good,” she said. “No Aesir in the vicinity.”
“My therapist says Marvin has a god complex,” Otis volunteered. “But I don’t think that counts.”
“Shut up, or I’ll destroy you,” Marvin grumbled.
Thrynga frowned as she studied our chariot. “This vehicle looks familiar. It even smells familiar.”
“Well, you know,” I said, “lords and ladies often ride chariots to their weddings. This is a rental.”
“Hmmm.” Thrynga pulled at the white whiskers on her chin. “I suppose…” She glan
ced again at the Skofnung Sword on my back, a greedy gleam in her eyes. She motioned toward the cave entrance. “This way, little humans.”
I didn’t think it was fair of her to call us little. She was just a petite seven-footer herself, after all. She loped into the cavern and our goats followed, pulling the chariot straight through the middle of the broken waterfall.
The tunnel was smooth-bored and barely wide enough for our wheels. Ice coated the floor, which sloped downward at such a perilous angle I was afraid Otis and Marvin would slip and drag us to oblivion. Thrynga, however, seemed to have no problem keeping her footing.
We were about fifty feet into the tunnel when I heard the cave entrance closing behind us.
“Hey, Thrynga,” I said, “shouldn’t we leave that waterfall open? How will we get out after the ceremony?”
The giantess gave me an inky grin. “Get out? Oh, I wouldn’t worry about that. Besides, we have to keep the entrance closed and the tunnel moving around. We wouldn’t want anyone interfering with the happy day, would we?”
Sweat soaked the collar of my tuxedo. How long had that tunnel entrance remained open after we passed through—a minute? Two minutes? Had Thor and his team been able to get inside? Had they been there at all? I heard nothing behind us, not even a discreet fart, so it was impossible to know.
My eyes felt jumpy in their sockets. My fingers twitched. I wanted to talk to Alex and Sam, to come up with some contingency plans in case things went wrong, but I couldn’t do that with the white giantess Thrynga right in front of us.
As the giantess walked, she produced a chestnut from a pocket of her dress. She began absently tossing the nut into the air and catching it. This seemed like an odd lucky charm for a giant. Then again, I had a runestone that turned into a sword, so I shouldn’t criticize.
The air got colder and thicker. The stone ceiling seemed to press down on us. I felt like we were sliding sideways, but I wasn’t sure if that was the wheels on the ice, or the tunnel shifting through the earth, or my spleen banging on the side of my body, trying to get out.