The Ship of the Dead

Page 13

surroundings like he hoped he was dreaming.

Over by the Big Banana, Samirah finished her prayers. She rolled up her portable rug, had a brief, urgent conversation with Alex, then they both came over to join us. If Sam did have a brilliant plan, I was glad it didn’t involve her and Alex turning into dolphins, yelling, See you, suckers!, and escaping on their own.

The dining table looked like it had been made from the world’s largest mast, cut in half lengthwise and folded out to make two leaves. Overhead, suspended from the rafters by an anchor chain, was a sea-glass chandelier. Instead of candles or electric lights, glowing souls of the dead swirled in oversize sconces. Just to set the mood, I guessed.

I was about to sit down between Blitz and Hearth when I realized there were name tags at the place settings: DWARF. HRÖNN. ELF. HEFRING. GREEN HEADSCARF. I found mine on the other side of the table: BLOND GUY.

Great. We had assigned seating.

A daughter of Aegir sat down on either side of me. According to the name tags, the lady on my left was Kolga. The one on my right…oh, boy. Apparently her name was Blodughadda. I wondered if that was the sound her mom had made on anesthesia after giving birth to daughter number nine. Maybe I could just call her Blod.

“Hi,” I said.

Blod smiled. Her teeth were stained red. Her wavy hair was flecked with blood. “Hello. It was a pleasure dragging you under the sea.”

“Yeah. Thanks.”

Her sister Kolga leaned in. Frost started to form on my forearm. Kolga’s dress appeared to be woven from ice shards and slush. “I hope we get to keep them, sister,” she said. “They’d make fine tortured spirits.”

Blod cackled. Her breath smelled like fresh ground beef just out of the fridge. “Yes, indeed! Perfect for our chandelier.”

“Appreciate the offer,” I said. “But we actually have a pretty full calendar.”

“Where are my manners?” Blod said. “In your language, I am called Blood-Red Hair. My sister here is Freezing Wave. And your name is…” She frowned at my card. “Blond Guy?”

I didn’t see how that was any worse than Blood-Red Hair or Bigly.

“You can call me Jimmy,” I offered. “In your language that’s…Jimmy.”

Blod didn’t look satisfied with that. “There’s something about you.” She sniffed my face. “Have you sailed over my bloodred waters in a naval battle before?”

“Pretty sure not.”

“Perhaps my mother, Ran, described you to me. But why would she—?”

“Guests!” Aegir boomed, and I had never been happier for an interruption. “Here is my first microbrew of the evening. This is a peach lambic mead that makes a lovely aperitif. I welcome your comments after you try it.”

His nine daughters oohed and aahed as Aegir hefted the mead cask and carried it around the table, pouring everyone a serving.

“I think you’ll find this has a fruity edge,” Aegir said. “With just a hint of—”

“Magnus Chase!” Blod yelled, surging to her feet and pointing at me. “This is MAGNUS CHASE!”

TYPICAL. SOMEBODY says fruity edge and immediately my name comes to mind.

Come on, people. A little respect.

The daughters of Aegir shot to their feet. Some picked up steak knives, forks, or napkins to stab, poke, or strangle us with.

Aegir screamed, “Magnus Chase? What is this deception?”

My friends and I didn’t move a muscle. We all knew how guest rights worked. We still might be able to talk our way out of a fight, but once we drew our weapons, we stopped being considered guests and started being the catch of the day. Against an entire family of jotun deities on their home turf, I didn’t like our odds.

“Wait!” I said, as calmly as I could with a woman named Blood-Red Hair holding a knife over me. “We’re still guests at your table. We haven’t broken any rules.”

Steam rolled beneath the brim of Aegir’s panama hat. His gold-rimmed glasses fogged up. Under his arm, the mead cask began to creak like a pecan in a nutcracker.

“You lied to me,” Aegir snarled. “You said you weren’t Magnus Chase!”

“You’re going to break your cask,” I warned.

That got his attention. Aegir shifted the mead cask forward and held it in both arms like a baby. “Guest rights do not apply! I granted you a place at my table under false pretenses!”

“I never actually said I wasn’t Magnus Chase,” I reminded him. “Besides, your daughters also brought us here because we mentioned mead.”

Kolga snarled. “And because you have an ugly yellow ship.”

I wondered if everyone could see my heart beating through my shirt. It definitely felt that strong. “Right, but also mead. We’re here to talk about mead!”

“We are?” Halfborn asked.

Mallory looked like she would have hit him, except there was a sea giantess in the way. “Of course we are, you oaf!”

“So, you see,” I continued, “that wasn’t a false pretense. That pretense was completely true!”

The daughters of Aegir muttered to themselves, unable to counter my flawless logic.

Aegir cradled his cask. “What exactly do you have to say about mead?”

“I’m glad you asked!” Then I realized I had no answer.

Once again, Samirah to the rescue. “We will explain!” she promised. “But stories are better told over dinner, with good mead, are they not?”

Aegir stroked his cask affectionately. “An aperitif, with a fruity edge.”

“Exactly,” Sam agreed. “So, let’s break our fast together. If you are not completely satisfied with our explanations at the end of the dinner, then you can kill us.”

“He can?” T.J. asked. “I mean…sure. He can.”

On my right, Blod’s clawlike fingernails dripped with red salt water. On my left, a miniature hailstorm swirled around Kolga. Interspersed between my friends, the other seven daughters snarled like Tasmanian devil waterspouts.

Blitzen put his hands on his chain mail vest. After getting stabbed by the Skofnung Sword a few months ago, he was a little sensitive about knife attacks. Hearthstone’s eyes flicked from face to face, trying to keep track of the conversation. Lip-reading a single person was hard enough. Trying to read an entire room was nearly impossible.

Mallory Keen gripped her mead goblet, ready to imprint its decorative design on the nearest giantess’s face. Halfborn frowned sleepily, no doubt convinced now that this was all a dream. T.J. tried to look inconspicuous as he dug into his pack of firing caps, and Alex Fierro just sat back calmly, sipping his peach lambic mead. Alex needed no preparation for battle. I’d seen how fast he could draw his garrote.

The sea god Aegir was the tipping point. All he had to say was kill them, and we were cooked like honey mead. We’d fight ferociously, no doubt. But we would die.

“I don’t know…” Aegir mused. “My wife said to kill you if I ever saw you. I was to drown you slowly, revive you, then drown you again.”

That sounded like Ran talking.

“Great lord,” Blitzen chimed in. “Did you swear a formal oath to kill Magnus Chase?”

“Well, no,” Aegir admitted. “But when my wife asks—”

“You have to consider her wishes, of course!” Blitz agreed. “But you also have to weigh that against guest rights, eh? And how can you be sure what to do, before you’ve given us time to tell our whole story?”

“Let me kill them, Father!” growled the daughter with exceptionally big hands. “I will grasp them until they scream!”

“Silence, Grasping Wave,” Aegir commanded.

“Let me do the honors!” said another daughter, throwing her plate to the floor. “I will pitch them into Jormungand’s mouth!”

“Hold, Pitching Wave.” Aegir frowned. “The dwarf has a point. This is a quandary….”

He stroked his keg. I waited for him to say: My mead cask is angry. And when my mead cask is angry, people DIE!

Instead, finally,

he heaved a sigh. “It would be a shame to waste all this good mead. We will eat and drink together. You will tell me your story, paying special attention to how it relates to mead.”

He gestured to his daughters to be seated again. “But I warn you, Magnus Chase, if I decide to kill you, my vengeance shall be terrible. I am a jotun deity, a primordial force! Like my brothers Fire and Air, I, the Sea, am a raging power that will not be contained!”

The kitchen door burst open. In a cloud of smoke, Eldir appeared, his beard still smoldering and his chef’s hat now on fire. In his arms was a leaning tower of covered platters.

“Who had the gluten-free meal?” he growled.

“Gluten-free?” Aegir asked. “I don’t think we had gluten-free.”

“That’s mine,” said Blod. She noticed my expression and scowled defensively. “What? I’m on an all-blood diet.”

“That’s fine,” I squeaked.

“Okay, then,” Aegir said, taking charge of the orders. “Halal meal—that is Samirah’s. The vegetarian is Magnus Kill-Him-Later Chase. The green-hair entrée—”

“Right here,” said Alex, which was probably unnecessary. Even in a room filled with sea giantesses, he was still the only one present with green hair.

Platters were distributed. Mead was poured.

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