“Right,” Aegir said, lowering himself into his throne. “Everybody good?”
“Got one left!” Eldir yelled. “The Buddhist meal?”
“That’s me,” said Aegir.
Don’t stare, I told myself, as the primordial deity uncovered his platter of tofu and bean sprouts. This is all completely normal.
“Now, where was I?” Aegir said. “Oh, yes. A raging power that cannot be contained! I will rip you all limb from limb!”
The threat would have been more frightening if he hadn’t been waving a steamed snow pea at us.
Alex sipped from his goblet. “Can I just say that this mead is excellent? If I’m not mistaken, it has a fruity edge. How do you brew it?”
Aegir’s eyes lit up. “You have a discerning palate! You see, the secret is in the temperature of the honey.”
Aegir began to hold forth. Alex nodded politely and asked more questions.
I realized he was buying us time, hoping to draw out the meal while we thought of amazing things to say about mead. But I was fresh out of mead-related ideas.
I glanced at Blod’s plate. Big mistake. She was slurping away at a large red gelatin mold.
I turned the other direction. Kolga’s meal was a plate of different colored snow cones, arranged in a fan like peacock feathers.
Kolga noticed me looking and snarled, her teeth like chiseled ice cubes. The temperature dropped so fast, frost crystals crackled in my ear canals.
“What are you staring at, Magnus Chase? You can’t have my snow cones!”
“No, no! I was just wondering, uh…what side are you guys fighting on in Ragnarok?”
She hissed. “The sea swallows everything.”
I waited for more. That seemed to be her entire battle plan.
“Okay,” I said. “So, you’re kind of neutral? That’s cool.”
“Cool is good. Cold is better.”
“Right. But your dad isn’t friends with Loki.”
“Of course not! After that horrible flyting? Loki disgraced this hall, the gods, my father, even my father’s mead!”
“Right. The flyting.”
The word seemed familiar. I was pretty sure I’d seen it on the TV screen in Valhalla, but I had no idea what it meant.
“I don’t suppose you’ve heard the name Bolverk?” I asked, pressing my luck. “Or what it might have to do with mead?”
Kolga sneered at me as if I were a fool. “Bolverk was the alias of the mead thief, of course.”
“The mead thief.” That sounded like the title of a really bad novel to me.
“The one who stole Kvasir’s Mead!” Kolga said. “The only mead my father cannot brew! Bah, you’re clueless. I’ll look forward to stuffing your soul in our chandelier.” She went back to enjoying her snow cones.
Kvasir. Great. I asked about one name I didn’t know, and I got another name I didn’t know. But I felt like I was getting close to something important—some combination of puzzle pieces that would explain Uncle Randolph’s journal, give me his plan for beating Loki, and maybe even provide a mead-based solution for getting us out of this hall alive.
Aegir continued holding forth about mead-brewing, explaining to Alex the virtues of staggered yeast nutrients and hydrometers. Alex heroically managed to look interested.
I caught Hearthstone’s eye across the table. I signed, What is a f-l-y-t-i-n-g?
He frowned. Contest. He raised his index finger and twirled it around like he was sticking it up…Ah, yes. The ASL symbol for insults.
And K-V-A-S-I-R? I asked.
Hearthstone pulled back his hands like he’d touched a hot stove. Then you know?
Sam rapped her knuckles on the table to get my attention. Her hands flew in small furious ASL gestures: Been trying to tell you! Loki was here. Long ago. Insult contest. Have to promise Aegir revenge. Alex and I think there is mead we can use—
I got this, I signaled back.
Amazingly, I felt like I had a plan. Not all the details. Not even most of the details. More like I’d been spun around blindfolded, then somebody had put a stick in my hand and faced me in the general direction of the piñata and said Start swinging.
But it was better than nothing.
“Great Aegir!” I jumped up in my seat and climbed onto the table before I could think about what I was doing. “I will now explain to you why you should not kill us, and what it has to do with mead!”
Silence fell around the table. Nine storm giantesses glared at me as if considering all the different ways they could pitch, grasp, hurl, or freeze me to death.
At the edge of my vision, Alex flashed me a message in ASL: Your fly is open.
With superhuman willpower, I managed not to look down. I stayed focused on frowning Aegir and the single bean sprout dangling from his beard.
The sea god grumbled, “I was just explaining how to sanitize a fermenter. This interruption had better be good.”
“It is!” I promised, slyly checking my zipper, which was not in fact open. “Our crew is sailing forth to bring Loki to justice! He has escaped his bonds, but we mean to find his ship, Naglfar, before it can sail at Midsummer, recapture Loki, and put him back in chains. Help us, and you will have vengeance for that terrible flyting.”
A puff of steam lifted Aegir’s panama hat like the lid of a popcorn popper. “You dare speak of that disgrace?” he demanded. “Here, at the very table where it happened?”
“I know, he flyted you!” I yelled. “He flyted you bad! You and all your godly guests got a mean flyting. He even flyted your mead! But we can defeat Loki and pay him back. I—I will challenge Loki myself!”
Sam put her head in her hands. Alex stared at the ceiling and mouthed, Wow. No.
My other friends stared at me aghast, as if I’d just pulled the pin out of a grenade. (I did that once on the battlefield in Valhalla before I fully understood how grenades worked. It had not ended well for the grenade or for me.)
Aegir became deadly calm. He leaned forward, the lenses flashing in his golden glasses. “You, Magnus Chase, would challenge Loki to a flyting?”
“Yes.” Despite my friends’ reactions, I still felt certain this was the correct answer, even though I didn’t quite understand what it meant. “I will flyte the heck out of him.”
Aegir stroked his beard, found the bean sprout, flicked it away. “How would you achieve this? Not even the gods could match Loki in a flyting! You would need some incredible secret weapon to give you an edge!”
Perhaps even a fruity edge, I thought, because this was the other thing I was sure of, even if I didn’t totally understand it. I stood up straight and announced in my deepest quest-accepting voice: “I will use the mead of Kevi
Alex joined Samirah in the bury-your-face-in-your-hands club.
Aegir narrowed his eyes. “You mean the Mead of Kvasir?”
“Yes!” I said. “That!”
“Impossible!” Kolga protested, her mouth dyed six different colors from her snow cones. “Father, don’t believe them!”
“And, great Aegir,” I persisted, “if you let us go, we’ll even…uh, bring you a sample of Kvasir’s Mead, since it is the only mead you can’t brew yourself.”
My friends and the nine giantesses all turned to Aegir, waiting for his verdict.
A thin smile played across the sea god’s mouth. He looked like he’d managed to jump into a newly opened express lane at Whole Foods and finally scored his matcha smoothie.
“Well, this changes everything,” he said.
“It does?” I asked.
He rose from his throne. “I would love to see Loki brought to justice, and in a flyting, no less. I would also love to get a sample of Kvasir’s Mead. And I would prefer not to kill you all, since I did grant you guest rights.”
“Great!” I said. “So, you’ll let us go?”
“Unfortunately,” Aegir said, “you’re still Magnus Chase, and my wife wants you dead. If I let you go, she’ll be mad at me. But if you were to escape, say, while I wasn’t looking, and my daughters didn’t manage to kill you in the attempt…well, I think we’d just have to consider that the will of the Norns!”
He straightened his vest. “I am going to the kitchen to get some more mead now! I sure hope nothing unpleasant happens while I’m gone. Come along, Eldir!”
The cook gave me one last smoldering leer. “Flyte Loki once for Fimafeng, will you?” Then he followed his master into the kitchen.
As soon as the door closed, all nine daughters of Aegir rose from their seats and attacked.
BACK WHEN I was a regular mortal kid, I didn’t know much about combat.
I had some murky ideas that armies would line up, blow trumpets, and then march forward to kill one another in an orderly fashion. If I thought about Viking combat at all, I would envision some dude yelling SHIELD WALL! and a bunch of hairy blond guys calmly forming ranks and merging their shields into some cool geometric pattern like a polyhedron or a Power Ranger Megazord.
Actual battle was nothing like that. At least, not any version I’d ever been in. It was more like a cross between interpretive dance, lucha libre wrestling, and a daytime talk show fight.
The nine sea giantesses fell upon us with a collective howl of glee. My friends were ready. Mallory Keen flipped onto Grasping Wave’s back and plunged her knives into the giantess’s shoulders. Halfborn Gunderson dual-wielded mead goblets, slamming Hefring in the face and Unn in the gut.
T.J. lost valuable time trying to load his rifle. Before he could fire, the lovely Himminglaeva turned into a tidal wave and washed him across the hall.
Hearthstone threw a runestone I hadn’t seen before:
It hit Bigly—I mean Bylgya—with a bright flash, liquefying her into a large angry puddle.
Sam’s spear of light shimmered in her hand. She flew upward, just beyond reach, and began blasting giantesses with arcs of pure Valkyrie radiance. Meanwhile Blitzen hopped around the chaos, distracting the nine sisters with blistering fashion critiques like “Your hem is too high! You’ve got a run in your