The Ship of the Dead

Page 26

King’s Square wasn’t a square, and it wasn’t very kingly. The streets made a Y around a triangular park paved in gray slate, with some scrubby trees and a couple of park benches. The surrounding buildings were dark, the storefronts shuttered. The only soul in sight was the giant Hrungnir, his boots planted on either side of a pharmacy named, appropriately enough, Boots. The giant was dressed in his same quilted armor, his shaggy limestone beard freshly avalanched, his amber eyes bright with that can’t-wait-to-kill-you gleam. His maul stood upright beside him like the world’s largest Festivus pole.

When Hrungnir saw us, his mouth split in a grin that would’ve made masons’ and bricklayers’ hearts flutter. “Well, well, you showed up! I was beginning to think you’d run away.” He knit his gravelly eyebrows. “Most people run away. It’s very annoying.”

“Can’t imagine why,” I said.

“Mmm.” Hrungnir nodded at Pottery Barn. “That’s your ceramic second, eh? Doesn’t look like much.”

“You just wait,” Alex promised.

“I look forward to it!” the giant boomed. “I love killing people here. You know, long ago”—he gestured toward a nearby pub—“the Norse king of Jorvik’s court stood right there. And where you are standing, the Christians had a church. See? You’re walking on somebody’s grave.”

Sure enough, the slab of slate under my feet was etched with a name and dates too faded to read. The whole square was paved with tombstones, maybe from the floor of the old church. The idea of walking over so many dead people made me queasy, even though I was technically a dead person myself.

The giant chuckled. “Seems fitting, doesn’t it? Already so many dead humans here, what’s a few more?” He faced T.J. “Are you ready?”

“Born ready,” T.J. said. “Died ready. Resurrected ready. But I’m giving you one last chance, Hrungnir. It’s not too late to opt for bingo.”

“Ha! No, little einherji! I worked all night on my fighting partner. I don’t intend to waste him on bingo. Mokkerkalfe, get over here!”

The ground shook with a squishy THUMP, THUMP. From around the corner appeared a man of clay. He was nine feet tall, crudely shaped, still glistening wet. He looked like something I might make in Pottery 101—an ugly, lumpy creature with arms too thin and legs too thick, his head no more than a blob with two eyeholes and a frowny face carved into it.

Next to me, Pottery Barn started to clatter, and I didn’t think it was from excitement.

“Bigger doesn’t mean stronger,” I told them under my breath.

Pottery Barn turned their faces toward me. Of course, their expressions didn’t change, but I sensed that both mouths were telling me the same thing: Shut up, Magnus.

Alex crossed her arms. She’d tied her yellow raincoat around her waist, revealing the plaid pink-and-green sweater-vest I thought of as her combat uniform. “You do sloppy work, Hrungnir. You call that a clay man? And what kind of name is Mokkerkalfe?”

The giant raised his eyebrows. “We’ll see whose work is sloppy when the fighting begins. Mokkerkalfe means Mist Calf! A poetic, honorable name for a warrior!”

“Uh-huh,” Alex said. “Well, this is Pottery Barn.”

Hrungnir scratched his beard. “I must admit, that is also a poetic name for a warrior. But can it fight?”

“They can fight just fine,” Alex promised. “And they’ll take down that slag heap of yours, no problem.”

Pottery Barn looked at their creator like I will?

“Enough talk!” Hrungnir hefted his maul and scowled at T.J. “Shall we begin, little man?”

Thomas Jefferson Jr. put on his amber-rimmed glasses. He unslung his rifle and pulled a small cylindrical paper packet—a gunpowder cartridge—from his kit.

“This rifle has a poetic name, too,” he said. “It’s a Springfield 1861. Made in Massachusetts, just like me.” He tore open the cartridge with his teeth, then poured the contents into the rifle’s muzzle. He pulled out the ramrod and jammed down the powder and ball. “I used to be able to shoot three rounds a minute with this beauty, but I’ve been practicing for several hundred years. Let’s see if I can do five rounds a minute today.”

He fished out a little metal cap from his side pouch and set it under the hammer. I’d seen him do all this before, but the way he could load, talk, and walk at the same time was as magical as Alex’s skill at the pottery wheel. For me, it would’ve been like trying to tie my shoes and whistle “The Star-Spangled Banner” while jogging.

“Very well!” yelled Hrungnir. “LET THE TVEIRVIGI BEGIN!”

My first task was my favorite one—getting out of the way.

I scrambled right as the giant’s mallet slammed into a tree, smashing it to kindling. With a dry CRACK, T.J.’s rifle discharged. The giant roared in pain. He staggered backward, smoke streaming from his left eye, which was now black instead of amber.

“That was rude!” Hrungnir raised his mallet again, but T.J. circled to his blind side, calmly reloading. His second shot sparked off the giant’s nose.

Meanwhile, Mokkerkalfe lumbered forward, swinging his tiny arms, but Pottery Barn was quicker. (I wanted to credit the great work I’d done on their coil joints.) P.B. ducked to one side and came up behind Mokkerkalfe, slamming both vase-fists into his back.

Unfortunately, their fists sank into Mokkerkalfe’s soft gooey flesh. As Mokkerkalfe turned, trying to face his opponent, P.B. got yanked off their feet and dragged around like a ceramic tail.

“Let go!” Alex yelled. “Pottery Barn! Oh, meinfretr.”

She loosened her garrote, though how she could help without actually fighting, I wasn’t sure.

CRACK! T.J.’s musket ball ricocheted off the giant’s neck, shattering a second-story window. I was amazed the locals hadn’t already come out to investigate the commotion. Maybe there was a strong glamour at work. Or may

be the good people of York were used to early-morning Viking/giant smack-downs.

T.J. reloaded as the giant pressed him back.

“Stand still, little mortal!” roared Hrungnir. “I want to smash you!”

King’s Square was close quarters for a jotun. T.J. tried to stay on Hrungnir’s blind side, but the giant only needed one well-timed step or one lucky swipe to flatten T.J. into an infantry pancake.

Hrungnir swung his maul again. T.J. leaped aside just in time as the maul splintered a dozen tombstones, leaving a ten-feet-deep hole in the courtyard.

Meanwhile, Alex lashed out with her wire. She lassoed Pottery Barn’s legs and yanked them free. Unfortunately, she put a little too much muscle into it just as Mokkerkalfe swung in the same direction. With the excessive momentum, Pottery Barn went flying across the square and smashed through the window of a store offering payday loans.

Mokkerkalfe turned toward Alex. The clay man made a wet gurgling sound in his chest, like the growl of a carnivorous toad.

“Whoa there, boy,” Alex said. “I wasn’t actually fighting. I’m not your—”

GURGLE! Mokkerkalfe launched himself like a wrestler, more quickly than I would’ve thought possible, and Alex disappeared under three hundred pounds of wet clay.

“NO!” I screamed.

Before I could move or even process how to help Alex, T.J. screamed at the other end of the courtyard.

“HA!” Hrungnir raised his fist. Wrapped in his fingers, struggling helplessly, was Thomas Jefferson Jr.

“One squeeze,” the giant boasted, “and this contest is over!”

I stood paralyzed. I wanted to break into two parts, to become a duality like our ceramic warrior. But even if I could, I didn’t see how I could help either of my friends.

Then the giant tightened his fist, and T.J. howled in agony.

POTTERY BARN saved the day.

(And, no. That’s not a line I ever thought I would use.)

Our ceramic friend exploded from a third-story window above the payday loan office. They hurled themselves onto Hrungnir’s face, clamping their legs around the giant’s upper lip and whaling his nose with both their vase-fists.

“PFBAH! GET OFF!” Hrungnir staggered, releasing T.J., who landed in an unmoving heap.

Meanwhile, Mokkerkalfe struggled to get up, which must have been difficult with Alex Fierro imprinted on his chest. From beneath his weight, Alex groaned. Relief washed over me. At least she was alive and might stay that way for a few more seconds. Triage decision: I ran toward T.J., whose condition I wasn’t so optimistic about.

I knelt at his side, put my hand against his chest. I almost snatched my hand away again because the damage I sensed was so bad. A trickle of red etched the corner of his mouth like he’d been drinking Tizer—but I knew it wasn’t Tizer.

“Hang on, buddy,” I muttered. “I got you.”

I glanced over at Hrungnir, who was still stumbling around trying to grab Pottery Barn off his face. So far so good. At the other side of the square, Mokkerkalfe had peeled himself away from Alex and now stood over her, gurgling angrily and pounding his blobby fists together. Not so good.

I yanked the runestone from my neck chain and summoned Sumarbrander.

“Jack!” I yelled.

“What?” he yelled back.

“Defend Alex!”


“But do it without actually fighting!”


“Just keep that clay giant off her!”


“Distract him. GO!”

I was glad he didn’t say what again, or I would’ve worried that my sword was going deaf.

Jack flew over to Mokkerkalfe, positioning himself between the clay man and Alex. “Hey, buddy!” Jack’s runes pulsed up and down his blade like equalizer lights. “You want to hear a story? A song? Wanna dance?”

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