The Ship of the Dead

Page 27

While Mokkerkalfe struggled to comprehend the strange hallucination he was having, I returned my attention to T.J.

I put both hands against his sternum and summoned the power of Frey.

Sunlight spread across the blue wool fibers of his jacket. Warmth sank into his chest, knitting his broken ribs, mending his punctured lungs, un-flattening several internal organs that did not function well when they were flattened.

As my healing power flowed into Thomas Jefferson Jr., his memories backwashed into my mind. I saw his mother in a faded gingham dress, her hair prematurely gray, her face stretched thin from years of hard work and worry. She knelt in front of ten-year-old T.J., her hands tightly clasping his shoulders as if she were afraid he might blow away in a storm.

“Don’t you ever point that at a white man,” she scolded.

“Ma, it’s just a stick,” T.J. said. “I’m playing.”

“You don’t get to play,” she snapped. “You play-shoot at a white man with a stick, he’s going to real-shoot you back with a gun. I’m not losing another child, Thomas. You hear me?”

She shook him, trying to rattle the message into him.

A different image: T.J. as a teenager, reading a flyer posted on a brick wall by the wharf:



I could sense T.J.’s pulse racing. He had never been so excited. His hands itched to hold a rifle. He felt a calling—an undeniable impulse, like all those times he’d been challenged to fistfights in the alley behind his ma’s tavern. This was a personal challenge, and he could not refuse it.

I saw him in the hold of a Union ship, the seas pitching as his comrades threw up in buckets on either side of him. A friend of his, William H. Butler, groaned in misery. “They bring our people over on slave ships. They free us. They promise to pay us to fight. Then they put us right back into the belly of a ship.” But T.J. held his rifle eagerly, his heart pumping with excitement. He was proud of his uniform. Proud of those stars and stripes flapping on the mast somewhere over their heads. The Union had given him a real gun. They were paying him to shoot rebels—white men who would most definitely kill him given a chance. He grinned in the dark.

Then I saw him running across no-man’s-land at the battle of Fort Wagner, gun smoke rising like volcanic gas all around him. The air was thick with sulfur and the screams of the wounded, but T.J. stayed focused on his nemesis, Jeffrey Toussaint, who had dared to call him out. T.J. leveled his bayonet and charged, exhilarated by the sudden fear in Toussaint’s eyes.

Back in the present, T.J. gasped. Behind his amber-rimmed glasses, his vision cleared.

He croaked, “My left, your right.”

I dove to one side. I’ll admit I didn’t have time to distinguish left from right. I rolled onto my back as T.J. raised his rifle and fired.

Hrungnir, now free of Pottery Barn’s affections, loomed over us, his maul raised for one final strike. T.J.’s musket ball caught him in the right eye, snuffing out his sight.

“RARG!” Hrungnir dropped his weapon and sat down hard in the middle of King’s Square, crushing two park benches under his ample butt. In a nearby tree, Pottery Barn hung broken and battered, their left leg dangling from a branch ten feet above their head, but when they saw Hrungnir’s predicament, they grinded their head against their neck with a sound like laughter.

“Go!” T.J. snapped me out of my shock. “Help Alex!”

I scrambled to my feet and ran.

Jack was still trying to entertain Mokkerkalfe, but his song-and-dance routine was wearing thin. (That happens quickly with Jack.) Mokkerkalfe tried to swat him aside. The blade got stuck on the back of the clay man’s sticky hand.

“Yuck!” Jack complained. “Let me go!”

Jack was a little obsessive about cleanliness. After lying at the bottom of the Charles River for a thousand years, he wasn’t a fan of mud.

As Mokkerkalfe stomped around, trying to dislodge the talking sword from his hand, I ran to Alex’s side. She was spread-eagled, shellacked in clay from head to foot, groaning and twitching her fingers.

I knew Alex didn’t like my healing powers. She hated the idea of me peeking into her emotions and memories, which just happened automatically as part of the process. But I decided her survival outweighed her right to privacy.

I clamped my hand on her shoulder. Golden light seeped through my fingers. Warmth poured into Alex’s body, working its way from her shoulder into her core.

I steeled myself for more painful images. I was ready to face her awful father again, or see how badly Alex had been bullied at school, or how she’d been beaten up in the homeless shelters.

Instead, a single clear memory hit me: nothing special, just breakfast at Café 19 in Valhalla, a quick snapshot of me, stupid Magnus Chase, the way Alex saw me. I was sitting across the table from her, grinning at something she’d just said. A little glob of bread was stuck between my front teeth. My hair was messy. I looked relaxed and happy and utterly dorky. I held Alex’s gaze for a second too long and things got awkward. I blushed and looked away.

That was her entire memory.

I recalled that morning. I remembered thinking at the time: Well, I’ve made a complete idiot of myself, as usual. But it had hardly been an earthshaking event.

So why was it at the top of Alex’s memories? And why did I feel such a rush of satisfaction seeing my dorky self from Alex’s perspective?

Alex opened her eyes abruptly. She swatted my hand off her shoulder. “Stop that.”

“Sorry, I—”

“My right, your left!”

I dove one way. Alex rolled the other. Mokkerkalfe’s fist, now free of Jack’s blade, slammed into the slate pavement between us. I caught a glimpse of Jack, leaning in the doorway of the Boots pharmacy, covered with mud and groaning like a dying soldier, “He got me! He got me!”

The clay man rose, ready to kill us. Jack would be no help. Alex and I were not up to this fight. Then a pile of pottery hurtled out of nowhere and landed on Mokkerkalfe’s back. Somehow, Pottery Barn had extricated themselves from the tree. Despite their missing left leg, despite their right vase hand being cracked to shards, Pottery Barn went into ceramic-berserker overdrive. They ripped into Mokkerkalfe’s back, gouging out chunks of wet clay as if excavating a collapsed well.

Mokkerkalfe stumbled. He tried to grab Pottery Barn, but his arms were too short. Then, with a sucking POP, Pottery Barn pulled something from Mokkerkalfe’s chest cavity and both warriors collapsed.

Mokkerkalfe steamed and began to melt. Pottery Barn rolled off their enemy’s carcass, their double faces turning toward Alex. Weakly, they lifted the thing they were holding. When I realized what it was, my garlic-bagel breakfast threatened to come back up again.

Pottery Barn was offering Alex the heart of their enemy—an actual heart muscle, much too big for a human. Maybe it had belonged to a horse or a cow? I decided I’d rather remain ignorant.

Alex knelt by Pottery Barn’s side. She placed her hand across the warrior’s double foreheads. “You did well,” she said, her voice quavering. “My Tlatilcan ancestors would be proud of you. My grandfather would be proud. Most of all, I’m proud.”

The gold light flickered in the skull face’s eye sockets, then went out. Pottery Barn’s arms collapsed. Their pieces lost magical cohesion and fell apart.

Alex allowed herself the space of three heartbeats to grieve. I could count them, because that gross muscle between Pottery Barn’s hands was still beating. Then she rose, clenched her fists, and turned toward Hrungnir.

The giant was not doing so well. He lay curled on his side, blind and gurgling in pain. T.J. walked around him, using his bone-steel bayonet to cut the giant’s sinews. Hrungnir’s Achilles tendons were already severed, making his legs useless. T.J. worked with cold, vicious efficiency to give the jotun’s arms the same treatment.

“Tyr’s tush,” Alex swore, the anger drainin

g from her face. “Remind me never to duel Jefferson.”

We walked over to join him.

T.J. pressed the tip of his bayonet against the giant’s chest. “We won, Hrungnir. Give us the location of Kvasir’s Mead and I don’t have to kill you.”

Hrungnir cackled weakly. His teeth were spattered with gray liquid, like the buckets of slip back at the pottery studio.

“Oh, but you do have to kill me, little einherji,” he croaked. “It’s part of the duel! Better than leaving me here hobbled and in agony!”

“I could heal you,” I offered.

Hrungnir curled his lip. “How typical of a weak, pathetic Frey-son. I welcome death! I will re-form from the icy abyss of Ginnungagap! And on the day of Ragnarok, I will find you on the field of Vigridr and crack your skull between my teeth!”

“Okay, then,” T.J. said. “Death it is! But first, the location of Kvasir’s Mead.”

“Heh.” Hrungnir gurgled more gray slip. “Very well. It won’t matter. You’ll never get past the guards. Go to Fläm, in the old Norse land you call Norway. Take the train. You’ll see what you’re after quick enough.”

“Fläm?” I got a mental image of a tasty caramel dessert. Then I remembered that was flan.

“That’s right,” Hrungnir said. “Now kill me, son of Tyr! Go on. Right in the heart, unless you are as weak-willed as your friend!”

Alex started to say, “T.J….”

“Wait,” I muttered.

Something was wrong. Hrungnir’s tone was too mocking, too eager. But I was slow to compute the problem. Before I could suggest we should kill the giant some other way, T.J. accepted Hrungnir’s final challenge.

He jabbed his bayonet into the giant’s chest. The point hit something inside with a hard clink!

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