itself were asking SAY WHAT?
Over the intercom, an announcement crackled in English: something about a photo opportunity with a waterfall. I didn’t know why that rated a stop, since we’d already passed about a hundred scenic waterfalls, but all the tourists got up and piled out of the car until we were alone: just Sam, Mallory, me, and the Queen of the Universe.
Mallory had been frozen for a good twenty seconds. When the aisle was clear, she shot to her feet, marched to the end of the car and back again, then shouted at Frigg, “You don’t just ANNOUNCE something like that out of NOWHERE!”
Yelling at a goddess isn’t generally a good idea. You run the risk of getting impaled, zapped, or eaten by giant house cats. (It’s a Freya thing. Don’t ask.) Frigg didn’t seem bothered, though. Her calmness made me question how she could be related to Mallory.
Now that Frigg’s appearance had resolved into one clear image, I saw faint scars under her white-and-gold eyes, scoring her cheeks like the tracks of tears. On an otherwise divinely perfect face, the streaks were jarring, especially since they reminded me of another goddess with similar scars: Sigyn, the strange silent wife of Loki.
“Mallory,” Frigg said. “Daughter—”
“Don’t call me that.”
“You already know it is true. You’ve had suspicions for years.”
Samirah gulped, as if she’d forgotten how to swallow for the past few minutes. “Wait. You are Frigg. Wife of Odin. Mrs. Odin. The Frigg.”
The goddess chuckled. “As far as I know, dear, I’m the only Frigg. It’s not a very popular name.”
“But…nobody ever sees you.” Sam patted her clothes like she was looking for an autograph pen. “I mean…never. I don’t know a single Valkyrie or einherji who has ever met you. And Mallory is your daughter?”
Mallory threw her hands in the air. “Will you stop fangirling, Valkyrie?”
“But don’t you see—?”
“—another deadbeat parent? Yeah, I do.” Keen scowled at the goddess. “If you’re my ma, you’re no better than my da.”
“Oh, child.” Frigg’s voice turned heavy. “Your father wasn’t always as broken as when you knew him. I’m sorry you never got to see him the way I did, before the drinking and the rage.”
“Wouldn’t that have been peachy.” Mallory blinked her red-tinged eyes. “But since you apologized, I suppose all’s forgiven!”
“Mallory,” Sam chided, “how can you be so callous? This is your mom. Frigg is your mom!”
“Right. I heard.”
“But…” Sam shook her head. “But that’s good!”
“I’ll be the judge of that.” Mallory plopped back into her seat. She crossed her arms and glared at the clouds in her mother’s knitting bag.
I tried to see similarities between mother and daughter. Beyond the red hair, I couldn’t. Frigg wrapped herself in gentle white clouds. She radiated calm, cool, and melancholy. Mallory was more like a dust devil, all agitation and fury. Despite the goddess’s war helm, I couldn’t imagine Frigg dual-wielding knives any more than I could imagine Mallory sitting quietly, knitting a cloud scarf.
I understood why Mallory was angry. But I also got the wistful yearning in Samirah’s voice. Sam and I had both lost our moms. We would have given anything to have them back. Gaining a mom, even one who had waited fifty-odd years to reveal herself…That wasn’t something to throw away lightly.
From the left side of the train, music drifted in through the open windows. Somewhere, a woman was singing.
Frigg turned her ear toward the sound. “Ah…that’s just a mortal singer performing for the tourists. She’s pretending to be a spirit of the waterfall. She’s not a real nøkk.”
I shuddered. “Good.”
“Indeed,” Frigg said. “You have quite enough on your plate today with the giant’s thralls.”
Sam leaned forward. “Giant’s thralls? As in slaves?”
“I’m afraid so,” Frigg said. “The thralls of the giant Baugi guard the mead. To defeat them, you will need the stone in my daughter’s pocket.”
Mallory’s hand moved to the side of her jacket. I’d forgotten she was carrying the whetstone. Apparently, she had, too.
“I don’t like the idea of fighting slaves,” Mallory said. “I also don’t like you calling me daughter. You haven’t earned the right. Not yet. Maybe not ever.”
On Frigg’s cheeks, the tear scars glistened like veins of silver. “Mallory…ever is a very long time. I’ve learned not to try seeing that far into the future. Whenever I attempt it…” She sighed. “Always tragedy, like what happened to my poor son Balder.”
Balder, I thought. Which one was Balder? Dealing with the Norse gods, I really needed a program with glossy color pictures of all the players, along with their season stats.
“He died?” I guessed.
Sam elbowed me, though I thought it was a perfectly legitimate question. “He was the most handsome of the gods,” she explained. “Frigg had a dream that he would die.”
“And so I tried to prevent it.” Frigg picked up her needles. She knitted a stitch of cloud vapor. “I exacted promises from everything in the Nine Worlds not to harm my son. Each type of stone. Each type of metal. Salt water. Freshwater. Air. Even fire. Fire was hard to convince. But there are many, many things in the Nine Worlds. Toward the end…I’ll admit, I got tired and absent-minded. I neglected one tiny plant, mistletoe. When I realized my oversight, I thought Oh, well, it doesn’t matter. Mistletoe is much too small and insignificant to hurt Balder. Then, of course, Loki found out—”
“I remember this part,” Mallory said, still glaring at the bag of clouds. “Loki tricked a blind god into killing Balder with a mistletoe dart. Which means Loki murdered…my brother.”
She tasted the word, trying it out. From her expression, I guessed she didn’t like it. “So, Ma, do you fail all your children spectacularly? Is that a thing with you?”
Frigg frowned, and a hint of storm darkened her cloud-white irises. I wished the seats were wider so I could scoot away from Mallory.
“The death of Balder was a hard lesson,” said the goddess. “I learned that even I, queen of the Aesir, have limits. If I concentrate, I can glean the destiny of any living thing. I can even manipulate their wyrd to some extent. But only in the short term—twenty-four hours, sometimes less. If I try to look beyond that, to shape someone’s long-term fate…” She separated her needles. Her knitting unraveled into wisps of smoke.
“You may hate me, Mallory,” Frigg said. “But it is too painful for me to visit my children, to see what will befall them and not be able to change it. That is why I only appear into times when I know I can make a difference. Today, for you, is one of those times.”
Mallory seemed to be struggling internally—her anger battling her curiosity.
“All right, I’ll bite,” she relented. “What’s my future?”
Frigg pointed out the window on our right. My vision telescoped, zooming across the valley. If I hadn’t been sitting down, I would have fallen. I guessed Frigg was enhancing my sight, giving me Heimdall-level clarity for just a moment.
At the base of a mountain, a waterfall split against a granite promontory as if it were the prow of a ship. In the center of the rock, between twin white curtains of water, stood a massive set of iron doors. And spread out before those doors, on a strip of land between the two rivers, was a field of ripe wheat. Nine burly men, wearing only iron neck collars and loincloths, worked the field, swinging their scythes like a squadron of grim reapers.
My vision snapped back to normal. Looking across the valley, I could now just make out the spot where the waterfall split on the rock—maybe ten miles away.
“That is the place,” Frigg said. “And there is the path you must use to reach it.”
She pointed to the base of the railroad tracks. Just out the window, a streak of rubble zigzagged down the side of the cliff. Calling it a path was generous. I would’ve called it a landslide.
“Today, Mallory,” the goddess announced, “you will need those daggers, and your wits. You are the key to retrieving Kvasir’s Mead.”
Mallory and Sam both looked queasy. I guessed they’d also gotten a free trial of Heimdall-Vision.
“I don’t suppose you could be any vaguer?” Mallory asked.
Frigg gave her a sad smile. “You have your father’s fierce spirit, my dear. I hope you can master it and use it, as he could not. You have everything you need to retrieve the mead, but there is one last gift I can give you—something that will help you when you finally face Loki. As I learned when I underestimated mistletoe…even the smallest thing can make a vast difference.”
She reached into her knitting bag and pulled out a small wrinkled brown orb….A chestnut? Walnut? One of those big nuts. She pulled apart the two halves, showing that the shell was empty, then fit them back together. “If Magnus defeats Loki in the flyting, you will have to imprison the trickster in this shell.”
“Wait, if?” I asked. “Can’t you see my future?”
The goddess fixed me with her strange white gaze. “The future is a brittle thing, Magnus Chase. Sometimes merely revealing someone’s destiny can cause that destiny to shatter.”
I gulped. I felt like a high-pitched tone was reverberating through my bones, ready to crack them like glass. “Okay. Let’s not shatter anything, then.”
“If you defeat Loki,” Frigg continued, “bring him back to the Aesir, and we will deal with him.”
From the tone of Frigg’s voice, I doubted the Aesir planned on throwing Loki a welcome-back party.
She threw the nut.